Top 5 Strength Training Techniques for Men Over 40

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There’s no getting around it: after the age of 40, your body starts losing around 0.5 percent of its muscle mass each year. Maintaining—and even building—strength after age 40 is possible, but requires adjustments to remain injury-free. Now is the time to lose the “no pain, no gain” mantra and start taking care of your body instead of punishing it. Pushing through pain can do more harm than good. The key to strength training once you hit the big four-oh is to work with your body, rather than against it.

5 Allow Adequate Recovery Time

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You can get away with a shorter recovery time when you’re younger, but exercising damaged muscles before they’ve recovered after age 40 can lead to serious injury. Your lower back takes longer to recover than any other part of your body. If you limit lower body strength training to once a week, your lower back and knees will have at least six days between sessions to recover fully. Engaging in an activity like yoga during your down time can improve your flexibility and even lower your overall stress level.

4 Don’t Neglect the Warm-Up

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When you’re younger, you might be able to skip warming up before you exercise, especially if you’re not doing anything particularly taxing. However, after you hit 40, you progressively lose flexibility in your joints and a thorough warm-up becomes crucial to avoid injury. Starting slow with a full 10 to 15 minute period of stretches and mobility drills will loosen up your joints and muscles and get them ready for more vigorous activity.

3 Mind Your Joints

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Your elbows, shoulders and knees are especially vulnerable to injury after age 40. One way to protect your joints is to focus on full-body exercises that require a complete range of motion rather than isolating small parts of the body—this will distribute the resistance load more evenly. Proper form is also important. Lifting weights with poor form causes more problems when you’re doing more repetitions of the same motion, even with a lesser weight. If you are doing any heavy pressing, once a week is sufficient and helps prevent overstressed shoulders. For much the same reasons, limiting lower body strength training to once a week helps protect your knees from injury. If you feel pain in your joints, don’t try to push through it and finish your workout—you could do more harm than good.

2 Crank Up the Cardio

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While many weight lifters abhor cardio, you can’t build your strength without a strong heart and strong lungs to pump blood and oxygen to your muscles, so regular cardio exercise is essential to strength training. Sure, treadmills are boring, but the best cardio workouts are low impact and can be done anywhere. Walking is one of the easiest ways to integrate cardio into your daily routine and doesn’t overly stress any joints. A few minutes of cardio exercise can be worked into your busy day, for example, by taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

1 Less is More

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In your 20s, lifting the heaviest weight possible may have been your primary focus. In your 40s, it’s time to lighten up. While doing lower repetitions of heavier weights might be good for building muscle, older bodies can’t recover from that kind of stress. Building strength over age 40 requires dropping down to lower weights and doing more repetitions. Obviously, more repetitions means your workout sessions will be longer, but your body needs less time to recover and you have less risk of injury as well. More explosive exercises such as jerks and power cleans also carry a greater risk of injury for older bodies.

Jennifer Mueller has been writing professionally since 1995, when she began writing a bi-monthly column for "This Week in WNC." Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from the Indiana University School of Law.

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