How to Build Bigger Arms After 40

There’s almost nothing older lifters like to laugh at more than when younger bucks in the gym overload a barbell and spend an entire workout straining through endless sets of curls.

Muscle size does come from lifting progressively heavier weights — but not every muscle group needs to be maxed out to grow. Arms are the perfect example. The elbows are relatively small joints, and they’re just not built to handle ever increasing poundages on isolation lifts like the curl. Forcing them to, year after year, will lead to joint pain and injury; and yet, men still go so heavy that their curls turn into back bends. Ah, the folly of youth.

More mature lifters know that arms respond just fine to lifting light weights for high reps, and that’s what David Jack — creator of the Men’s Health Muscle After 40 (MA40) program — recommends. “You can actually get a great arm workout with dumbbells as light as 15 pounds and a basic elastic exercise band,” he says. And if you’re over 40, Jack insists that’s just what you should do.

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The following routine emphasizes quality over quantity. One feature that’s perfect for the older guy (especially one who doesn’t have access to a full gym) is performing sets for time rather than reps. This lets you get the most out of whatever amount of resistance you have available to you.

For instance, you can do as many reps as possible for 30 seconds at the fastest cadence you can maintain with good form. Another technique: do reps as fast as you can, and when you can’t keep your pace anymore, slow down and perform each rep more deliberately to increase the time your muscles spend under tension.

The volume of work you put in will more than make up for the lack of heavy weight, and light dumbbells and bands won’t irritate your elbows like barbells and cables do.


Perform the exercises in the order listed. Rest 60 seconds between each set of exercises 1–3. For the Triceps Triple Threat (4A–4C), complete one set of each exercise in sequence without rest in between. Afterward, rest 90 seconds, and repeat the sequence twice more (three total sets).

Sets: 3 Reps: 8–12

Sets: 3 Reps: Work for 30 seconds

If you get tired before 30 seconds is up, pause and hold the down position a few seconds until you recover enough to pump out a few more reps.

Sets: 3 Reps: See below

Perform reps at as fast a pace as you can maintain with good form. When you can’t continue at that speed anymore, perform as many reps as you can at a slow pace. “Aim for 15–20 fast reps,” says Jack, “and then 8–10 slow ones to finish.”

Triceps Triple Threat

Sets: 3 Reps: 8–12

Sets: 3 Reps: 8–12

Lower the weights behind your head slowly. Then lower your elbows to the floor and press up from there.

Sets: 3 Reps: 8–12

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