I’ve been lifting weights since I was 15 years old – I’m now 55. During that time, I’ve kept meticulous records, and looking back over my training diaries it’s interesting to see how much my workouts have changed.
Some of these changes were due to my goals at the time. I’ve trained for bodybuilding, powerlifting, and to complement whatever sport I was into, all of which required different workout approaches.
Other changes are the result of old injuries and, sadly, getting older. Simply put, I can’t train like I did when I was in my 20s and 30s. The mind is willing, but time has taken its toll on my body.
However, as the saying goes, winners never quit, and quitters never win, and I have no intention of giving up training anytime soon.
In fact, my mission in life is to preserve my strength and muscle mass for as long as possible, and I plan on being the strongest, most buff old dude in the retirement home!
So, how do you get and stay in shape in your fourth decade?
In this article, I share my top tips for working out in your 40s and provide you with a tried-and-tested age-appropriate workout to follow.
The Challenges of Working Out in Your 40s and Beyond
Advancing age is NOT a reason to give up working out. In contrast, exercise becomes more important as you get older. Regular workouts can help reduce the risk of:
- Age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia)
- Age-related bone loss (osteopenia)
- Coronary heart disease
- Type II diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Age-related weight gain
- Cognitive decline
- Some cancers
- All-cause mortality
So, while there are no guarantees, getting and staying in shape as you age could help you live longer. And even if you don’t get to celebrate your 100th birthday, you will be able to enjoy a more active, fulfilling, and independent life, making the most of whatever time you have left.
However, getting older is unavoidable, and the changes in your body mean that you probably won’t be able to work out like you did in your 20s and 30s. That’s not to say you have to quit lifting weights and take up tai chi! But you will need to modify your training to make it sustainable and safe.
Some of the challenges facing exercisers in their 40s and beyond include:
Slower recovery between workouts
The older you get, the longer it takes to recover from bouts of intense exercise. As such, you’ll need to pay as much attention to rest and recuperation as you do your workouts. Getting enough sleep is a must, and you should also alternate between intense and less intense workouts.
You’ll also need to accept that there will be days when you’re not firing all cylinders simply because you’re still tired from your last workout. Be prepared to dial things back and take it easy, as pushing on regardless could lead to overtraining and injuries.
You can still train hard in your 40s, but you’ve got to train smart, too.
Like a car with high mileage, older exercisers tend to accumulate wear and tear. Joints are especially prone to aches and pains. Knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, your lower back – it’s not unusual to experience discomfort in some or all of these areas.
The good news is that training can help make these issues less impactful and preserve joint function as you age. However, you may need to make allowances for your joints, replacing high-stress exercises with movements that are more joint-friendly.
Injuries take longer to heal
As a young athlete, I had no problem either training through injuries or taking a week off and coming back healed and ready for more. Nowadays, even a slight strain can take several weeks or even months to heal. Needless to say, this can be VERY frustrating!
With this in mind, a lot of your over-40 training should revolve around preventing injuries in the first place. Warm-ups and prehab are the name of the game if you want to avoid injuries. Plus, you should probably stop chasing new one-repetition maximums and focus on other performance metrics, such as rep records or movement quality.
Mobility and flexibility issues
Muscles tend to shorten and tighten as you get older. This can affect everything from your posture to your squat depth. Trying to force your limbs to bend further than is comfortable is a recipe for injuries which, as you know, will take longer to heal than when you were younger.
As such, you should a) do all that you can to maintain or even improve your mobility and flexibility and b) avoid exercises that take you into extreme ranges of motion. There is no need to treat your body like a fragile antique, but you should do what you can to avoid unnecessary injuries.
Related: The Best Morning Stretches for Men
Testosterone and human growth hormone levels peak in your 20s and early 30s. After that, the production of these anabolic or muscle-building hormones gradually decreases.
These hormonal changes can cause reductions in muscle mass and strength, lowered motivation, slower recovery, and less energy. All these things can affect your ability to train and recover from your workouts.
Sure, you could ask your doctor about testosterone replacement or HGH therapy, but there are risks and financial costs associated with these treatments. The good news is that regular exercise and a healthy diet can help boost testosterone and growth hormone naturally.
Lack of time
Life can get pretty hectic when you’re in your 40s. You’ll need to balance your work and home life while finding the time and energy you need for training. In many cases, when time is short, the first casualty will be your workouts.
Initially, you’ll probably plan on rescheduling, but, more likely, you’ll skip more workouts than you complete. Being in your 40s means you can’t shirk your responsibilities to go and train.
Most guys in their 40s don’t have the luxury of hitting the gym for two hours a day, six days a week. Thankfully, you don’t need to train for hours at a time to preserve or gain muscle.
These are the realities of training in your 40s. Sure, some fitness influencers and ex-bodybuilders seem to have been able to avoid the effects of aging, but they are in the minority and are probably on TRT. It would be a mistake to judge your progress against such people because there is a massive difference between being natural and boosting your performance with anabolic steroids, even if they have been prescribed by a doctor.
Workout Tips for Men in Their 40s
Avoid the pitfalls and problems that could derail your training with these tried-and-tested workout and fitness tips for men in their 40s:
Warm up like a boss
Warming up is important whatever your age, but the older you are, the more critical it becomes. Older bodies tend to be stiffer, more immobile, more damaged than younger ones, and more prone to injury, too.
Make your workout as enjoyable, safe, and comfortable as possible by warming up thoroughly before you begin. Extra time spent on your warm-up will pay dividends in the future.
Related: How to Warm Up for Strength Training
Train with lighter weights and higher reps
Younger men tend to put a lot of stock in how much weight they can lift. Plates on the bar equal bragging rights, and, as the saying goes, if the bar ain’t bending, you’re just pretending!
However, injuries are more common when you lift heavy loads. They stress not only your muscles but your joints too.
Avoid injuries and unnecessary wear and tear by training with lighter weights and higher reps. Contrary to what many lifters believe, you can still build strength and muscle mass with weights below 50% of your 1RM (1).
This means you no longer have to feel trapped by the 6-12 rep range and can do as many as 25-30 reps per set. Needless to say, this will be far less stressful for your already hard-worn joints. Muscle strains are also less of a risk.
Do fewer sets
With your somewhat compromised recovery ability, doing high-volume workouts could lead to overtraining. So, instead of seeing how many sets per muscle group you can tolerate, try to find out how few you need to do to get the results you want.
You’ll probably find it’s not as many as you first thought.
Try keeping your workout volume down to about 8-12 sets per muscle group per week. This is significantly less than most bodybuilding programs recommend but more than enough to build muscle and strength. Focus more on training quality than quantity; make every exercise, rep, and set count!
Do each exercise with perfect form
There are two ways to do any exercise – the right way and the wrong way. The wrong way may allow you to lift more weight or do more reps, but it usually comes with an increased risk of injury while taking work away from the muscles you want to develop.
In contrast, the right way is invariably harder, but it’s also safer and usually more effective.
So, check your ego, dial back the weights, and do every exercise in your program with perfect technique. Try to make your reps as smooth and controlled as possible to take stress off your joints and keep it on your muscles. Lift and lower with purpose.
Choose low-risk exercises
While training is good for everybody’s body, some exercises are riskier than others. As injuries tend to take longer to heal when you’re in your 40s and beyond, you should build your workouts around the safest exercises.
For example, you could do push-ups instead of bench presses, goblet squats instead of back squats, or box jumps instead of power cleans.
So, think about what you want from your workout, then choose the safest exercises for that goal. If the risks outweigh the benefits, you should think twice about doing that exercise.
It’s better to play it safe and be able to continue training than do a dangerous exercise, get hurt, and spend the next two months waiting to heal.
Make flexibility and mobility a training priority
While mobility and flexibility training are far from exciting, the older you get, the more critical they become. Older muscles and joints tend to be less elastic and mobile than their younger counterparts. Previous injuries can also take their toll.
Mobility and flexibility tend to be worse the more sedentary you are. Most older men have relatively inactive jobs and lifestyles, so they’re even more likely to be tight and immobile.
Complement your workouts with daily mobility and flexibility training to keep you supple and flexible. Just because you are in your 40s doesn’t mean you have to be as stiff as a proverbial board!
Strengthen your core
A large and growing number of men suffer from lower back pain, and the risk of back pain increase with age. Some types of back pain are unavoidable and are linked to things like disc degeneration and general wear and tear. However, other types of back pain can be attributed to weak core muscles.
Core is the collective term for the muscles of your midsection, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis. These muscles contract inward to create intra-abdominal pressure and support your lumbar spine from within.
Spending a lot of time sitting in a chair can weaken your core muscles, increasing your risk of suffering back pain. So, make sure you include core and anti-core exercises in your workout routine to keep the risk of back pain to a minimum.
Include unilateral exercises in your workouts
Unilateral or single-limb exercises are a godsend for older exercisers. For starters, they’re great for preserving your balance, which often declines with age. Secondly, they let you train hard without resorting to bone-crushing weights. For example, single-leg Romanian deadlifts are MUCH more lower back-friendly than regular RDLs.
While there is nothing wrong with bilateral or two-limbed movements, every over-40s exerciser should include unilateral exercises in their workouts.
Get your body composition under control
Younger lifters often want to get bigger and stronger, which they usually achieve through bulking. Bulking involves strategic overeating to create a significant calorie surplus. These extra calories go to fuel muscle growth but also lead to fat gain.
Older exercisers often experience fat gain, too, but not because they’re bulking. Instead, gaining weight gain in your 40s is usually the fault of moving less and eating more. This weight gain even has a name – middle-aged spread.
Gaining weight as you age can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other insidious illnesses. Being overweight when you’re young is dangerous, but it can be fatal in your 40s and beyond.
Now is the time to get your weight under control and lose the fat you’ve been accumulating since high school. There is no need to crash diet or try to lose it in a month; such intense interventions are seldom successful.
Instead, aim to lose half to one pound a week for the next few months. This time next year, you could be a whole new man.
Do your cardio
Younger lifters are all about getting buffed and ripped. They want big veiny biceps and cannonball delts. They aren’t thinking about the future – just looking their best on the beach.
As a man in your 40s, your risk of heart disease is considerably higher, so you must start doing more cardio to keep your heart and circulatory system in tip-top shape.
We’re not saying you need to quit lifting and take up jogging. However, you do need to complement your strength training workouts with more cardio. Aim to do at least three 20-minute cardio workouts per week to keep the old ticker fit and strong.
Big biceps are great, but you need a healthy heart if you want to keep on truckin’.
Make sure your diet supports your training
As a younger man, you could probably eat whatever you wanted and still feel fine; cold pizza for breakfast, a takeout burger for lunch, and beer and cereal for dinner. Now you’re in your 40s, the expression, “You are what you eat,” has never been truer, and if you fill up on junk food, that’s exactly how you’ll feel.
If you want to look and perform at your best, your diet needs to not only support your training but it also needs to be healthy. So, make friends with fruit and vegetables, eat more heart-friendly whole grains, pump up the lean protein, and enjoy some healthy fats.
In short, now you are in your 40s, it’s time to eat like an adult and not the kid you once were.
Related: Fix Your Diet in Six Weeks
Respect your body’s need for rest and recovery
It’s time to pay as much attention to rest and recovery as you do your workouts and diet. Training takes a lot out of your body, and now you are in your 40s, it’ll be longer before you can do it all again.
So, make sure you get plenty of sleep, preferably 7-9 hours a night, and use these recovery strategies to put back into your body what your workouts take out.
Finally, recognize then an extra rest day might be more beneficial than a workout. It’s usually best to train consistently, but if you are still tired from your last workout, a day off might do you more good.
Forget what you used to do and focus on what you can do
I used to be a powerlifter and have pulled three times my bodyweight in competition, and my squat wasn’t far behind. However, that’s what I used to do, and it has no bearing on my training now I’m in my 50s.
Nowadays, I rarely use barbells or dumbbells, and I find bodyweight and isometric exercises are better for my battered joints. I’m still in shape and probably fitter than I was 20 years ago. However, my entire training outlook has changed over the last decade, and so should yours. Trying to relive or hold onto your glory years is an exercise in futility.
It doesn’t matter that you used to be a football player in college or a bodybuilder in your late 20s. It’s what you do now that matters.
So, don’t judge today’s you on what you achieved in the past. As a man in your 40s, your body has changed, and training like you did as a younger man is a recipe for disaster. It’s time to start training for the future and not the past.
Set yourself goals based on where you want to be in five, ten, or 20 years. Look forward, and not back. Be proud of your achievements, but don’t dwell on them or let them determine your current or future workouts.
The Best Over 40 Workout Plan for Men
You’ve now got all the information to design your very own workout plan for men over 40. But, to save time, we’ve written one for you.
This plan involves four workouts per week – two upper body and two lower body – which provides a good balance between training and recovery. It also leaves some time for cardio and mobility training, which, as you know, are critical for men in their 40s.
Try to avoid lifting weights more than two days in a row, and also avoid resting more than two days in a row. While that might sound like a logic problem, it’s actually pretty easy if you structure your workout week like this:
|Workout 1||Workout 2||Rest/cardio||Workout 3||Rest/cardio||Workout 4||Rest/cardio|
Remember, though, before you lift, you need to warm up, as failing to do so could lead to injury or, at least, a low-quality training session. That 10-15 minutes spent warming up could save you from spending months on the injured list and unable to train.
Workout 1 – Upper Body
We kick off our over-40s workout plan with an upper-body workout emphasizing the horizontal plane, i.e., chest and upper back. Dividing your body into planes rather than individual muscle groups makes it easier to develop structural balance, which is critical for functionality and joint health.
|1||Incline dumbbell bench press||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|2||Single-arm dumbbell row||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|4||Face pull||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|5||Cable crossover||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|6||Reverse cable fly||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|7||EZ bar biceps curl||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|8||Dumbbell concentration curl||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
*AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible – just rep out to failure, regardless of how many you can do.
Workout 2 – Lower Body
Friends don’t let friends skip leg day, even if they’re in their 40s! Strong legs are critical, as they’re the engines that carry and support the rest of your body. Losing leg strength can have a profound effect on your mobility and stability. This leg workout is quads-centric, emphasizing your knee extensors. There is also some core work toward the end of the program.
|1||Goblet box squat||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|2||Rear foot elevated split squat||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|3||Leg extension||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|4||Standing calf raise||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|5||Pallof press||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|6||Kneeling cable crunch||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
Workout 3 – Upper Body
Workout three takes us back to the upper body. However, this time you’ll be working in the vertical plane, emphasizing your shoulders and lats. The workout ends with a couple of exercises for your triceps. After all, even guys in their 40s deserve a ticket to the gun show!
|2||Standing barbell press||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|3||Lat pulldown||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|4||Seated dumbbell press||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|5||Straight arm pulldown||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|6||Cable lateral raise||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|7||Dumbbell skull crusher||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|8||Cable triceps pushdown||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
*Do band or machine-assisted pull-ups/chin-ups if necessary.
**AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible – just rep out to failure, regardless of how many you can do.
Workout 4 – Lower Body
Your final workout is another leg session. However, this time, you’ll be working mainly on your glutes and hamstrings. But, as before, there are also a couple of core exercises toward the end of the program.
|1||Rack pull||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|2||Single-leg Romanian deadlift||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|3||Leg curl||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|4||Seated calf raise||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|5||Side plank leg lift||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|6||Reverse crunch||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
Over 40 Training – FAQs
Do you have a question about working out in your 40s and beyond? No problem, because we’ve got the answers!
1. I’m 39. Are you saying I have to change my workouts after my next birthday?
Aging is a gradual process – the changes discussed in this article don’t happen overnight. So, changing your workouts does not have to coincide with celebrating your 40th birthday.
However, as you move into your mid-40s and beyond, you’ll invariably see and feel your body start to change, and you need to make allowances. Driving on regardless could bring your training to a crashing halt.
So, listen to your body, and adjust your workouts as and when you need to. This could be in your mid to late 40s, your 50s, or even your 30s – it all depends on you.
2. Can a man in his 40s still gain muscle?
You can gain muscle at almost any age – even in your 80s. However, how much depends on how far you are from your genetic potential and your current level of muscularity. For example, if you are in your 40s and have never trained before, you have the most potential for muscle growth.
However, if you’ve been training for 20 years and are already pretty muscular, you probably won’t gain much more muscle, although some increases should still be possible.
Finally, rates of muscle gain tend to be slower once you’re in your 40s and beyond, so don’t expect to pack on ten pounds in a month. That sort of progress only really happens when you’re in your 20s.
3. I’m in my 40s and have trained all my life; do I need to change my workouts?
If your current training plan works for you, there is no compelling reason to change your workouts, even if you are in your 40s.
However, if you are experiencing more aches and pains than usual, are finding it hard to recover from training, or aren’t enjoying your workouts as much as you used to, it may be time to think about making some changes.
Clinging to your old workouts when they no longer suit your aging body is a mistake. However, a few minor changes could be all you need to keep on training well into your 50s, 60s, and 70s.
4. What is the best diet for men in their 40s?
The best diet is the one that a) supports your training, b) is healthy, and c) you enjoy and can stick to. For some, this will be something like intermittent fasting or paleo. However, arguably the healthiest and tastiest diet comes from countries like Greece, Italy, and France – the Mediterranean diet.
Built around vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats, this diet is good for your heart, brain, and waistline. The Mediterranean diet is considered by many to be the most nutritious eating plan in the world.
5. I’m 40 and out of shape – is this workout suitable for me?
While this program is designed for men in their 40s, it assumes you are currently exercising and in reasonable shape. Some of the exercises are pretty challenging, and the volume and frequency are moderately high. As such, it’s probably too much for someone who is out of shape or a beginner.
If it’s been a year or more since you exercised regularly, you should start getting back in shape with a basic full-body training plan and regular cardio. This will create a solid foundation for more demanding workouts in the future.
Then, after 6-9 months, of consistent training, you’ll be ready to start this workout plan.
6. What weights should I use for these workouts?
Unfortunately, this is the one question we can’t answer. After all, we have no way of knowing how strong you are.
So, instead, pick a light to moderate weight and rep out to within 1-3 reps of failure. If you can’t do 12 reps, your chosen load is too heavy. Conversely, the weight is too light if you can do more than 20 reps. Adjust the load until you’re in the sweet spot of 12 to 20 reps.
Remember, though, you must also try to make your subsequent workouts more demanding. You can do this by performing more reps or lifting slightly heavier weights. This is called progressive overload, one of the keys to successful strength training.
7. Can I make changes to the workout plan?
The exercises selected offer the best results with the lowest risk of injury. This is based on over 30 years of training and coaching experience. However, if you want to change any of the movements, you are welcome to do so.
That said, make sure you choose similar exercises so you stay true to the spirit of the program. For example, while doing trap bar deadlifts instead of rack pulls is an acceptable change, doing cable hip abductions is not, as they’re very different exercises.
A lot of men think that, when they hit their 40s, their best years are behind them and that middle-aged spread and muscle loss are compulsory. This is not necessarily the case!
While you may not be able to train as you did in your 20s and early 30s, you can still get and stay in great shape when you’re in your 40s, 50s, and beyond.
While your progress might not be as dramatic, and you’ll need to pay more attention to your diet, rest, and recovery, you can still build muscle and get fit and lean.
Age does not have to be an unbreakable barrier.
Use the tips and program to get in the best shape of your life, even if you are a man in his 40s.
- Lasevicius T, Ugrinowitsch C, Schoenfeld BJ, Roschel H, Tavares LD, De Souza EO, Laurentino G, Tricoli V. Effects of different intensities of resistance training with equated volume load on muscle strength and hypertrophy. Eur J Sport Sci. 2018 Jul;18(6):772-780. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2018.1450898. Epub 2018 Mar 22. PMID: 29564973. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29564973/