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Your Guide To Building Muscle In Your 30s (And Beyond)

Do you know what will strike fear into the heart of any man? It’s not jumping out of a plane. It’s not those moments before you talk to a woman. And it sure as hell isn’t staring down a lion on the Serengeti. Nope, it’s that moment you come face-to-face with an old picture, and you realize that over the last few years (or decade) you’ve lost control—you’re “fluffier,” less muscular, you don’t smile when you see your reflection, and even worse—you have no idea who this “man” in the mirror is.

From that moment on, you notice fat hanging off your waist and arms that you didn’t realize you had before, climbing stairs seems (suddenly) harder than ever, and you catch yourself looking at fitness information online more than ever (like you’re doing now).

But it’s too late, right? You’re in your 30s, and it’s impossible to build muscle in your 30s; or at least that’s what you read somewhere once. Or did you hear that from your friend Greg? Nah, it wasn’t Greg. Wait, you remember where you heard that. It was your gym teacher Mr. Youngblood from high school. He said that after 30 it all goes downhill and you can kiss your youthfulness goodbye.

Mr. Youngblood is wrong. Dead wrong. Do you know when the best time to build muscle is? Right. Effing. Now. It doesn’t matter if you’re 30, 35, or inching closer to your fourth decade on Earth, you can still build muscle in your 30s.

But, you are getting older. And when it comes to building muscle in your 30s, there are a few things you need to know to build strength and add lean, sexy muscle in your third decade.

Beating a Dead Horse

This has been covered here before, so I won’t spend too many more words on this topic. But it always bears repeating: strength is always the first goal when it comes to lifting weights.

Getting older doesn’t mean you can’t get stronger. In fact, a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that men in their 60s who completed the same program as men half their age, increased both strength and muscle size in their legs and lats.

You don’t need to lift 3 or 4 times your bodyweight with squats and deadlifts. But aiming for a 1 to 1.5 times your bodyweight squat, deadlift, or bench (and if you’ve got a lot of body fat to lose, this number will change as your body changes) is ideal. Get strong first. Get swole second.

Getting swole and stronger changes a little as you age. You’re not nineteen anymore. You have responsibilities: work, kids, a significant other; life is now more stressful than the days where all you had to do was go to work, the gym, and get drunk at bars a few nights a week.

Gaining muscle in your 30s is possible, but it does come with a few caveats to consider.

Recovery Becomes Paramount

Sleep, damn it. You don’t need to workout 6 days a week to burn body fat or to build muscle. But if you sleep less than 6 hours a night, you’re going to struggle with any of your muscle gaining goals.

The Center for Disease Control in America found in 2016 that nearly 35% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep a night. What does that mean for you? For one, depriving yourself of sleep increases your risk of hypertension and weight gain, blunts the effectiveness of your immune system, and can turn your mood upside down, making you less fun to be around. And worst of all, it can tank your sex drive.

Your body does the majority of its rebuilding while you sleep. During the deepest parts of sleep, your body releases growth hormones that repair and rebuild your body’s tissues.

Build your muscle in your 30s

Improving sleep doesn’t mean you need to go to bed earlier—unless you’re normally crashing at 1am and waking at 5am, then I’d advise you to turn off your Playstation 4 and go the f*ck to sleep.

Lte night gaming sessions aren’t the only thing affecting your quality of sleep. Here are a few things you can do to improve your sleep overall:

  • Limit caffeine intake after 3 pm;
  • Create a bedtime routine to help your mind wind down;
  • Limit screen time before bed;
  • Make your room darker than Darth Vader’s armor; and,
  • Lower the temperature of your room

But sleep isn’t the only recovery method you need to take seriously. When you combine adequate sleep with good nutrition, you’re giving your body the important time, and building blocks, it needs to make repairs. The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, believed that food was medicine. You can’t fuel yourself like you did in your 20s on fast food, microwaved pizza, and can after can of Michelob Ultra. You’re an adult now: eat like an adult.

Make sure you’re eating enough protein to fuel your gains; .82-1g per pound of bodyweight is sufficient for building muscle, no matter your age. And one thing to monitor as you age is the amount of processed foods you’re consuming. Limit those foods and focus on whole sourced food; it doesn’t need to be organic, but make sure it’s not junk.

Oh, there’s one more piece to add to the recovery puzzle. And this piece is a great way to stay active on rest days, but it also helps you manage stress: walking. Add at least one 30-45 minute walk into your day. And leave your distractions at home when you take this walk. Breathe in the air. Look at the world around you. Use this as a meditative time to recover mentally.

Testosterone: The Youth Juice

By the time you hit the age of 30, your T-levels begin to decrease. If you’ve been away from the game for a few years, those levels can be super low which can prevent you from adequately losing body fat and building muscle.

And before you even ask—no, test boosters don’t do a damn thing. Well, except for sending more blood to your nether regions. But they don’t actually increase testosterone in your body.

What does increase T?

  • lifting heavy weight;
  • eating more dietary fat;
  • adequate sleep;
  • reducing stress; and
  • exogenous testosterone

Now, before I go any further, please read this carefully: get your T-levels tested to see where they fall.

But low(er) t-levels doesn’t, in my opinion, mean that you need to contact a youth clinic to get injectable testosterone. Though I will someday use exogenous T myself, I believe that for most men, the first thing you need to do is improve your lifestyle factors. Once you’re lifting weight, decreasing body fat, eating more healthy dietary fats, getting more sleep, and keeping stress in check, you should notice some changes to your overall mood.

That may not necessarily mean your T-levels are higher, though I’d argue if you’re boners are more intense than before it’s a damn good sign. No matter what, you need to know where your T-levels stand throughout your 30s. And the only way to know that is to get tested.

Hit Muscles More Frequently for More Gains

Life gets far busier in our 30s. Some men have either started or are in the process of starting families during this decade. You might even be expanding or changing careers. What’s that spell? R E S P O N S I B I L I T Y

Increased family and work responsibilities typically come with a lose of free time. So why do you think you can still spend 90-minutes in the gym?

You don’t have time to do all the “bro” splits you did in your 20s. They were fun, sure. But three days is all you need to shred body fat and build more muscle in your 30s. To accomplish this, you need to do less body part splits, and more full body workouts.

Full body training hits all your major muscle groups more than once a week. And that extra work leads to more muscle breakdown which, when paired with adequate recovery, translates to more muscle gains.

Now, you still need to hit the big five exercises: squat, bench, deadlift, row, and weighted carries (i.e., carrying heavy ass dumbbells for a predetermined distance). And with smart programming, you can hit all of those exercises in only three days a week. Check out more on Daily Undulating Periodization here. This style of training focuses on improving strength, power, and building muscle in the hypertrophy range of all of those lifts. And when it comes to building muscle, especially in your 30s, strength, power, and hypertrophy are the Holy Trinity of gains.

build muscle in your 30s

Supplementation Becomes More Important

Confession: As a coach, I do not push a ton of supplements on my clients.

One, I don’t see much of a need to spend $150 a month, or more, on pills and powders. Two, most human beings have families and responsibilities and all they really want is to have more energy to play with their kids, get ahead of potential health issues, and look better naked—they don’t give a rats ass about being “optimal,” because if they can have more energy or just feel better all around, that’s more optimal than they were.

Still, there are supplements that will help you feel like you could tackle a bear and rip its arms off and beat it to death with its own claws; and no, it’s not some illegal drug.

Must Have: Zinc; Fish Oil; Vitamin D; Magnesium; Creatine; Protein

Consider Taking: Ubiquinol; CoQ10; Multivitamin; ProBiotics; Pre-Workout

No Need Ever: Test Booster; Fat Burners; Superfoods

Don’t Be a Fulking Idiot, Bulk Smarter

I have a question for you: Would you rather gain 10 pounds of muscle and 15 pounds of fat, or, gain 8 pounds of muscle and 5 pounds of fat?

Now, if you were some 22-year-old numbskull, you’d jump at the 10 pounds of muscle, right? But you’re in your 30s. You have responsibilities. And you don’t have the time to spend losing pounds of unnecessary fat that you gained because you decided to “fulk.” (That’s brospeak for a, “fuck it I’m gonna eat everything in sight,” bulk)

Look: Your metabolism isn’t what it used to be. And I know you think that building muscle means you can masticate on pizza, burgers, wings, and all the ice cream you can shove down your gullet. But you’re wrong—more wrong than your high school gym teacher, Mr. Youngblood.

He may have been wrong about not being able to build muscle in your 30s, but he was somewhat right when he alluded to it going down hill. And what I mean is that if you’ve been inactive for awhile, your metabolism is going to be shite. Fat loss isn’t going to be as “effortless” as some dude online proclaims. You need to bulk more strategically; think long term bulking.

A smaller calorie surplus, 200-300 calories, is all you need to gain lean mass without adding mounds of unwanted fat. Sure, it sounds fun to eat 3,500 calories (and trust me, it was pretty fun—once), but that excess fat you gain ends up making you feel heavy and slow.

Take. Your. Time. Lift heavy, eat in a moderate surplus, keep recovery on point, and live your life. That’s the goal of all of this anyways: living the highest quality of life you can.

Build your muscle in your 30s

Make Your 30s the Best Damned Decade of Your Life

Building muscle isn’t a right reserved for the young. Men in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s can build muscle. But the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes; your body is breaking down every single day after all, why let it break down further before trying to build it back up?

Lifting weights and increasing your lean body mass will help you increase your metabolism, burn more fat when you’re at rest, regain strength, increase longevity, improve your mood, lift your libido, and make you feel better in your 30s than you did in your 20s.

About the Author

If you wanna know the full secrets on how to make your 30s the best damned decade of your life, check out my guide: Make Your 30s Better than Your 20sIn it I’ll show you the strategies my clients have followed to lose over 100 combined pounds of fat, and more than 30 inches off their waists. Oh, and they also gained tons of lean body mass that’s helped them look and feel better than ever.