Senior Man Lifting Weights with Help of Gym Assistant

The Ageless Art of Over-40 Lifting: Unleash Your Inner Beast

Disregard the misguided advice from most novice coaches when it comes to training past the age of 40; it's time to redefine the rules and forge a new path to epic gains.

Imagine you're an aging pro athlete, the kind with a few extra miles on the odometer, aching joints, and not quite the reflexes of your younger counterparts. You're still a force to be reckoned with on the field, but should you, as this seasoned athlete, opt for a lighter, less demanding training regimen? Absolutely not! If you intend to maintain, or even surpass, your performance levels, the answer is to train harder, smarter, and with unwavering dedication. You can no longer take your abilities for granted; the luxury of youth is but a memory, and there's no room for complacency.

So, if older athletes in sports like football, baseball, hockey, MMA, or any other demanding discipline ramp up their training as they age, why are mature physique athletes so often advised to take it easy? It's as if the number 40 is stamped on your posterior as soon as you exit the womb, and once that age is reached, you're meant to abandon squats, deadlifts, or any weight heavier than a box of adult diapers.

You're encouraged to prioritize recovery, possibly doing a couple of sets a week, in between leisurely strolls to the park to feed the ducks. But let's call a spade a spade. Yes, there are differences between being 25 and 40, and certainly more between 25 and 50, but those disparities may not be as significant as you'd expect. Especially if you've had a decade or more of training under your belt by the time you hit that alleged "expiration date."

In most cases, approaching 40 or 50 is not a signal to ease up on your training; quite the contrary. This is the juncture where you need to take your training to the next level to stay competitive. However, there are some essential truths you must accept.

Boost Your Work Capacity

You can't expect to train at an intense level if simple tasks like pulling up your pants leave you breathless. Your cardiovascular system must be up to the task. Your cellular powerhouses, the mitochondria, tend to become sluggish as you age. They need a wake-up call, and intense exercise is the way to provide it.

Thankfully, you don't have to spend hours on conventional aerobic training, laboring away on a stationary bike. Instead, three times a week, dedicate a mere 10 minutes to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on a treadmill, rower, or stationary bike. The formula is simple: go all out for 20 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of active recovery. On a treadmill, you can set the speed to a leisurely 3 miles per hour for recovery and crank it up as fast as you can manage for 20 seconds. Rinse and repeat.

This type of training has been shown to increase mitochondria and enhance endurance, ensuring you're ready to train as hard as necessary.

Embrace More Work – A Lot More

The "3 sets of 8 reps" mentality is no longer sufficient. It may have worked in your younger days when your veins coursed with testosterone, but now you're dealing with a mix of tiger blood and prune juice in your system, and you can't rely on the same formula.

Almost every workout should incorporate extended sets, drop sets, or finishers. If you're not sporting an "I just got burned by dragon fire" expression by the end of your workout, you didn't push hard enough. Engage in strip sets, with leg press or Smith machine squats, and do more work than you previously thought possible. You can even experiment with Paul Carter's 10-6-10 method, or employ mechanical advantage techniques like reverse barbell curls, drag curls, and standing barbell curls.

The key is to train harder than you did in your younger years.

Don't Let Achy Joints Slow You Down

Achy joints are not an excuse for inaction. If you've been lifting for a decade or more, chances are you wake up feeling like you were flung over the stands and into a concession stand stocked with deep-fried Twinkies after a day spent riding Bodacious the bull.

Instead of dwelling on the discomfort, modify your approach. Perform exercises that don't exacerbate joint pain, use grips and foot positions that are pain-free, and reduce the range of motion or opt for slower tempos to alleviate strain on angry tendons.

Bid Farewell to Sets Under 5 Reps

Here's one concession you'll need to make to Father Time: abandon sets with fewer than 5 reps. The risk of injury, like tendon or ligament tears, outweighs the benefits of lifting extremely heavy weights. Opt for sets of 6 to 8 reps to maintain strength without jeopardizing your well-being.

Fewer Days Off – A Necessity You Can't Neglect

Naked Old Man Lifting Dumbell against White Background

While older individuals require more recovery, the idea of lounging around sipping protein-laden porridge until you regain your strength is a fallacy. Older men often take more time off than required, succumbing to the incessant drumbeat of recovery advice.

Avoid this pitfall. You can't afford the luxury of too many days off. Missing workouts can hinder your progress more significantly than it does for younger counterparts. Your body needs consistent stimulation to combat the natural aging process. Rely on your training log to determine when you genuinely need a day off, not how you feel. If your log shows you failed to surpass or at least match your previous workout's performance, it's time for a break.

Say No to Outdated Splits

You're no longer a teenager. The traditional bro split, dedicating one workout to each body part (usually five days a week), is neither efficient nor practical for adults with jobs and real-life interactions with the female population. Your muscles recover in approximately two days, so why waste a whole week between workouts? An upper body/lower body split, where you work out four or six days a week, offers a more sensible approach. This structure allows you to work muscles more frequently.

Embrace the Power of Volume

It's time to break free from the shackles of the age-old 8-rep paradigm. High-repetition schemes can stimulate muscle growth and challenge you in new ways. Explore sets of 12, 15, or even 20 reps, especially if you've neglected higher rep ranges throughout your lifting career. A well-rounded approach could involve devoting the first workout of the week to sets of 6 to 8 reps, the next to sets of 8 to 10, and the one after to sets of 12 to 15 reps, creating a continuous cycle.

Deload Your Spine for Relief

Spinal deloading can provide your spine with much-needed relief, even if daily naps are impractical. Just 20 minutes a day can work wonders. Lie on your back with your lower legs and calves elevated on an ottoman or chair to form right angles at your hips and knees. This position relieves spinal stress and promotes relaxation.

Being young offers natural advantages, but it also means navigating the challenges of managing your energy and efforts efficiently. The same principle applies to older lifters. Train smarter, train harder, and channel your dedication into the right avenues to keep the fire of your passion alive and thriving.

James Freeman


Liam Marshall, the friendly fitness coach, has spent 14 years sharing his love for sports and fitness. With degrees in sports science, he crafts workouts that fit like your favorite jeans. Beyond the gym, he organizes sports clinics and tech-savvy fitness apps that motivate people worldwide. He's all about making fitness doable for everyone, and it's not just about bodies – it's boosting confidence. In 2019, he scored the "Virginia Fitness Coach of the Year" award. Outside the fitness world, he loves family time and hikes in Shenandoah National Park. Liam's journey from a small-town fitness fan to a big-time coach is all about passion, inspiring people to see fitness as a body-and-mind thing. Catch him on Instagram to stay in the loop!