Building Muscle Over 40 and 50 - What Science Says

Building Muscle Over 40 and 50 - What Science Says

I would love to get all “scienced out” with you guys on muscle building, but most of the people here kinda know more than I do about the nature of building muscle.

So, I am just gonna stick with what I know. Nursing and being old.

Related - Bodybuilding Over 40: How to Train and Gain

So if you are a young whippersnapper, you may want to just head on over to the masturbation article and see if you will lose gains.

If you want to know more about what is going to happen to you as you age and what is going to hurt, lemme tell ya somethin’...

OK, this isn’t just going to be a bitch session on how you feel, old people. This is going to be educational; we will learn how training changes over time and how not to hurt yourself as you age.

Let's get started with some knowledge bombs, though.

Building Muscle Over 40 and 50

  1. You lose skeletal muscle mass as you age.
  2. Bone density loss starts and you may start to have osteopenia - basically a precursor to osteoporosis.
  3. Muscle strength decreases.
  4. Hormones like testosterone and growth hormone decrease with age.
  5. Usually body fat increases with age.
  6. Internal organs suffer because of cells that just don’t function as well as we age.
  7. The heart and circulatory system become a bit stiff, and pumping becomes harder for the older heart.

These are just some of the things that happen as we age.

This does not define us, however. If you are over 50 and reading this, or even 20 and reading what is going to happen to your body, you are ahead of the game.

Some of this stuff is reversible. So let's talk about that.

Yes, we lose muscle as we age. That's a fact. However, this is one of the things that is partially reversible.

Lifting weights kills two birds with one stone, or three birds with one stone. It not only increases muscle mass, it helps to prevent or slow osteoporosis, and the more muscle you make, the more testosterone levels may come up.

Compound movements are really the best not only to make muscle, but to help make our connections to bones (tendons) better. These movements involve more than just one body part and help in muscle production; however, not everyone can do compound movements such as squats, deadlifts and the like.

So now what?

Train smart. Making muscle and strength is important for the above reasons, but if you have a certain exercise that exacerbates a body part- like perhaps deadlifts aggravating an old back injury - then do something that would work that body part but doesn’t cause pain.

Consider full body. Because muscle needs more recovery as we age, I feel that full body exercises are the better bang for your buck. You can train 3-4 days a week full body and give your body more time to rest up and give it what it needs.

Because muscle strength decreases over time, it is important to stop the progression without adding a ton of weight to the bar. If you are adding weight or reps or both, make sure its small.

Don’t add 10 pounds to your bench press every time. Maybe its 2.5 pounds or maybe its 5 pounds. In my own humble opinion adding a small amount of weight is the way to go - I want to be able to continue to lift for a long time and do it without getting hurt.

Protein. So the next equation that we can speak to is nutrition. Nutrition is so important. In order to maintain or continue in making more muscle, we need adequate protein.

I do have to address something that may affect an older lifter. However, if you are in renal failure or have issues with your kidneys, you will need to seek guidance from your physician.

You see, protein can get all bound up in your urinary tubules and back you up. Then, your problems just spiral out of control. There is much more to it than this, but for the purpose of this article, this should a sufficient explanation.

Not only do you need protein to make more muscle, but you also need a healthy amount of essential fat in your diet for hormone production. Oh, and don’t forget the carbs. Yes, carbs are not your enemy...

Carbs are needed for recovery and energy. That doesn’t mean you eat a candy bar post workout and call it a day. Overdoing carbs can lead to weight gain, so put down that Snickers bar, you geriatric diva!

OK, now that we have addressed weightlifting and muscles as well as diet, let's talk about your heart, shall we?

Protein. No matter what others say, you do need cardio. By cardio, I mean getting your heart rate in the “fat burning” zone.

Basically, you need to raise your heart rate and get your sweat on. This “zone” is different for everyone.

For instance, my heart rates “fat burning” zone is like 120. I start to sweat like a pig at 100, as my resting heart rate is 38. Yes, it’s not a typo. It’s 38, so getting my heart rate above 100 feels like I am going to die.

A better litmus test I find is the 1-10 test. You need to get your heart rate to increase to at least a 7 out of 10 for a period of time. Now, should you do that on a treadmill? What about doing boot camp? How about climbing?

You can do this for 15-30 minutes 2-3 times a week. You can do it after weight lifting or even with your weightlifting if you are shortening your rest times. You can even do a 4 minute Tabata workout that leaves you drenched and shaking afterward and save a ton of time.

The thing is, you need cardio in your life for your blood vessels. Your blood vessels and heart get a bit stiff and have trouble expanding and contracting with the flow of blood over a lifespan.

It's important that you work it - kind of use it or lose it. When they get stiff its called arteriosclerosis.

Arteriosclerosis means that the arteries are “hard” and you can’t get blood as fast to certain places, so cardio is important to keep them a bit more pliable.

Lets talk what internal organs need...

Hydration. Internal organs need to be hydrated. God, I hate saying that since I abhor water, but it's true. Aldosterone is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands to regulate sodium and water for homeostasis, which means to keep you in balance - it’s a cool word, right?

Aldosterone tells the kidney to hold on to more sodium, which leads to more water staying in the body. As we age, aldosterone levels decrease and cause people of a “certain age” to have problems with dehydration...

Hence the water drinking.

I am a total camel. I hate drinking water, however, I am also more susceptible to dehydration due to my age and my decreased amount of aldosterone coming from my overworked adrenal glands...

So I just got some water...

Let's talk about our body fat, shall we?

Body fat. If you have seen those handy-dandy body fat charts in your doctor’s office than you know that as you get older, your body fat gets higher. This makes sense because as we age, our muscle mass decreases.

However, you are at a higher risk for diabetes and heart disease if your body fat is high and your overweight. To combat this is to make more muscle, eat right and exercise. Pretty much everything your nagging wife said to do that you pretend not to hear... Just saying.

It's true. Eating right and exercising really does work... Such crazy talk!


As we age we lose muscle mass. This is just the way it is; however, we can combat muscle loss by lifting safely and increasing weights slowly.

As a middle-aged gen x-er, it's important to lift smarter not go all crazy and lift weights till our nosebleeds. Sometimes my generation can be a little reckless.

Yes, you have to increase your heart rate in some way. If it's through sex, more power to you, but you may lose your gains, so there's that.

Get proper nutrition and stop being a diva. I think that about sums it up for nutrition.

Drink a ton of water, at least three liters. It's important as we age to get in our water so that we do not become dehydrated. You don’t want to have to go to the hospital for something dumb like dehydration.

Your body fat will increase as we age due to losing muscle mass. This can be an issue if you are also overweight. Diabetes and heart disease runs rampant the older and fatter we get, so getting that body fat under control and making muscle is imperative to keep co-morbidities at bay.

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