How To Approach Your Workouts After 40

By Vidur Saini Generation Iron

Your training method is going to be significantly different when you’re in your 40s as compared to your youth. Why is that, you ask? All the stair climbing, doing the monotonous chores, running after the kids takes a toll on the body and it starts to show after you’re 40.

To begin with, you want to stay away from people who generalize everyone over 40 and want them to believe that every individual is in the same condition all across the spectrum. The next time you hear someone say “age is just a number” – punch them in the face.

How Your Training Needs To Change After You Turn 40

A Change in Priority

If you’re a muscle junkie, your best bet would be to build as much muscle as you can before you turn 40. Sarcopenia hits in when you’re around the 40-year-old mark. You will lose muscle naturally as you get older. While there are no health hazards associated with muscle loss, you can control how much muscle you lose, and when you start losing it.

With age, your workout intensity will drop and you shouldn’t be lifting heavy weights if you want to maintain your joint, muscle, and bone health. Focus on starting big and maintaining the muscle mass rather than trying to add on weight as you get older.

Basic Movement Patterns

Unlike most other sports, an individual can pursue bodybuilding for life. Bodybuilding also has the possibility of improving at ages when most athletes in other sports have called it quits. Don’t be surprised if you find a person who started bodybuilding at 15 and peaked at 40 or beyond.

Bodybuilding is a thinking person’s pursuit and everyone can work from the same basic set of principles. Some of the basic movement patterns that should become the cornerstone of your training are –

  • Horizontal push (pushup, bench press, fly)
  • Horizontal pull (row)
  • Vertical push (overhead press)
  • Vertical pull (chin-ups, pullup, lat pulldown)
  • Squat (squat, lunge, leg press)
  • Hinge (deadlift, back extension)

A Shift in Excerice Preference

While we agree compound (multi-joint) exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, presses, and rows are great for building strength and muscle mass, they can put you at a greater risk of an injury as you grow older.

Isolation (single-joint) exercises like curls, press downs, flies, and lateral raises are a much better option for people over 40 as they don’t consume a lot of energy, which means you can push yourself harder and recover faster.

Switch-Up the Intensity

Once you hit the 40-year mark, forget about hitting PRs on the bench press or deadlifts. Your workout program should have a higher number of reps. You’ll get better muscle growth in the 8-15 rep range, with less risk to your joints and easier recovery.

How would you know if you’re making improvements? Look for an improved form and a better mind-muscle connection. You should have shorter workouts and a better pump, or a better overall sense of well-being when you leave the gym after a workout.

Things NOT To Do

While we can go endlessly about the things you should be changing in your workouts after you turn 40, knowing about the things you shouldn’t do in the gym will set a better groundwork. These are the things you should avoid –

  • Exercises that put your shoulders in mechanically risky positions (dips, behind-the-neck presses, barbell upright rows)
  • Exercises that put your elbows under uncomfortable stress (elbow injuries always take longer to heal)
  • Ballistic or explosive exercises (kipping pullups, Olympic lifts)
  • Heavy barbell lifts (barbell squats, bench and shoulder presses, deadlifts)

How old are you?

Let us know in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow Generation Iron on Facebook and Twitter.


  • Shake Daddy
  • April 6, 2020
great topic...also agreed a vast amount of us reading these articles fit into this category...i’m 49 & continue to get stronger than i’ve ever been even tho i’ve had to adjust a lot of my lifts due to shoulder & knee pains,,,but find that forces me to lift smarter & in a way i wished i would’ve applied when i was still in my 30’s...added & more detailed stretching is now also key for me...more articles like this w/ more details & maybe scientifically backed studies about lifting weights into our 40s,,,50s & beyond... great article...
  • PoSiTiVeFLoW
  • April 2, 2020
Most of us fit into the article... very few of us have had stable/consistent life to train like I was a single 18-20 something without a family (eat five meals a day guy), I mean sure if its your job and are an IFBB Pro, but most of us with challenging families, careers, and perhaps played sports or were in the military... have some injuries and some PT to do. So I agree with Grumydan, would be good to see tuned body building session / videos showing these modified routines.
  • simmo414814
  • April 1, 2020
I have been training for over 30 years and always tried to lift more weight of an extra rep every single training session.
The strongest I have ever been was this year at 53 years old. Still intend to get stronger. Never took steroids and have been stronger every year since I was 23. I'm the same weight now as I was at 40 but much stronger. By training the way I've always trained I keep my testosterone levels up. Not allowing them to drop and eat 5 meal a day plus shakes. 4500 cals without any large variation in bodyweight. Injuries happen and injuries heal same as always and I come back stronger until I don't. Then and only then, the training changes.
    • simmo414814
    • April 2, 2020
    Also brought up 5 kids and worked a manual job 6 days a week for the last 21 years. 5 days before that.
  • Grumydan
  • April 1, 2020
Thank you for writing on this topic. I’m turning 48 this year and I am noticing the changes in my workouts.
I have been trying to find something on ways to change my younger style of working out to accommodate my older body.
so I appreciate you taking the time to do this.
do you recommend anything else out there worth reading on this topic?
Again thank you