If you're over 40, you may be finding it harder and harder to build muscle. There could be many variables at play here (i.e. decreasing testosterone levels, among others), but we often overlook simple changes we can make to maximize our gains. After all, the smallest changes often end up having the biggest impact. Make the following 3 changes and you'll see more muscle growth.
I know, warming up before your workout isn't sexy, especially if you're limited on time and need to get in a quick workout. However...
Warm-ups are CRUCIAL to building muscle.
A good warm-up will prepare your body (and mind) to perform at its peak level during the main body of the workout. By completing a good warm-up, your body will be able to work harder (recruit more motor units) and handle greater levels of strain, thereby increasing your ability to build muscle.
Moreover, when you get in a good warm-up, your body is more mobile, which allows you to perform movements through their full range of motion. Working through a full range means putting the muscle under tension for longer periods and that equates to stimulating muscle growth.
Lastly, a warm-up is essentially a mini-workout. You should build in elements of strength (push-ups and bodyweight squats), elements of core strengthening (planks and rotations) and mobility. When you consistently perform a warm-up with different fitness elements factored in, you're going to benefit from the cumulative training effect of routinely doing those exercises.
#2: Cool Downs
If there is anything less sexy than a warm-up, it's the closely related cool-down 'cousin'. However...
A full recovery will help you handle more strain in your next workout.
In order to build muscle, you need to lift at higher intensities. That means lifting heavier weights. You want to lift between 5 and 10 reps per set for 3 to 5 sets. To maximize your results, you want to be fully recovered so you can handle more strain.
Recovery starts with your cool down. What you do at the end of your workout will have a big impact on how well your body recovers and how prepared your body is to handle the next workout.
The cooldown should include different therapeutic elements; less intense movements that promote blood flow to damaged muscles. Things like foam rolling, low impact cardio, self massage, trigger point work and breathing exercises all stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which is the rest and digest side of the CNS.
These movements and exercises also bring fresh nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and help flush out lactic acid and free radicals.
#3: Active Recovery
Prioritize and plan for active recovery. This should happen every week in the form of complete days off and/or low impact workouts where the entire focus is on helping your body recover (i.e. very limited strain).
I also advocate for adding in entire weeks of active recovery where the focus is not on improving and straining, rather the focus is on recovery. For example, I usually plan two weeks of work followed by one week of active recovery.
The best athletes in the world are the athletes that can handle the most strain and most of them can handle the most strain because they're the ones who can recover the fastest.
The key to implementing these small changes is to stay disciplined. You're going to want to skip your warm-ups and cooldowns. You're going to want to prioritize more workouts over recovery, but this will lead to decreased performance and injury, both of which are contrary to building muscle.