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At 40 you react (almost) as well to strength training as when you were 18

Young men and women aged 18-19 build up muscle strength in the gym a little faster than older men and women. The difference is statistically significant but so small that you hardly notice it. Researchers at the University of Central Florida reach this conclusion in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

Their research represents the biggest study on age and the effectiveness of strength training ever published. The researchers studied about 600 men and women aged between 18 and 39. Some studies say that people who don't train are at their strongest at the age of 40, they maintain their strength between 40 and 50, and then start to lose it. According to other studies, the decline in untrained muscle strength starts somewhere after 30. Little research has been done on age and the effect of strength training, although it is known that the over 60s respond less well to strength training than young people do.

The researchers wanted to know more about the age aspects of training effectiveness. So they got their test subjects to train their arms for 12 weeks. The subjects went to a gym twice a week where they did exercises like the preacher-curl, the overhead-triceps-extension, the concentration-curl, the triceps-kickback and the standing curl. They did 3 sets of each exercise, and rested 2 minutes between sets.

The researchers gradually increased the weight. In week 1-4 the subjects trained using weights they could lift a maximum of 12 times; in week 5-8 they worked with weights they could manage 8 reps with; and in week 9-12 they used weights they could just lift 6 times.

At the start of the experiment there were no noticeable differences between the subjects' biceps, although the biceps of the older subjects were slightly bigger.

At 40 you react (almost) as well to strength training as when you were 18

By the end of the 12 weeks the biceps of all subjects had become larger and stronger. The younger the subject, the greater the increase in strength [1RM].

At 40 you react (almost) as well to strength training as when you were 18

For all other aspects, the effect of the strength training was similar for all age groups. For example, the researchers also determined the effect on the isometric maximal voluntary contraction, another aspect of muscle strength. They discovered that for this variable all age groups had made the same progress.

The effect is small and people in their thirties should not let it put them off training, the researchers stress in their conclusion. "The size of this effect is very small in comparison with the enduring ability of skeletal muscle to adapt to resistance", they write. "The muscle size and strength response to resistance training is not influenced by age in any practical manner through the fourth decade of life."

J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Oct; 23(7):1915-20.

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