In this post, you will learn about bodybuilding for women over 40. Is it possible, what to expect, and if it’s really something you want to get into?
Bodybuilding has been around in some way or form at least since ancient greek. In the past, it has been seen more as a masculine sport but in the past decades, the popularity of bodybuilding among women has increased significantly.
Women have really embraced strength sports during the 2000s and sports like CrossFit have almost as many women competitors as men.
Bodybuilding became really popular in the eighties with action movies starring bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and bodybuilding for women became a big thing first time during the eighties.
The attitude for strength training among women has also changed and most women know the health benefits of going to the gym.
If you are looking to get into bodybuilding and are over 40, you are probably wondering is it possible and is it worth it.
I’m not going to lie to you. Competitive bodybuilding is hard and typically takes years of building muscle and controlling the diet to achieve a muscular lean physique.
If you don’t have a background in some form of power or strength sport, exceptional genetics, and the will to dedicate your life to the sport, it’s going to be an uphill battle to become a professional bodybuilder in your forties or fifties.
But the good news is that it’s absolutely possible to change your body compositions drastically as a woman over 40 and even if you can’t make it as a professional bodybuilder there are bodybuilding-related sports that might be more suitable for you.
Building muscle and strength is almost always beneficial for your health as is controlling your body fat. Strength training is actually one of the most beneficial activities for women over 40 to prevent the effects of aging.
That said, competitive bodybuilding is mostly about aesthetics and the constant dieting can be hard on your body and unhealthy, especially when done wrong and it has some very serious mental health risks as well.
That’s why I can’t really recommend bodybuilding to anyone. But I’m not here to decide for you. If it’s something you really want, I encourage you to go for it. Read on to learn more about bodybuilding for women over 40.
Bodybuilding Vs Building Muscle
I think it’s very important to start with the distinction between bodybuilding and building muscle to make sure we are on the same page.
If you are looking to build muscle and become lean for recreational reasons, congratulations! It’s absolutely possible to do that in your 40s.
But if you want to become professional bodybuilding, that’s a whole different thing because there’s a being difference between just going to the gym and building muscle and actual bodybuilding.
In my books, bodybuilding is a competitive sport. There are amateur series’ and professional series but anything that doesn’t aim in competition isn’t actual bodybuilding.
If you have good genetics and work ethic, you can become very muscular and lean just by going to the gym, lifting properly, and eating correctly for several years.
But the ripped bodybuilders you see on stage are on a whole other level, even if they are amateurs. The main difference with recreational muscle building is the extremely high muscle mass and extremely low body fat level bodybuilders achieve during contest prep.
Let’s talk a bit more about the actual sport of bodybuilding and what it involves.
Bodybuilding As A Sport
Bodybuilding is a sport of aesthetics. The aim is to look as muscular as possible with as little body fat as possible on stage. There are different federations and series of bodybuilding, including masters natural series which is likely the best fit for you.
Fitness sports like figure fitness and bikini fitness are very similar to bodybuilding but the emphasis is more on aesthetics than muscle mass and definition.
A typical bodybuilder will spend anything from 2 to over 10 years building muscle on the gym strategically before entering into competition.
Building muscle requires a caloric surplus and it’s hard or even impossible to build muscle if you try to maintain super low body fat levels, especially as a woman.
So it’s more efficient to build a good base of muscle mass through cycles of “bulks” (caloric surplus, building muscle) and “cuts” (caloric deficit, fat loss) for several years before doing an actual contest diet.
Once bodybuilders enter a contest, they will begin a contest prep that’s typically pretty grueling because of the very controlled diet. Calories, macronutrients, sodium intake, supplements, and exercise will all be controlled for up to several months.
The aim is to achieve the lowest possible body fat possible on the contest date while maintaining as much muscle as possible. Bodybuilders will also alter hydration and muscle fullness with strategic carb and sodium intake.
The goal is to reduce water retention under the skin to a minimum while making the muscles look as full as possible.
Then you throw on some very strong tanning solution to make an illusion of greater muscle definition. Oh and don’t forget the skimpy outfit that allows the judges to see as much of your muscle mass as possible.
Bodybuilders also train a lot of posing, which means flexing your muscles in strategic positions to create the greatest illusion of size.
After all this, you go on stage to perform a few posing routines and the judges will rate the competitors based on their appearance. Who has the most defined, lean, and muscular physique and overall balance is usually the winner.
Can Women Over 40 Build Muscle
So can you build muscle to become a bodybuilder as a woman over 40? Well, you can certainly build muscle. How much? Depends on a lot of things.
There are three things you need to build muscle. You need to do some form of resistance training to damage the muscles. Then you need enough food and rest to make the muscles recover a bit stronger and larger.
How much and fast you can build muscle is highly dependent on your genetics more than anything. On average men can build muscle significantly faster and more due to higher testosterone levels and androgen receptor density of their muscle tissue but it’s not that simple.
A woman with exceptional muscle-building genetics can build muscle faster than a man with bad muscle-building genetics. The chances of having exceptional muscle-building genetics are pretty small though. The individual genetic differences in the ability to build muscle are enormous.
Menopause can affect your ability to build muscle as well since estrogen is beneficial for muscle and bone strength.
Probably the most important factor besides genetics for a woman over 40 to build muscle is your background. If you’ve been sedentary most of your life, you are really late in the game.
If on the other hand, you’ve done gymnastics or some power sport your whole life, you probably already have a good strength base. You will also have a pretty good idea if it’s easy for you to gain muscle mass.
Make no mistake, anyone can build strength and benefit from it at any age. But if you want to become visibly muscular and lean after 40, you will need to have an athletic background and good genetics.
Dangers Of Bodybuilding For Women Over 40
Finally, I want to talk a little bit about the risks involved in bodybuilding as I personally don’t
Like I stated before, my take is that bodybuilding is a sport. Sport means competition. Competition means calculated risk.
Just like with powerlifting, there are inherent risks involved with taking your body to its physical limits. While bodybuilding is very demanding physically, it’s possible to train smart and minimize the risk of injury from lifting. Something you can’t really do with powerlifting.
But the real physical risks of bodybuilding lie in the extreme diets and that’s not even the biggest risk in my opinion. The biggest risk with bodybuilding in my opinion is mental health.
Bodybuilding involves controlling your diet completely. If you have any history of eating disorders, OCD, or perfectionism, it’s very easy to see how bodybuilding can lead to an eating disorder like orthorexia.
Bodybuilding also revolves around superficial appearance so it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you that narcissism is very common in bodybuilders. And no, I’m not claiming all bodybuilders are narcissists.
Expecting your body to morph into some ideal picture in your head that’s built by watching fitness content with contest-prepped people with elite genetics, photoshopped pictures and people on steroids is a recipe for developing body dysmorphia and the negative feelings associated with it.
So I besides the risks of extreme dieting you need to be aware of these risks for mental health. I personally don’t appreciate the values and goals associated with bodybuilding so I can’t really recommend it to anyone.
Instead, I recommend you focus on strength training and exercise for health and longevity. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing a strong, lean and beautiful body. But you need to be aware of moderation and what’s healthy and what isn’t.
I hope you found this post about bodybuilding for women over 40 useful. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I will get back to you.
Bodybuilding can be an exciting sport if you are competitive and have good genetics and background for it. There are masters series for older women, so it’s possible to compete even after 40.
That said, in my opinion, bodybuilding is a superficial sport mainly based on appearances. It poses risks for mental health due to strict control on the diet and constant focus on body composition and appearance.
Strength training is one of the most beneficial activities older women can do for their health. It will help prevent loss of bone and muscle mass and other effects of aging.
My recommendation is to focus on strength training for longevity and health. Be grateful and proud of your body. Don’t abuse it with extreme diets and feats of strength.
Thanks for reading and see you next time!