Well, there’s NOT just ONE best way to build muscle. So what is the best way to build muscle?   once you’ve past the age of 40.

There are MANY ways, although some are certainly better than others.  We’ll discuss the best ones here and give you some ideas about what methods and techniques will work best for you.

First, I should say this is NOT geared for the gym rat.  It’s designed to help the guy over 40 gain some muscle on his path to looking and feeling fantastic.

We’re going to give you two (2) different approaches for the best way to build muscle.  You choose the one that best suits you.  You might even try both of them, but one will definitely give you an edge in building muscle.

The goal of BOTH of these programs is to break your muscles down so they’ll rebuild bigger and stronger.

You should try both just to see what suits you best, and what works best for you.


PROGRAM  1 – Heavy Weights

With this program, you’re going to do heavy weights.

We’re going to concentrate everything on lifting heavier weights and getting as strong as possible.  Some guys love lifting heavy weights.  I’m one of those.  There’s something primordial about it.

This program will not be focusing on your “trophy” muscles (biceps, chest, etc), but will use compound exercises, ONE  per major muscle group paired with some complimentary exercises.

The goal is to focus on getting a small increase in strength from week to week. With this method, I’ve gotten stronger than I ever could have thought.

You’re going to be working out three (3) maybe four (4) times a week. Each week, you’ll be doing a routine centered around a Classic Compound exercise paired with some complimentary exercises.

A program of heavy weights will ensure muscular development and target the fast twitch muscle fibers which are how we’ll build muscle size.  Some traditionalists will tell you that heavy weights will not help you build muscle size.  I beg to differ.  You’ll see.


Here are the three (3) best compound exercises, and we’re incorporating each one in one of your workouts. We’re going to use each as the basis for our weekly workouts.
  1. SQUAT – 

The suggested approach for this program is to take each of these Classic Compound exercises and build a workout around each one.  Here are some suggested routines:


Let’s start with the Squat and build a set of exercises around this basic compound exercise.  Here is one suggested routine:

  • SQUAT – Since we’re doing the Heavy Program, you’re going to use a weight that will challenge you to do approximately  5-6 reps.You should start with a weight you’re sure you can do for 7 -8 times, and then you gradually add 5-10 lbs at a time until you can only do 5.  That’s your ideal weight for this Routine.When you do your squats, keep your eyes forward and head upPush from your heels.  Activate your glutes and avoid letting your knees buckle in as you rise from the squat.
  • LUNGE – There are a couple of options for you here.  I suggest the Dumbbell Lunge, either standing or walking.Take a dumbbell somewhere in the range of 10 lbs to 50 lbs. and either lunge forward, standing stationary, alternating feet, or walk-lunge 20 yds in the gym and then 20 yds back. For the walking lunge, you can use an aisle or an empty jazzercise room.
  • MACHINE LEG PRESS -a leg-press machine is a quad machine.Load the Leg Press Machine with an appropriate weight so you can only do 4-6 reps.  This is the Heavy Program, so you’ll do 4 sets of only 4-6 reps.
  • LEG CURL –  Use the Leg Curl Machine. Set the weight to a weight you can only do 4-6 reps.
  • When you do this exercise, you should raise the weight in 2 seconds and lower it more slowly – approximately 4 seconds.
  • CALF RAISE – Use either the standing calf machine or the seated calf raise machine. When performing any calf movement, try to complete it slowly and deliberately to eradicate any tendon involvement.If this movement is performed too quickly, you may risk injuring the muscle.  I always stretch my calves in between each rep.



This routine is using the bench press as the primary exercise and then I’ve paired some complimentary exercises with it so you’ll have a complete workout.

If you’re on an M-W-F workout schedule, this is Wednesday’s workout.

  • BENCH PRESS – Squeeze the bar. Think about pulling the bar apart with your hands.This will get your elbows into a better position. Keep your elbows close to your body. This incorporates more of your triceps vs. your shoulder muscles.
  • BICEP– A good compound bicep exercise is the
    Standing Barbell Arm Curl.This is the BEST bicep exercise by far.  It activates more muscle stimulation and has the ability to overload the muscle group better than any other bicep exercise. When you perform this exercise, do not swing the weight.  Just raise the bar smoothly and lower it slowly. Keep your elbows glued to your side.
  • TRICEP – For our purposes here, I’m going to suggest the Dip Machine.  This fits into this Routine because using the Dip Machine will work the chest, as well as the triceps.The angle at which you lean will determine which muscles are being activated more. If you perform the exercise sitting straight up, it will work your triceps more.  If you lean forward, it will engage your chest muscles as well as your triceps. You can vary this exercise each time you do it.
  • FLYES – Doing flyes will engage more than your chest. They will engage your biceps, triceps and your chest stabilizer muscles.There are two (2) flye variations you can try.  Either will work for this Routine:
    1.  The flat bench flye, and
    2. the inclined bench flye.
    Either will do the job.  You might want to alternate each week by switching between the two.
  • SHOULDER PRESS – You can use either the Dumbbell Press or the Overhead Barbell Press.I recommend the Dumbbell Press for this Routine because it is an exercise that engages more than one set of muscles and requires you to use many more muscles in balancing and raising the dumbbells.This is one of the best shoulder exercises you can do.  It’s a staple for many bodybuilders.Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on a  bench that has a back support on it.  Place the dumbbells on top of your thighs. Raise the dumbbells up one at a time by using your thighs to bring the dumbbells up to shoulder height at each side.This is your starting position. As you exhale, push the dumbbells up until they touch at the top.  Pause for a second, then slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position as you inhale.To keep tension on your delts at all times, do not lock out your elbows when pressing the dumbbells.
  • LATERAL RAISE – This exercise focuses on the delts. The lateral raise movement is the best way to isolate the middle delts in the lateral plane.First, remember that you want a very slight bend in your elbows and that you want to maintain that same degree of bend throughout the set.The angle in your elbows at both the bottom of the rep should be the same it is at the top.
    As you raise the weights, they should follow more of an arc than a straight line.



This third group of exercises will be centered around the Deadlift, the last of the Classic Compound exercises.

  • DEADLIFT – Anybody wanting to add slabs of muscle to their lower and upper body and to create a stronger and more impressionable physique, you’ve got to include the deadlift as one of your basics.The deadlift, if done correctly, will build more mass while strengthening all the major muscles groups.To maximize the good effects of a deadlift your elbows should be directly outside of your knees. Rather than trying to yank the bar off the ground, steadily apply force as you attempt to lift the bar.
  • SEATED ROW – Seated cable rows emphasize muscles around the back including the lats, rear delts, biceps, and forearms.When doing Seated Cable Rows your main objective is to build back thickness, to get a thick back while also adding bulk to your biceps.Back exercises are one of my favorites and so I love this workout.  By doing Seated rows, your back will start to look like a thick pair of beef slabs.Because of all the chest and shoulder training we do, our shoulders tend to become rounded and pulled forward. That is why it is best to do rows with your arms parallel to the floor.
    Sit up straight, straight as a board.
  • PULL-DOWN – The lat pull-down is one of the most ubiquitous exercises we know.Whether you train in a hardcore gym or in a trendy LA Fitness, you probably have used a lat pull-down machine.This back-day staple isn’t difficult to do correctly, but I see a lot of guys using poor form.  They’re not doing nearly as much good as they could be if they would just adhere to moving only the weight and not using their body to assist.The real problem is that bad technique can alter which muscles are being used. So if your purpose for doing the lat pull-down is to build your lats—not your traps, rhomboids, biceps, or lower back—then you’d better know how to do the exercise right!The purpose of doing a lat pull-down is to widen your lats and strengthen your back. Rocking backward engages the wrong muscles and weakens the stress put on the muscles you’re supposed to be working.Doing this exercise incorrectly is not going to help you build a wider, stronger back.
  • SINGLE ARM ROW – The single-arm dumbbell row should be in every single type of training program.This time we’re including it in a Heavy Weight Routine to help you get stronger and gain muscle.

    If you are just beginning to workout or have a history of lower-back pain, the single-arm row provides the most stable exercise while minimizing stress on the lower back which is commonly injured with poor rowing mechanics.
  • T-BAR ROW – A T-Bar row machine is the best for isolating the back.If you have lower-back issues, this should become a go-to machine.The movement path is in a very slight arc, meaning you can stand up taller than you normally would in your barbell bent over rows.This machine will protect your back and still effectively hit your upper back during the exercise.


PROGRAM  2 – High Intensity

This program is going to have you working out with lighter weights but increasing the intensity level of your training.

With this program, you’ll need to use a timer app to time each exercise and the time you rest in between.  There are many timer apps on the market designed for workouts.  You need one that can time at least two (2) different time periods back to back.

I use a free app called Interval Trainer, and it’s designed to time two different levels of workouts with specific rest in between.

There’s another very good, simple one called HIT Interval Training that I’ve used. There are tons of them.  Almost any will do. All you need to do is time your exercise period and the rest in between each exercise.


I recommend LIFTING for 40 seconds and then RESTING for 70 seconds.

It doesn’t matter how many reps you get in during that 40 seconds.  You just want to get as many in as you can. Don’t count the reps. Concentrate on your form of each exercise.

Do that three (3) times for each exercise.

I believe in the principle of having more variety to hit the same muscle with different approaches.  You should do FEWER of each exercise and do MORE exercises.

  • During each workout, you’ll lift as much weight as you can using the correct form. You need to push your limits by trying to increase the number of reps you do each time.
  • You should use a weight that will allow you to do 10-12 reps without having to put the weights down. If you can’t do that many, lower the weight.
  • In general, it’s believed that more reps, like 8-12 rep,  stimulate bulky muscle growth, while lower reps favor strength gain at the expense of muscle size.  There is some truth to this.  Some.
  • If you can do 10 or more reps without feeling a burn, add more weight. You simply will not get bigger unless you challenge yourself to go all in.


Lift explosively.

Lift the weight quickly but lower slowly. When you’re doing this program, you want intensity versus slow and steady.


  1. Treat every single set like it is your last set.
  2. Treat every single rep like your life depends on it.
  3. Time every exercise and your rest time – see above.
  4. Wear a headset so others will know not to bother you.
  5. Do not work out with girls, spouses or wimpy partners.  They will do nothing but distract you from your mission to get bigger and stronger.
  6. Train intensely so everyone knows what you’re up to.  It’s a great feeling.  You’ll see.  You’ll get addicted to the feeling you get.



Always use proper form. To get the most out of your workout, you must do every rep with good form.  This is vastly important.

Cheating to show the guys in the gym how much you can lift is very hard to resist, but it’s not making you bigger or stronger.  Resist.

With this High Intensity Training regimen, you want to find the right weight so you can keep the intensity level high.  Not too heavy.  Not too light.

You always want to train close to or at failure, at least that’s my philosophy.  Why else do this?

There are lots of trainers that will tell a guy over 40 shouldn’t train to failure.  This is OLD thinking.  Don’t listen to this sort of thinking.  This is not even true for the guy over 70!


Here are the BASICS of Good Form.  This really applies to EVERY and ALL workouts, not just the High Intensity Program.

  • You should be able to complete the full motion of an exercise without having to lean over or change position. If you can’t, you should be lifting less weight.
  • Don’t ever swing a weight.  It’s not doing you any good, and it’s potentially dangerous.
  • Don’t ever use more weight than you know you can control.  Another recipe for disaster.
  • Get over impressing your fellow gym rat.  He’s not impressed. He hasn’t even noticed you, so use good form and achieve your goals.  I’ve seen the more muscular, defined muscled guys who are using 25 lb weights to do bicep curls.  Look around sometime.
  • If you need a pointer on proper form or a spot, ask a trainer.  They’re often bored and will usually be happy to help you.


Then keep doing what you’re doing – not working out and eating junk food.

Yes, you’ll die earlier than you should.  Not only will you die long before your time, but your life up to that point will be full of disease, aches, pains and difficulty.

Once you commit to working out, scheduling the time and showing up, you’ll start to see results and then, you’ll want to look and feel great all the time.



The important part is starting and committing to exercising regularly and eating right.  If you do those two things, you’ll be well on your way to a healthy and enjoyable life.

If you have any comments, experiences or addtions you want to make, we welcome all feedback and comments.

See you at the gym.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hi, I found your post on building muscle after 40 really interesting.
    I am going to show it to my partner to see if he could benefit from it.
    Would the same sort of program work for women too?
    I am actively trying to keep fit, and find my areas that I struggle with since passing 40 are my middle section which I really want to tone up. There are so many programs out today that it is hard to find the right one.

    1. Rosie, yes, I think it works for women as well. My intent is to have 2 sites – one for men and one for women because there are definitely differnt challenges for men and women.
      And yes there are lots and lots or programs out there and it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. I find that the simpler the programs are the better and more effective they are. Sometimes the “fancy” programs are just trying to sell you something.

      Thanks for the comments and look for my Fitness Workouts for Women, coming soon.

  2. I did a weight lifting program for a year when I was around forty and that was the best shape I was in ever!

    Since then the programs seem to have become much more technically advanced.

    You don’t mention what the different the pros and cons are for doing either a heavy weight or a high intensity program?

    1. Eril, you are right about not mentioning the difference in light weight training vs. heavy weight training. I actually do that in another article. and I will do one on high intensity training. I appreciate you pointing that out to me. thanks

  3. I am over 60 and trying to bodybuild at home, working each upper body parts twice a week using only barbells and dumbells. Have been working out at home, with barbells and dumbells for 6 months now. I would like to get serious in building muscle size.

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