Here we go again with another installment of Fitness After Forty, where I talk about getting fit and healthy in those transitional years.
It seems as though the 40’s can be a pivotal time in many people’s lives when the fitness bug bites hard. In many cases the kids are older and life has calmed down a bit, so it seems like the perfect time to shrink the waistline and drop some pounds. At the same time many ‘older’ men and women also want to gain muscle – both for looks AND health. We constantly hear how important muscle mass is – that it burns calories, keeps you strong and fit and can help you lose fat weight.
So – just how much muscle can you gain in your 40’s? It’s a question I’m asked constantly here on the site…
Here’s the deal – I actually think the whole concept is moot! Let me explain. When people come to me asking to gain muscle mass, they generally ALSO need to lose some body fat. There’s a disconnect though – the trainee is assuming that in order to reach the ‘look’ they’re after they need to gain pounds of muscle, when in fact what they NEED to do is to lose the bodyfat which will then reveal their natural muscularity. What often happens though is that people train with weights to bulk up and then don’t eat well (maybe because they mistakenly believe they can now ‘afford’ the calories). They then end up bigger and usually not very happy.
If you are determined to gain muscle though, as I’ve said here on the site before, you should aim for about 3 pounds of solid muscle mass gain in a year if your training is right. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but trust me it is. And I’m not talking about water weight gain from storing extra sugar in the muscle tissues, or from using creatine or other products. I’m talking about 3 solid, lean, hard pounds of metabolic beef. Of course that number is a guideline only and depends heavily on how you exercise, your genetics and body type and your diet. In truth, had I known what I now know about training and dietary manipulation back in my 20’s, I think I could have doubled that number!
Let’s talk about training shall we? All too often we choose exercises based on how they’ll make us look. So I see trainees performing lots of chest presses, biceps curls, glute raises, abs and isolated leg movements. And these can all have a place in your program, after all if exercise doesn’t make us look AND feel better then you’re going to get demoralized pretty quick. But unless you’re a bodybuilder I don’t recommend for anyone to focus their program on muscle gain. I always suggest exercising in ways that improve your total health and fitness and strengthen the body as a unit. The types of exercise I like best are ‘integrated movements’, meaning you combine one exercise or modality with another in a new, multi faceted movement. So think of squat – presses, pushup – Swiss ball roll-in’s, burpee – dumbbell shoulder presses and Jungle Gym squat and row. That’s what I’m talking about!
Now back to the age issue. As I’ve said before – you ain’t 20 anymore! So your recovery and recuperation time may be slower, your risk of injury may be a bit higher, and in general you need to be smarter in how you train. As we age our hormone levels decline and this is one reason we gain a bit of bodyfat and lose some muscle. But the ‘use it or lose it’ principle is true. If you demand that your body be strong and fit by forcing it to adapt to the stresses you place on it, it will oblige you. I’ve seen some remarkable transformations of people in their 40’s and 50’s so I know it’s possible. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your best years are behind you.
So if you want to gain muscle you absolutely can. But in my mind adding muscle is NOT the goal – being strong, healthy and fit is what you should really be after. And that applies to any age!
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