Fitness Past Forty – What’s Realistic?

Building Muscle After forty?

As a personal trainer here in Tunbridge Wells many of my clients and prospective clients ask me just how big and muscular they can get bearing in mind that they are past forty, their prime too perhaps. So here is my take on how I see things.

Movie Star Bodies

Let’s start with what most of us are exposed to on a regular basis, movie stars. We especially relate to the men and women around our own age. 

We are amazed at how they look on screen and perhaps we realise deep down that they may have some advantages and resources that aren’t available to us. Resources such as private chefs, personal assistants to ensure they always have access to good quality food, top class coaches etc. 

But we still like to think that it’s possible to look like them. I mean we are the same species, right?

Sadly it is unlikely that Thor / Hulk Hogan’s body was achieved by eating chicken and broccoli alone. Chemical enhancement is more likely responsible for a large part of this dramatic transformation. 


I grew up in Ireland in the ’70s and ’80s where access to PEDs or steroids was limited to dungeon style gyms. Spit and sawdust affairs where you could hear the clanging and banging of iron plates. Dimly lit underground bodybuilding gyms where gorillas roared whilst straining under bars bent so much it looked like the weights would surely drip off the ends.

Nowadays the use of exogenous hormones is much more prevalent, they’re easier to obtain, there’s far more education available online on how to administer them. 

Most significantly however the pressure that social media exerts to conform to what is believed by many to be the new normal.

Unrealistic expectations

Sometimes my clients mention that they’re following someone online and ask if their bodies are realistic for them to achieve. In 90% of cases I would have to say no it is most definitely not achievable without pumping a truckload of steroids into your backside.

This is a pretty unpopular opinion and has to be couched in a gentle let down as many of us buy into our hero’s journey wholeheartedly. I remember when Lance Armstrong’s book ‘It’s not about the bike’ was a work of non fiction rather than the fiction it turned out to be. 

Discovering that he was a drug cheat was a big let down, however I’d imagine he was merely the drug cheat who got caught. He might’ve gotten away with it for longer if he wasn’t so evangelical about being ‘clean’

Social Media Doesn’t Help

Every month now it seems social media spawns a new character whose sole purpose appears to be showing us how to live a virtuous life close to nature, eating raw meats, lifting heavy weights and looking like a beefed up anatomy chart. Check out the Liver King here, introduced to me by my client George. 

He claims to be natural, of course! 

He maintains his amazing physique by eating organ meat and promoting Liver supplements which he has financial connections with.

We’re not that gullible

Most of us aren’t that gullible really. But social media bombards us with images of superhuman physiques that are often times airbrushed, sometimes chemically enhanced and usually unrealistic for most of us to achieve.

If you’re a member of a gym take a look around.

Now if it was as easy and prevalent as social media would have you believe you’d be tripping over Chris Hemsworth lookalikes and The Rock would be shouting ‘Focus!’ at his refection in the mirror over in the corner. 

This doesn’t happen at my gym, yours?

Bulking Muscle After Forty

Is it possible? Yes 

Is it easy? No. Hormone profiles are not the same past forty neither are your recovery abilities and generally lifestyles aren’t set up to put in the necessary work to achieve extreme muscle growth. More responsibility at work and family commitments take care of most of the your time during the day / eve.

Is it good for your health and longevity? Possibly not. 

Any large body whether it’s a fat one or a muscular one puts certain demands on it’s infrastructure. Joints take a battering at heavier bodyweight. The heart has to pump a little harder to get round the larger dimensions etc.

If you want to see what happened to the guy above (Kali Muscle) recently you can check that out here.

Building Muscle After Forty

Now this is more like it.

As a Personal Trainer I admit to having my own biases about oversized pumped up caricatures but building muscle rather than extreme muscular bulk is a much healthier option… in my opinion.

The type of muscle that is built in response to the activities it engages in. A body that has that athletic ‘fit’ look.


The body and in fact things in general like staying the same. 

My bodyweight has fluctuated by a couple of kilos in either direction for the last twenty years yet it looks very different to how It did a couple of decades ago.

Building muscle whilst stripping fat can make a striking difference to how you look. Holding on to muscle whilst stripping fat is more likely in a calorie deficit though. 

Creating that stimulus or reason for the body to change has to be significant enough to budge it out of homeostasis. And this is where realistic goal setting comes in. Hiring a good coach who can help you with this is a great idea. 

Check out my Priorities In Fitness Past Forty here

About the Author Stephen Devine

Steve not just a skilled Crossfit Coach, but a top-tier CrossFit Competitor who's ranked in the top 1% worldwide in the 2023 Crossfit Open! And this is despite spending six weeks on crutches following surgery to fix a broken ankle just a year ago. He's Qualified as a Crossfit L1 Coach, Crossfit Gymnastics, and is also a qualified Olympic Weightlifting Coach.

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