Ever caught yourself saying just that as you fondly recall your youth, when you were fit, athletic and ready to conquer the world? Much like the stereotypical aging jock taking every opportunity to recount the glory days of his high-school exploits, as we all get older, you can easily find yourself hopelessly holding onto past accomplishments.
While those memories tell one tale, reality grows ever bleaker when it comes to your fitness. A six-minute mile gives way to labored breaths as you trudge up a set of stairs. Your back buckles when picking up the groceries. Six-pack abs lazily spill into a keg. Just a part of getting old, right?
Well, not necessarily. You may not be able to halt the inevitable process of aging, but the human body is extremely adaptable and responsive to physical challenges. You can gain strength and muscle mass in your 30s, 40s and beyond, if you’re willing to work hard in the gym and take good nutrition seriously. Here we outline a six-week training plan, broken down into two-week increments:
• Weeks 1–2: You’ll start with a training split that covers your whole body over the span of two workouts. Steer clear of all-out maxes on your lifts: Simply find your workout groove, and push yourself hard enough to break a good sweat every time.
• Weeks 3–4: Your major muscle groups are now split over four workouts. Strive for momentary muscle failure on your last one or two sets of each exercise — that’s the point at which you can’t possibly complete another rep with good form. (Choose a weight that will cause this around the listed rep range for that exercise.)
• Weeks 5–6: Your body is split over five workouts, and supersets are introduced, in which you do a full set of the first listed exercise to failure, then immediately do the second exercise and again rep until failure.
In this article, you’ll also find key nutritional strategies and a supplement stack to help fuel energy levels and muscle-building processes, giving you everything you need to reap incredible results.
GET-YOUR-BODY-BACK PLAN: Weeks 1-2
In the first two weeks, you’ll train every other day, working half your body on the first day, the other half on the second. Repeat until 14 days are up. (You’ll end up doing the “Day 1” session one more time than “Day 2.”) Where you see reps that decrease set to set, you’ll pyramid up the weight each time.
Lying Triceps Extension
GET-YOUR-BODY-BACK PLAN: Weeks 3-4
In these two weeks, you’ll want to strive for failure on the last one to two sets of each exercise, so be sure to choose weights that are heavy enough to accomplish this. Pyramid up the weight set to set for all applicable exercises (i.e., those that aren’t body-weight-only). The 15-rep sets you see listed at the start of workouts are meant to be light warm-ups; don’t be afraid to add two or three more such sets to get your body ready for action.
Inclined Reverse Crunch
Wide-Grip Pulldown to Front
GET-YOUR-BODY-BACK PLAN: Weeks 5-6
Bring an extra workout towel because these five workouts will push you to the max. Again, you’ll strive for failure on the last one to two sets of each exercise, while you also condense more work into less time through the power of supersets. Of all the training variables that help you increase workout intensity (sets, reps, weight), time manipulation is often underutilized, but less rest — when used judiciously, as in a superset — pushes your muscles beyond their comfort zone, a key facilitator of growth.
Seated Alternating Dumbbell Curl
Getting your body back will require more than a few hours of gym time every week — you'll have to do your part on the diet front, too. Here are four guidelines to help you get your meal plan in sync with your workouts.
- Track your calories. Some people make calorie counting a daunting and complicated endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. At the most basic level, your body will store calories it doesn’t need, which means you should concentrate on controlling the excess — nothing more.
Here’s a simple formula: To figure out how many calories you should be averaging per day to drop pounds, multiply your body weight in pounds by 12. A 180-pound man would aim for no more than 2,160 calories daily. Give it two to three weeks, and see if you lose 2 to 5 pounds per week — if you find you’re losing more than that (which means too much muscle mass is slipping away) bump your total intake up by 100 to 200 calories.
- Seek out quality sources of protein. It has been written a million times in fitness magazines, but that’s because it’s true: Protein is the building block of muscle, making it absolutely essential for crafting a muscular, lean physique. When ingested and digested, protein is broken down into amino acids, which in turn serve many purposes in the body, including the rebuilding and repair of muscle tissue.
For every pound in bodyweight, you need at least 1 to 1.50 grams of protein per day — the 180-pound man we mentioned would need 180 grams per day minimum from sources such as beef, turkey and chicken breast, fish, low-fat dairy products, egg whites, and high-quality protein powders, which are especially valuable because of their convenience and nutritional content.
- Keep the carbs coming. While there’s a place for carb manipulation in the arsenal of a bodybuilder looking to lean out, it’s not practical or particularly healthy when taken to the extreme. Indeed, carbs provide the body fuel, and thus without them, your workouts can suffer. In fact, your body, when faced with an energy shortage, will pilfer protein directly from your muscle tissue and burn it as fuel. To counter that, at least half of your total daily calories should come from high-quality carb sources such as vegetables, beans and whole grains.
You’ll also find that many meal-replacement supplements provide complex carbs as part of their ingredient formulations, which makes them a handy alternative to a whole-food meal.
- Eat five to six times per day, spaced two to three hours apart. This helps keep your metabolism elevated throughout the day versus following a common cycle of skipping breakfast, having a big lunch and then an even bigger dinner. In that latter scenario, your blood-sugar levels rise and drop precipitously throughout the day while your body struggles with periods of hunger and periods of heavy calorie intake it can’t possibly keep up with. Eating more regularly evens out the highs and lows, allowing you to more efficiently process calories and keep your energy levels on an even keel.
As part of your day, be sure to have a small preworkout meal or supplement about 90 minutes before training that includes complex carbs and protein, and a postworkout meal or supplement no later than 30 minutes after lifting that includes protein and fast-acting carbs, because that’s when your muscles are ready to soak up nutrients.
The Get-Your-Body-Back Stack
You can also add others supplements as you see fit, including testosterone boosters, herbs and advanced muscle-building formulations, but the following is a solid basis of supplementation for the next six weeks.
TIME OF DAY
Per label instructions
Whey protein powder
Morning, after workout
Morning, before and after workout
Per label instructions
Morning and after workout
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
Morning and after workout
Casein protein powder
Fish Oil or omega-3 supplement