A few years ago I reached a significant milestone in my life: I turned 40 years old. I hear that I was supposed to get a tattoo, buy a Harley, start a few bar fights, and despair over the insignificance of my life. But a mid-life crisis was the last thing on my mind.
I’ve continued training into my 40’s. The fact that I’ve lifted weights since my teenage years is no small part of my current enjoyment of life. I’d like to share some of my thoughts on building and keeping muscle and staying lean into your 40’s and beyond.
Here’s the bad news: your body does change somewhat as you age (I’m sure you needed my help to reach that profound conclusion). I can’t stay up until 3:00 a.m. and hope to be coherent the next day. I can’t binge on junk food without feeling lethargic. I’m not going to naturally put on another 20 lb. of muscle like I did when I was a novice trainee.
But there’s also good news for mature trainees like myself: old muscle does respond to training. My research indicates hypertrophy (muscle growth) is possible into the 7th decade of life (you may be out of luck if you try to build muscle in your 80’s, though strength gains can still occur). I intend to maintain a high level of fitness for as long as possible, and I’d encourage you to do the same.
Here are some adjustments I have made as I’ve gotten older. I think others will likely find them helpful–even younger trainees.
Sleep And Rest
I never have handled sleep deprivation that well. Now that I’m older I have noticed my body and mind is even more sensitive to this, so I try to get plenty of sleep. I’m not talking about taking two naps a day like your grandfather does–I mean getting 7-8 hours per night. Sleep deprivation does bad things to your hormones: it lowers your testosterone and increases your hunger. Needless to say, neither of these is good for staying lean and strong.
Speaking of rest, I try to incorporate more of it into my training routine than in my younger days. I make sure to deload (do a lighter week of lifting) or just take a complete break from training every few weeks. This gives my joints a break and helps keep my central nervous system from getting burned out.
Training And Exercise
I still train with weights at least three times a week (as I have for the past 25 years). I still lift heavy, but I’m not nearly as obsessed with pushing and pulling big weights as I used to be. Joint health is now a concern, so I have made a few adjustments for the sake of longevity. Most of the changes in my routine are designed to train my muscles effectively with less weight. Here are a few examples:
*I’m more conscientious about stretching and warming up than I used to be.
*I do front squats a lot more than I used to. This movement just as effect as the back squat for legs with less spinal compression and shearing forces on the knees.
*I limit my heavy sets and spend a little more time doing sets with higher rep ranges.
*I do more dumbbell exercises than I used to. Dumbbell bench press, for example, tends to be easier on the shoulders than the barbell version (I had shoulder surgery back in the 90’s).
*I also try to incorporate more single arm and leg training than I used to.
I’m really just scratching the surface here as far as doing more with less weight. But I’m learning there are a lot of exercises and techniques that are very effective.
I am also more concerned with cardiovascular health these days. I do some interval training and/or steady-state cardio on the days I don’t lift.
I think we are only beginning to understand the toll inflammation takes on our health–the effect of consuming too much sugar and highly processed carbohydrates. Eating a higher protein, moderate carbohydrate/fat diet seems like a sensible way to combat this, so that’s what I do. I also use intermittent fasting as a way to stay lean.
Speaking of staying lean: I don’t “bulk up.” I haven’t done that since I was in my 20’s. I do find it necessary do the opposite: every year or two I spend a few weeks dieting to make sure I keep my waist narrow and my stomach flat. This keeps my body fat level from slowly creeping up–the nemesis of many men my age. Most guys my age have added a few pounds per year since high school, leaving them with terrible physiques.
Staying lean has been one of my top priorities as I get older. It is important for overall health and for optimizing testosterone–getting too fat will result in elevated estrogen levels.
I consider myself a minimalist when it comes to supplementation: I use whey protein, micronized creatine monohydrate, fish oil, and a multivitamin. I think these supplements are the foundation for any trainee of any age.
I’ll add something else here: whey protein is particularly helpful for older athletes because our bodies use protein less efficiently as we age (another reason to increase your overall protein intake). Supplements that are rich in l-leucine (like whey protein or branch-chain amino acids) can help combat this.
I also take vitamin D (levels of this vitamin tend to decrease with age) as well as CoQ10 (which is good for cardiovascular health and blood pressure). Otherwise I haven’t changed my supplementation that much over the years.
Here’s something you may have noticed about most of my suggestions: most of them are good for trainees of any age. You can start incorporating many of these habits into your life as a young trainee–you’ll thank me now and when you get older.
Read More: Five Ways To Boost Your Testosterone