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Anabolic Training For the Over-40 Bodybuilder

For older natural bodybuilders the idea of manipulating the body’s release of hormones through exercise and diet should be quite exciting. The hormones I’m referring to are the big three: testosterone, growth hormone and insulin.

The body’s natural output of the big three declines as you age, so taking maximum advantage of them is essential if you want to make big gains. The right approach to training and diet will enable you to do it.


You can increase your body’s natural production of testosterone with hard work on the big, compound movements, especially those on which the body actually moves up and down, such as the squat and deadlift. The bigger the muscle, the more testosterone is released—and what’s bigger than the legs and back?

Starting your workout with three to five sets of heavy squats or deadlifts done for six to 10 reps will work wonders. That’s easy to do on leg and back day, but what if, like me, you train chest and triceps on a separate day and shoulders on another day?

The answer? You begin those workouts with squats or deadlifts. I don’t mean you have to work yourself into the ground, but one to three working sets done at a moderate weight will get the process started. Remember the Iron Guru, Vince Gironda? He used to have his trainees begin their arm workouts with squats because he believed it set the adrenal gland up for growth. He was on the right track.

Growth Hormone

Research shows that when GH is secreted along with testosterone, it magnifies the effect of the testosterone. Research also shows that there’s a direct connection between the burn of lactic acid buildup and GH release. What better way to get the burn than by using an extended-set technique, like drop sets, which involve repping out with a weight, then at exhaustion reducing the poundage and immediately repping out again. Here are a few other extended-set techniques:

• Rest/pause. When you reach failure, rack the weight for a 10 count; then continue the set for another three or four reps. You can do that once or even two or three times. Count the entire R/P sequence as one set.

• Forced reps. When you reach failure, have someone give you just a bit of help, enough to get the bar moving. Shoot for three to four extra reps per set done this way. Warning: only used forced reps on a few sets per bodypart; they are notorious for triggering overtraining.

• 1 1/2 reps. This is just what you would think: Complete a full rep followed by a half rep, and keep repeating the pattern. On squats you go down, come up halfway, go down again, and then come up to full lockout. That’s one rep.

• Supersets. Here you do two exercises back to back without stopping, such as barbell curls supersetted with cable curls.

• 21s. This was an Arnold favorite. Using the curl as an example, you do seven full reps followed by seven half reps from the starting position to halfway up, followed by seven half reps from halfway up to the top of the movement. All of that counts as one set.

• Static holds. Using cable rows as an example, you pull the handle to your waist and hold it there for a 10 count, and then lower and begin another rep.

Remember, the point of using these techniques is to get a burn in the target muscle in order to encourage growth hormone release.


This hormone can cause the body to store fat if it’s constantly spiking all day. That’s the reason it’s a good idea to watch your intake of simple carbs. On the other hand, insulin also causes amino acids and creatine to be stored, which encourages protein synthesis. To get the anabolic action without the fat storage, you want to cause an insulin spike at two key times: first thing in the morning when you wake up and after your workout, a.k.a. the anabolic window.

How do you cause your insulin to spike? By drinking a mixture of fast carbs and protein, about 40 grams of protein with 40 to 60 grams of carbs. There are postworkout drinks that contain those precise amounts. You can also mix whey protein powder with some orange juice, skim milk and a banana.

At those key times you want to get nutrients into your bloodstream as fast as possible. After your workout your muscles are depleted and ready to absorb nutrients. That’s when you want to take advantage of the anabolic actions of insulin. The first thing in the morning is also critical because you’re coming off an overnight fast and primed for the anabolic activation an insulin spike plus the right nutrients will provide.

All your other meals should be high in protein and mixed with complex carbs. That will keep insulin spikes under control when you don’t want them and help minimize or eliminate fat storage.

Editor’s note: For more articles by Jim Brewster, visit IM

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