You’re never too old to get stronger and challenge your body to learn new things. Unfortunately, intimidation and skewed perspectives create barriers for women who want to try and gain muscle as they age.
The forties are a time of change for many women. Their metabolisms are slowing, hormonal changes start to appear, and they’re experiencing new freedom after the early child-rearing years. This leaves many women wondering if it’s too late to start building muscle and getting the body composition they want.
Here’s what you need to know about how women can build muscle after 40.
Can a Woman Build Muscle After 40?
Not only can a woman build muscle after 40, but she should make it a mission.
One of the downsides of aging—for both men and women— is the occurrence of sarcopenia (AKA, age-related muscle loss). As we get older, the body produces less HGH— Human Growth Hormone. This hormone is responsible for regulating body composition by burning fat and building muscle mass. Working your muscles can help trigger the production and release of HGH to work against sarcopenia.
Lean muscle plays an integral role in your metabolism, which slows linearly with each decade. Building muscle can help offset those impacts and keep your metabolism running optimally. This plays an important role in weight management and achieving that toned look that many women strive for.
As women age, they’re also more likely to experience a loss in bone density, resulting in serious issues, like osteoporosis. Increased lean muscle mass has a direct relationship with bone mass density. In other words, making an effort to build muscle will make your bones stronger.
Women in their forties can build muscle, but not without challenges. However, a few bumps along the road are nothing new in the female experience, and getting outside that comfort zone is the key to making incredible things happen.
How to Get Toned and Build Muscle After the Age of 40 as a Female
To build muscle after 40 as a female, your actions both in the gym and at home play an integral role. Here are seven areas to focus on when trying to achieve muscle growth.
First things first, it’s time to leave your preconceived notions at the door. Drop the 2lb dumbbells, and don’t be afraid to pick up a heavy weight.
There’s a common misconception that picking up heavy weights will make a woman “bulky” when the goal is to be “toned.” In reality, lifting weights won’t make you bulky unless that’s your goal. The competitors you see in magazines and on the internet follow rigid, intense training schedules and diets, and take supplements for a long time to achieve that look.
Related Read: At Home Strength Training Workouts For Women
Strength training and resistance training are the most effective way to build muscle. Remember that resistance training doesn’t necessitate picking up a barbell and learning to bench press triple your bodyweight— bodyweight exercises and calisthenics use gravity as your resistance.
Related Read: Calisthenics for Women: Workouts, Routines, and More
There are many forms of resistance training to try, from strength training sports like powerlifting to endurance-oriented modalities like Crossfit. The key is finding something that makes you use your muscles three to four times per week.
When you’re trying to build muscle after 40, running on a treadmill for hours isn’t going to cut it. In fact, long, steady-state cardio can start to burn muscle tissue, especially when it’s not offset with resistance exercise.
That being said, cardio plays a vital role in overall health as we age and can help show off those muscles that you’re working to build. Incorporate short bursts of aerobic exercise into your schedule two to three times per week. If timing is a concern, you can pair your cardio with weight training to create a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout routine.
Related Read: The Best HIIT Cardio Workouts You Can Do At Home
Building lean mass requires a calorie surplus, which is the opposite of what many women are told to do when trying to achieve their ideal body. This can be challenging for those trying to add muscle and lose body fat at the same time.
Start by focusing on your protein intake. Sufficient protein in your diet is vital for repairing muscle tissue and supporting growth. The minimum recommended daily protein intake is 0.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight. When trying to build muscle, the recommended range increases to 0.8g-1g per pound of body weight. High-quality sources of protein can help with satiety as well and prevent over-eating. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to eat meat to get enough protein. There are many sources of plant-based protein and vegan-friendly protein powder to supplement your intake.
Another area of focus is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). This is how many calories are burned by doing daily activities, like walking and even sleeping. Use an online calculator to get a better idea of this number as your calorie baseline. Then, you can start to eat more or fewer calories in increments and track your results over time to adjust as needed. Remember to use measurement methods other than the scale, as muscle is denser than body fat. Progress photos and tape measures can help you identify changes from your dietary efforts.
Focusing on Functional Movement
As you get older, form and proper movement become increasingly more important during exercise. This is especially true when your goal is muscle gain, as weighted exercises increase the risk of injury when done incorrectly. Recovery also becomes more challenging as we age; an injury now will keep you out of the gym longer than it would have in your 20’s.
Related Read: 10 Exercises To Improve Your Shoulder Mobility
Focus on functional movement and proper form. Leave your ego at the door and dedicate yourself to getting the movements right. Don’t hesitate to work with a coach or trainer to help ensure that your workout routine is working with your body instead of against it.
Incorporate mobility exercises that keep you strong throughout the entire movement.
The best thing you can do for your body after a day of lifting weights to build muscle mass is to take a nice relaxing nap.
That’s right: sleep is the secret sauce for muscle growth.
Sleep does a lot of incredible things to the body. It allows the immune system to function at an optimal level. Sleep keeps your hormone levels in check, including cortisol, which is directly related to weight gain and higher body fat levels. When you sleep, your body works to repair muscle tissue that’s damaged during strength training, which results in muscle growth.
Of course, sleep can be a challenge for women in their later forties as menopause starts to kick in. Practicing proper sleep hygiene and building a routine can help offset the impacts of menopause. Create an ideal sleep environment that’s dark and cool, with noise cancellation. Reduce screen time and caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening. If you workout later in the day, consider shifting your schedule to exercise in the morning instead.
Looking at this list of actions, it might feel like a lot to handle. You can bring it all together in bits and pieces through small, sustainable habit changes. Look at the areas where you’re doing well and where there’s lots of room to improve. Choose something simple that you know you can accomplish, then scale up and perfect your approach.
For example, if your diet is the most challenging aspect of building lean muscle, consider working with a meal prep service to do the proverbial heavy lifting for you. Rather than trying to get to the gym five days a week to start, aim for three. Focus on getting proper hydration and food habits, then start adding BCAAs and creatine.
Related Read: The 5 Best BCAAs for Women to Unleas Their Inner Badass
By breaking your goals into smaller actions, you’ll be motivated by the continuous sense of accomplishment. Every step forward is worth celebrating, and it’s worth the extra time if it means you’ll still be progressing a few months from now.
Get Strong at Any Age
Women in their 40s and beyond have some unique challenges when it comes to developing more lean muscle mass. They lack the testosterone that helps men effortlessly build muscle. Preconceived notions about weight lifting can cause intimidation and hesitation.
However, by focusing on the core areas of building muscle and building lasting habits, women in their 40s can get stronger, look more toned, and live a longer, healthier life.