How To Build Lean Muscle Mass In Your 30s: Use This Smart Workout Plan

The best training plan for your age

How To Build Lean Muscle Mass In Your 30s: Use This Smart Workout Plan

Exercise isn't just about improving your health today. Every minute spent in the gym fortifies your body against potential ailments far in the future. A new study from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, for example, has found that if you maintain a healthy body into your mid-40s then you’ll have a 37 . per cent lower risk of having a stroke after you’re 65.

So what’s the best way to sustain a healthy body through the years? Have you age in mind. Because – as you may have noticed – time takes its toll on your body.

Each candle on your birthday cake means fluctuations in your hormones and body composition, so your training needs to adapt to suit.

If you're in your fifth decade knocking out the same routine as the 20-year-olds, don't expect to see their gains. Here's how to manipulate your training to ensure you only look as old as you feel.


Good news – in its third decade you body is primed for power sports and large muscle growth. Give yourself a pat on your potentially rippling back.

Right now you’re packing more testosterone than a bull in heat, so take advantage with heavy metal. According to PT Sean Lerwill, the hormone's responsible for strength gains (not to mention an aesthetic win) by inducing your body to build muscle and burn blubber. So swerve the cross trainer and head straight to the weights room to take advantage of a body primed for visible abs.

But it's not just hormones cheering you on; your body composition is geared towards more gains with less work.

Swedish research found your youthful physique is crammed with more type II muscles (the so-called “fast-twitch” fibres) deployed for power, as opposed to the smaller type I muscles suited to endurance.

So instead of steady state, switch your cardio to high intensity training during your twenties to incinerate fat and avoid a premature paunch.

As with your pension, investing in your body early means a later life payoff. Although it's muscle memory you've got to thank, rather than your bank manager.

That's because recent research has indicated that once you've built the nuclei that turn protein into muscle, they hang around.

And now's your prime for laying the foundations to ensure you're maintaining in a decade, not struggling from scratch. Otherwise you’ll be (weakly) kicking yourself as the big 40 rears its grey head.


Those post-pub curries are becoming harder to shift. Although you can still build some serious muscle in your thirties, a 1% drop in testosterone per year means it’s ly you’ll have to think about changing your workout and boosting your metabolism to get rid of fat that's starting to become more stubborn, according to Lerwill.

You're in good company. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists found that men who managed to maintain their weight for 40 years still gained 3 pounds of fat each decade – while losing 3 pounds of muscle. In other words, father time's besting your body in the muscle and fat negotiations.

A six-pack is still possible, but you’ll have to dedicate more time to fighting the flab it's hiding under.

“By combining smart dieting with the right training there is no reason for having any fat covering your abs after three months of dedication,” says PT Coel Fulton.

Just channel your inner Chris Hemsworth: watch the calories and do more high intensity interval training that will see you burn off the fat and build muscle at the same time.

But we can guarantee that more intense workouts will also keep your cardiovascular fitness in check.

According to a study published in The Journal of Physiology, your VO2 max (your body's ability to use oxygen) declines by 10% per decade after the age of 30.

But men who continue to compete and train hard can reduce this drop by about half, meaning you’ll still be able to exercise harder for longer periods. And increase your life expectancy.

You’re also at the time of your life where starring in your own little episode of Who Do You Think You Are? could become vital for your training.

Speaking to your family could identify where your genetic weaknesses might be, from type II diabetes to strokes or heart attacks. “Do that and it's possible to work out where you need to concentrate,” says Lerwill.

Motivation to hit the squat rack is easier to find when you know it's keeping you not just trim, but alive.


You're on the wane after 40, right? Ask 43-year-old Valmir Nunes, who completed the fastest ever time of the Badwater ultra-marathon – a 135-mile course in 50 degree heat across Death Valley. As he knows, greying hair comes with a side order of stamina.

According to scientists to from the University of Texas Medical Branch, though those fast-twitch fibres start to decline past 40, your slow-twitch fibres – the ones most associated with endurance racing – are less affected.

The performance of weightlifters drops an overloaded barbell after 40, but endurance athletes, such as rowers, see their performance fade more slowly, according to a study published in Experimental Aging Research.

So keep yourself shipshape with these rowing machine workouts.

In an interview with Men's Health US, Jeff Cavaliere, C.S.C.S. says that mind-muscle connection is paramount when it comes to building muscle at forty-plus.

Controlled reps and movement patterns are key here, building a solid foundation for strength. Lighter weights have their place here, too — especially when used in high-rep metabolic training.

The lighter weights will leave you less sore and help you recover quicker.

But what about our four-time cover star Jason Statham? He should thanks his parents for genetics that pay little heed to the sands of time. But whether your DNA's for you or against, honing your training to your age is the simple way to make every stage of your life your peak years.

Fifties and Upwards

According to figures from 77 Nuffield Health gyms, sixty-somethings typically work out seven or eight times a month, making them the most regular gym users in the country.

Should those numbers really be shocking? We’re told time and time again that the candle count on your last birthday cake has little to do with your muscle-power. In fact, a recent major study from the University of Chicago suggests that your biological, not actual age, is a much better indicator of your health.

If you finished training some time ago and are urging to get back on the horse, where do you start once you reach the big 5-0? “Start from the very beginning,” PT Keith Lazarustells us. If the lift is an old favourite the muscle memory does not forget, but there’s bound to be some issues due to the time out.

“My clients will first grab a weight, show me a movement and go from there, because the movement may have changed over the years – maybe they’ve sat on their hip too long, or there’s been a shoulder injury.” The emphasis should not be on the load. Put your ego to one side and take it light.

Once the muscle memory’s kicked back in – with guidance from a personal trainer to iron out those bad habits – accelerate with extra load. Beyond that, it's looking at functional fitness as opposed to split sessions as total-body exercises put the emphasis on mobility, the quality that’s taken for granted by younger gym-goers.

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Exercise for Your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s

How To Build Lean Muscle Mass In Your 30s: Use This Smart Workout Plan
In Your 30s: One hour of circuit training (cardio and resistance) 4x a week, plus at least one day of cardio for 45 to 60 minutes at a high intensity. Take one day off.

With the 30s, you start noticing that weight doesn't come off quite as easily as it used to.

This is because after age 20, your basal metabolism drops by 1 to 2 percent every decade, and as lean muscle decreases and body fat increases, you don't need as many calories to sustain yourself.

“Exercise is the number one form of preventive medicine,” says Jillian Michaels, who is in her 9th season of NBC's The Biggest Loser and is the author of Winning by Losing: Drop the Weight, Change Your Life.

“You won't see that big a difference between 31 and 39 if you've been living a healthy lifestyle, but if not, you'll see a huge difference in muscle tone, weight, and shape.”

In this decade, experts agree, keeping fit means working harder. Jenkins favors circuit training—a series of resistance and cardio exercises done swiftly and back-to-back. But however you do it, Michaels advises strength training each muscle group twice a week with two days of rest between sessions. Don't stick with heavy weights/low reps or low weight/many reps, she says; switch it around to keep your body from getting used to the routine. One day of rest a week is crucial.

After pregnancy a program Pilates can be invaluable in “pulling everything back in and up,” says Brooke Siler, whose re:AB studio in New York City has attracted famous figures Amber Valletta, Madonna, and Liv Tyler.

“I especially exercises that involve standing, because they teach you to fight what nature wants you to do, which is slump,” says Siler, the author of The Pilates Body. One of the best antigravity moves, she says, is to stand with heels together, big toes two to three inches apart.

Drawing your lower abs and inner thighs in and up, rise onto the balls of your feet, making sure the heels stay glued together. Now slowly bend the knees into a plié, keeping the tailbone straight.

Lower your heels to the floor and slowly straighten legs, drawing together your inner thighs and pulling up deeper into your abdominals. Do five reps; then reverse the sequence for five more.

Now is the time to make good fitness habits a part of everyday life. “You always want to be standing instead of sitting, taking stairs instead of elevators,” says Siler. “I'm constantly aware of how I sit and stand and walk down the street. I'm forever pulling in and up. These invisible workouts are really important for a woman in her 30s. It's how you start preparing your body for what's to come.”

In Your 40s: One hour of weight training 3 days a week if you do your whole body at once (4 days for half an hour if you split it up), plus 45 minutes of cardio five days a week (it's more than in the 20s and 30s but with less impact and intensity). Take one day off.

This is the decade of the triple whammy: gravity, hormones, and yet more slowing of metabolism as lean muscle mass continues to decrease and body fat increases.

Even women who don't put on a pound may expand, according to Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women.

“After 40 and certainly after 50, virtually all women find that they gain fat more easily in the torso—below the bra, through the triceps area, on the back, and in the belly,” she says. “You're not doing anything wrong; your body composition is changing.”

Cardio work at least three days a week is still important for keeping weight under control, but resistance training is crucial now. “Women should be doing more weight training—and really going for it,” says New York City–based celebrity trainer Kacy Duke, who is in her 40s. “You have to find the time to do it consistently and train hard.

” If you're just starting, says Peeke, “you must learn proper form—take a class, get a trainer, make sure someone is there to correct you so you don't get hurt. And add intensity. If you're doing a biceps curl, tense the biceps—squeeze them—as you lift. Just when you think you're all the way up, push another 10 degrees.

Certain body parts may call out for extra attention. “Pilates can help some with the midsection,” says fitness veteran Karen Voight, who teaches and writes a workout column for the Los Angeles Times.

To tone the back of the upper arm, she instructs, “get on all fours in a bent-knee push-up position, with fingers facing forward and hands directly under your shoulders.

Make sure your elbows point backward when they bend, and lower only halfway, which works the muscle but avoids strain on the joints.” Then there's the butt. “For that,” says Voight, who is in her 40s, “I'd try squats with weights or stair-climbing.

Exercise is different at this age, because everyone has some aches or pains. I hold positions longer and do things more slowly and with more control. It's about precision and form, not quantity.”

It's also about enjoyment. “I find exercise that's satisfying on a deeper level,” says Donna Richardson Joyner, creator of the video Sweating in the Spirit and a recent appointee to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. “It's not just about moving my body—it's about strengthening my mind and my spirit.”

Your 50s and 60s: Aches and pains shouldn't be an excuse for giving up on exercise