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Get Back in Shape After 40 - The Minimalist Approach

Get Back in Shape After 40

We've all been there. Cruising through our twenties, feeling unstoppable. You could eat whatever you wanted, as long as you made an effort in the gym, the six-pack would stick around. Then your thirties hit - career, relationships, family life. Suddenly, fitness isn't the priority it used to be. The mid section slowly grows, and your up and went.

But don't throw in the towel yet! While getting back in shape after 40 may seem improbable, it's absolutely doable with the right minimalist approach. No, you don't have to live in the gym or follow a spartan diet. Just a few sustainable habit tweaks can rekindle your inner athlete.  

Part 1: The Training 

You might think you need to sign up to a hardcore bootcamp and start training like an Olympian to get back into shape. But that's the quickest way to burn out and quit...again. Instead, focus on the minimum effective dose of resistance training:

- 3 full body sessions per week, 30-45 minutes each  

- Compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups like push (press-ups, dumbbell presses), pull (rows, pull-ups), squat (goblet squats), hinge (deadlifts)

- Add 2-3 short but high-intensity 10-15 minute cardio blasts like bike sprints or battle ropes

This minimalist routine hits all the major movement patterns to build muscle and rev your metabolism. A 2019 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research* found this approach produced muscle growth and strength gains essentially equal to a higher volume split routine.

For maximum bang for your buck, focus on exercises that recruit the most muscle like squats, deadlifts, presses, rows and pulls. Cheap equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance bands can be just as effective as gym machines.

I have a client named Andy who recently turned 49. Last year, he could barely climb the stairs without puffing and certainly couldn't keep up with his teenage son. Following a similar protocol to this, he dropped over 2 stone of bodyfat while regaining solid muscle and functional strength. He recently challenged his son to a race down the beach whilst on holiday and left the teenager in his wake! 

So ditch the "all or nothing" mentality. You don't need to become a gym rat. Just a concentrated 60-90 minutes per week of intelligent effort can turn back the clock.

Part 2: The Nutrition

You've heard it before - abs are built in the kitchen. At this age, nutrition is crucial for shedding weight and maintaining muscle. But that doesn't mean torturing yourself with the latest fad diet. First, calculate your target calorie range based on your stats and goals. For a 45-year-old bloke looking to lean out without losing muscle, aim for around 2,000-2,200 calories per day.

Use a free app like MyFitnessPal to log your intake, at least temporarily. This brings awareness to how many calories are in your usual foods. With flexible dieting, no foods are truly off-limits as long as you control portions. You can still enjoy your favourite treats like a cheeky Nando's or curry in moderation while shredding timber.  

Instead of agonising over hitting your calories bang on every day, aim for your weekly target. For example, let's say your goal is 15,000 calories per week. You share a burger and pint with your mates on Saturday, putting you closer to 3,000 calories that day. No need to panic! Just rein it in a bit the next few days, aiming for 2,200 on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to put you at 14,800 calories for the week. Close enough to stay on track.

When you're not being too restrictive, prioritise:

- Lean protein like chicken, turkey, eggs, fish and plant-based sources

- Fibrous veg like broccoli, cabbage, brussels, greens

- Fruits such as apples, berries, satsumas

- Healthy fats from avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds

- Plenty of water

With a few small adjustments to your usual meals and a flexible mindset, you'll start feeling spritely and regaining your body confidence.

Part 3: Burn More Outside the Gym 

Stop treating exercise as a chore to tick off between Netflix binges. Make it an enjoyable part of your daily routine. That's where NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) comes in. These are the calories you burn through daily movement and activity outside of dedicated workouts.

Get Back in Shape After 40

Look for opportunities to burn extra calories through NEAT like:

- Take a stroll for 30 mins during lunch or after dinner

- Use the stairs whenever possible instead of lifts

- Do household chores like mowing the lawn (push not ride-on!), raking leaves, vacuuming  

- Walk or cycle for short trips instead of driving

- Play sports, games or go on hikes with your kids

- Park further away from shop entrances

- Use a standing desk or go for walking meetings at work

- Take a break from sitting every 60 mins with a lap around the office

Simple activities like these can burn hundreds of extra calories daily, leading to pounds of fat loss over time. More importantly, it brings back the joy of movement and makes fitness feel less daunting.

The average person burns around 300-800 extra calories per day through NEAT depending on their activity levels. For the guy with a desk job, just increasing daily step count from 5,000 to 10,000 steps can burn a few hundred bonus calories.  

So look for any excuse to increase your NEAT - walking the dog, doing your own gardening and household tasks, running errands on foot instead of driving. It all adds up in your favour.


Let's be real, regaining peak fitness after 40 won't be a walk in the park. But it's nowhere near as daunting as you might think. With this minimalist approach: 

- 3 full body weighted sessions weekly

- Tracking your nutrition to cut or maintain a slight calorie deficit  

- Burning extra calories through NEAT lifestyle habits

You WILL see results. Not in a month or two. But stick to it for 6-12 months, and that beer gut will turn into a budding six-pack. You'll feel fifteen years younger with more energy, confidence and zest for life. No 5am cardio bootcamps required!

So stop making excuses. Get your trainers on and let's get cracking. Your active body has been waiting for you to spark its comeback!



Ralston, G.W., Kilgore, L., Wyatt, F.B., et al. (2019). Weekly Training Volume and Muscle Growth: A Systematic Review and Analyses. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 33(7), 1822-1837.

Get Back in Shape After 40

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