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Gain muscle after 40!

Build Muscle and Get Stronger After Age 40

Something all of us have to face sooner or later is aging. Past a certain point, our hormones start to change, our cells and joints alike gradually, slowly wear out and our bodies become more sensitive to various stressors: physical, emotional, dietary, lifestyle, environmental etc.

The key to continuing to make progress and in our training and overall health is to be very proactive and pay more attention to the fine details in training, diet and lifestyle.

Life, when you get down to it, is all about adaptation to an ever-changing landscape, both around us and within.

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Being just over 50 myself, one thing I've noticed is that although my strength is pretty much the same, my recovery isn't quite as good as it once was.

Not only do I need to pay more attention to cycling heavy and light days with sometimes more rest days, I really need to listen to my body more than ever. Injuries take longer to heal and so does the nervous system.

We Become More Sensitive

This may sound like a generalization, but I really think its true for the most part. Lets face it, many of us can't eat like we used to, or even what we used to.

Lots of fast food that we used to eat after the bar late at night, just doesn't agree with us anymore for whatever reason. Certain foods now cause us digestive issues.

We sure can't have the nightlife like we used to, being out till last call and training the next day or having football practice first thing in the morning.

One thing we need to do now more than ever, is clean up our diet. Remove any processed food, and anything with additives you can't pronounce.

Start shopping and eating local with fresh grain-fed, hormone-free meats, and produce. Not eating anything that your great-grandparents wouldn't have recognized as food is likely a good rule of thumb.

Stay away from artificial sweeteners and MSG based additives like "autolyzed yeast extract" etc, as these are proven excitotoxins and are not good for your nervous system. Learn to cook and prepare your own food.

Its ok to have the occasional cheat meal, but even that doesn't have to be garbage.

I would look into carb cycling: on training days eat 2-2.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight and on off days .5  to 1 grams per pound. Also make most of your diet consists of proteins, vegetables and fruit. Find a diet that you like and can stick to and one which agrees with you - something which will take some experimentation..

If you are having a hard time losing bodyfat, I would look into intermittent fasting. 

Mediterranean Diet - Image Credit: iStock

Optimize Hormonal Health

This is something I've gone through myself with some hypothyroid issues.

As with our food supply, there are so many chemicals which we are exposed to on a daily basis which are major neuroendocrine disruptors. BPA in plastic is one, as are all of the various xenoestrogens - literally synthetic estrogens which you can imagine are absolute hell for our testosterone levels and fertility.

If you are over 40, it definitely would not hurt to get a blood panel to include checking your hormone levels to get the big picture of where you stand.

If so, ideally you want to check your total and free testosterone, estradiol (E2 estrogen), thyroid (both T4 and T3) levels, prolactin, sex-hormone binding globlulin (SHBG), luetenizing hormone (LH) and follicule secreting hormone (FSH).

Look up the symptoms of low levels of these hormones and if you have a some of them, addressing this will be more important than choosing your exercise routine.

The best supplements for optimizing your hormones are: Vitamin D, Zinc, Vitamin B complex, Magnesium all help maintain healthy testosterone levels.

The trace mineral Boron have been shown to increase circulating levels of free testosterone at 6-9mg/day.

While there is some evidence for some herbs being beneficial for increasing testosterone humans, these mostly similarly include ones which assist increasing free unbound testosterone, such as Tongkat Ali (eurycoma longifolia) and Forskolin)

Other supplements are extremely supportive for anti-aging, boosting energy and athletic performance and slowing down age-related muscle loss ("sarcopenia"). These would include Co-Enzyme Q10 for boosting mitochondrial health, Resveratrol for energy and its antioxidant properties and increasing nitric oxide, DHA/EPA for inflammation and arthritis as well as Boswellia for osteoarthritis.  

There is also some promising research on certain adaptogenic herbs for treating low thryoid (and maybe testosterone too!), namely Ashwagandha and Coleus Forskohlii (forskolin). Anecdotally after using 600mg a day of Ashwagandha for 5 week, I lowed my TSH levels from 5.4 mU/L to .57 mU/L, normal range being .3-3 mU/L.

And it goes without saying that supplementation with creatine is another weapon against age-related muscle loss - sarcopenia.

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What Are Our Priorities?

When we get older we lose mobility more than strength at a certain age. I would define "mobility" itself as being constituted of both flexibility and conditioning.

If we make half of our training focus on strength and the other half on mobility, this could well be the design for our lives for the years ahead.

You should look at including static stretching as well as dynamic mobility into your daily routine in any event and some more extensive mobility work beyond that with some conditioning the same day 3 times a week at least. This would also entail things such as band work, rotator cuff work and so on.

For conditioning the most intensive and efficient ways to get that done is by sprinting up hills, running up stairs, skipping, running sprints etc. Myself I really need a lot of stretching so I skip rope and mobility work 3-5x a week.

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How Should We Train?

We have to cover all of our bases in terms of training, addressing strength, mobility, core and back health, conditioning and so on.

Ideally our workout routine can and should combine various modalities.

It is extremely important to include unilateral movements as well as bodyweight exercises which increase core strength and stability and balance.

We can also use exercises that enhance balance as means to also work on conditioning. Some of the circuits in the sample routine below are example of this.

Personally I believe that splitting the body up, functionally, in terms of pushing and pulling offers several advantages, particularly when doing strength exercises - working the same movement patterns and soft tissues and joints involved on the same day, leaving the other sessions to allow these to recover.

This is what such a routine could look like:

Pull Day

Block One: Strength

Semi-Sumo Deadlift 3 sets x 6-8 reps

One-Arm Dumbbell Rows 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Block Two: Bodyweight Circuit

Chin-Ups 5 reps

V-Sits 10 reps

Table Bridges 10 reps

repeat 3x

Block Three: Conditioning

Lateral Jumps 30 seconds

5-10 seconds rest

Jumping Jacks 30 seconds

repeat for 10 minutes

Push Day

Block One: Strength

Rear Foot Elevated Dumbbell or Barbell Split Squat 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Incline Barbell or Dumbbell Press 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Block Two: Bodyweight Circuit

Bodyweight Squat 10 reps

Push-Ups 10 reps

Twisting/Rotational Plank 30 second hold

repeat 3x

Block Three: Conditioning

Lateral Step-Up 30 seconds

5-10 seconds rest

Running in Place Knees High  30 seconds

repeat for 10 minutes