6 Keys To Building Muscle After 35 - insidefitnessmag.com
Written by Mike Over

Once we hit the mid 30s, our body doesn’t respond to training the same. Unfortunately, this means hormones also. The average man’s testosterone drops 2-3% each year after 35 and even more so if you are obese, sleep like crap or fail to train regularly. There's good news, however. If you are looking to add lean muscle, it is possible, especially if you are just starting your journey.

Here are 5 keys you need to focus on:

1: Get leaner first!

Most guys want to get big but they don’t realize they need to drop the 20lbs of fat first which will truly make them look “bigger.

Ideally, you want to get between 12-15% for men. That is the sweet spot I find the most able to begin packing on muscle. The leaner you are, the better insulin sensitivity will be and the more testosterone you will have.(No we are not talking sub 10% body fat).

When losing fat, expect to do it reasonably at 1-2lbs a week. Building muscle, on the other hand….is a long man’s game! You need to be patient. You also need to check your other factors. If you are not sleeping, hitting the gym enough, or repping quality genetics, it will never happen at the speed you want. Also, if you are experienced or new to training matters! The more experienced you are, the harder it will be to build muscle.

Women can expect to gain about half the muscle listed below after 40 years old following the same protocols I will outline. Realistically, as a beginner, you’re looking at 1-2 pounds of lean muscle growth per month or 12-24 pounds of muscle per year.

  • .5-1 pound of muscle growth per month and 6-12 pounds of muscle as an intermediate lifter..
  • .25-.5 pounds of muscle per month and 3-6 pounds per year as a more advanced lifter.

Most lifters are in the beginner/intermediate lifting stage, even if they’ve been training for years. There is still significant potential for building lean muscle as long as you are patient.

2: Be Consistent

Most men give up by a month. If you are not committing to at least 4-6 months to do it, then don’t bother trying. I see so many people fall short because they begin to eat more, hate how they look, then STOP. They cut, get too skinny, and repeat. You need to commit and do it. Just get lean first and add 2 to 3 mini cuts throughout the growth period to help keep fat gain at bay.

3: Nutrition

I like a 10% surplus weekly. You can play with it how it works for you, but I personally like being in a slight deficit or maintenance during the week and going over slightly on the weekend and enjoying some meals.

Get your bodyweight at least in protein grams per day. Carbs are NOT the enemy, and in fact will be boosters for your muscle as they combat cortisol and stress rom training. Jumping on the low carb bandwagon will be a bad idea for building muscle. High fat and KETO has been shown to be inferior and comes with a drop in performance and muscle protein synthesis. With higher fat diets, you can also lose appetite which is never a good thing when trying to build muscle.

For the fats you eat, be logical. Omega-3 fatty acids help the stabilization of hormones, the rebuilding of cells, and sex hormone function. Omega-6 hormones and trans-fats have negative impacts on testosterone and hormone function. Avoid potential inflammatory vegetable oils and processed foods. Aim to get your fat from natural animal sources (pass the fish), omega-3 fish oil, nuts, and seeds. Researchers have found that eating around 0.8 to 1 gram of fat per kilogram of body weight is adequate for optimal hormone production so try to stick to 20-30% of your total calories.

The take away is to just keep your foods single ingredient. No one got fat eating too much oats, sweet potatoes and lean meats. The processed stuff is what drives cravings and inflammation.

My advice? If the label has more than 3 things and words you can’t pronounce, DITCH it. There isn't one restaurant out there that gives a crap if you are lean and healthy. They only care that their food tastes great because this is what will bring you back again to spend more money. That’s why when you eat out….”OMG this chicken is so good, why can’t I get it to taste like that.” ….

Well, of course it is, but it’s NOT just chicken. Put your thinking cap on here, and realize that YOU are the reason you are not getting lean. AMAZING tasting chicken….probably has more things in it that the label on a twinkle packet.

4: Add a push/pull/legs or upper/lower and PROGRESSIVELY overload

The upper-lower training split involves alternating between training your upper and lower body. In most cases, four workouts are completed in a seven-day training split. This split is designed so you can hit muscle groups multiple times in a given week. I like it because you are training at higher frequencies which trigger more growth and can be more anabolic.

Some disadvantages are that you train legs twice in a week which can be hard on some.

The PPLL (push, pull, lower, LAG) split takes the classic push-pull-lower training split and adds a day to maximize muscle growth. The lag day is used to target weak areas and isolate exercises to build lifts.

Your PULL day would be deadlifts and rows/pullups. Push is chest, shoulders and triceps. On leg day I usually like adding a squat, hinge, and unilateral lift.

A sample workout could be for PULL day:


  1. Side Plank Band Row 3 x 10 each
  2. KB Swing 3 x 12

A. Deadlift 3 x 6-8

B1. SL RDL 3 x 10

B2. Chin Up 3 x 10, 8, 6

C. T Bar Row 3 x 8-10

If you are one for combination exercises, I have been in love with this single leg Romanian deadlift to row isometric. It really kills two birds with one stone and can light up your backside in ways you’ve never seen.

What NOT to do is haphazardly hit the gym dong random circuits and HIIT hoping for your body to change. Use training to build muscle not burn calories.

5: Cardio?

Whether you like to think so or not, cardio is MORE important in your 40s and 50s than in your 20s. Not only does it help improve work capacity to enhance your strength training sessions, but it helps with nutrient transferring so you better utilize proteins, carbs and fats.

If you are one of those who thinks it will hinder your gains... think again! Aerobic training sends signals to genes to develop mitochondria (increased mitochondrial density) to boost energy production. This basically gives you the ability to not feel winded chasing your 2 year old up the stairs.

Yes, it can negatively impact anabolic signaling and slow down muscle growth, but most times, this is due to poor timing and poor recovery.

My favorite ways to incorporate cardio:

  1. End of sessions as metabolic finishers ~15-20 minutes MAX and busting your ASS!
  2. GPP sessions using sleds, assault bike, carries and crawls. The goal here is to keep a moderate effort pace for 30-40 minutes.
  3. Cardiac Output: low intensity, bike, jogging, hiking, where you can go for 30-60 minutes.
  4. Anaerobic work: 60-90 second sets(This utilizes glucose and production of it)…maximal effort with incomplete rest.
  5. ATP-PC work: 7-15 seconds of work with full recovery.

6: Supplements

Without going too much into detail, I will say that I wish we could get everything we need from whole food, but I would be lying in today’s day and age. Some big needs for most men would be:

  • Fish oil for heart health and inflammation
  • Magnesium for recovery, cognitive health and stress support and can help with mood disorders
  • Vitamin D/K for bone health (1000 to 5000IU per day)
  • CoQ10 fr cardiovascular health and cellular function
  • Ashwaghanda for hormonal health and stress management
  • Fiber (optional)
  • Curcumin for inflammation(optional)
  • Iron (Women mainly for improving mood, anxiety and sleep)

Lastly, I would argue that a quality protein powder can certainly aide in your nutritional approaches, but sticking to reputable brand with a higher bioavailability and without artificial ingredients.

For most, the nutritional component is the most important…it all starts there, so you could reverse this article in your action steps! Just remember, you CAN get into the best shape 35+ your training needs to be smarter and it starts with what you are doing outside the gym.

35+Build musclesFitnessGainsMike overMuscleOlderStrength

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