T Nation

Maximizing Muscle Growth vs. Optimizing Your Body as You Get Older

Posted this in another topic, but I thought it was worth it’s own thread.


There is something I’ve only recently started paying more attention as I’m getting older and made some realisation through careful analysis of my own progress over the years. More about that later.
One thing I believe is that to maximize growth you also need to maximize mTOR activation. You CAN gain muscle without maximizing it, but it wont be as rapid.

Here’s the thing… I also believe (after talking with a M.D. specialized in the aging process) that mTOR activation can also speed up the aging process by speeding up the cell turnover of many many cells in your body. It can also speed up the development of cancerous cells.

So I do think that once you are past a certain age it is worth asking yourself if continuing to pile on more and more muscle tissue is more important than aging well.

Furthermore it is my belief that we all have our own limit as to how much muscle we can naturally carry. I’m not necessarily referring to the “maximal lean body mass formulas out there”, but to the fact that every body has a set limit to how much overall muscle we can support.

When we have reached that limit we can still continue to improve performance, get leaner, making small gains in overall mass but mostly we can change how we carry the overall muscle we have by emphasizing some muscles more than others.

Here are some thoughts I had on that topic:
There are somethings that I’d rather not say because it’s not what people want to hear. But I’m not a cheerleader; my job is not to sell you sunshine and rainbows but to give you tools to fulfill your own potential.

So even though it will not be pleasant to some here is something I found to be true.
Each of us has a certain genetic limit to the amount of muscle tissue we can carry naturally (without the use of performance-enhancing drugs). I don’t know exactly what determines it (myostatin? Testosterone levels? Genes? Skeletal system?) but I absolutely believe that such a limit exists.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t keep on progressing.

I’ll illustrate what I mean with my own example.

From 1998 to 2002 I trained and competed as an Olympic lifter. I was really strong in the lower body with a front squat of 220kg (485lbs) a back squat of 270kg (595lbs), a Zercher squat from pins (starting 1” below the knees) of 250kg (550lbs) and a pin pull from 1” above the knees of 1000lbs. My upper body strength wasn’t as high, I could barely bench 315 for example. I was built like a traffic cone: huge legs, thick back and traps, small arms and chest… and I was 215-220lbs.

I then switched to more of a powerlifting program, training a lot like the Westside Barbell crew. My arms, especially triceps, delts and chest grew a lot. My bench press went up to 180kg (398lbs)… and I was 215-220.

In 2005-2006 I decided to compete in bodybuilding. My upper body continued to get larger, my legs were downsized (to be honest I was sick of squatting 2-6 times per week!) but were now in balance with my upper body. While I was 190lbs on stage, my “lean but not ripped” weight was … 215-220.

5 years ago I played around with gymnastic training, following the progression explained in “Gymnastic bodies”. I did that for 6 months. My biceps, lats and delts were great. Legs were downsized, chest might have come down a bit… and I was 215.

4 years ago I decided to do Crossfit. Mostly to share an activity with my wife, but eventually it became my full time training for about 4-5 months. My arms and pecs got a bit smaller but the whole body was well balanced and athletic… and I was 215.

Fast forward to this year; at the beginning of the year I started focusing on the Olympic lifts again. My physique once again changed. Traps, legs and abs got thicker… and I was still 215!

Then I had to get in shape for a photoshoot. So I trained like a bodybuilder again for about 5 months and I did less leg training. Arms, chest and shoulders drastically improved. I ended up being 202lbs in the pictures but I was 215 “lean but not ripped” before I started to diet down.

Now I’m training for performance using strength-skill circuits; I also do a small amount of bodybuilding work. I don’t have body parts that stand out now, but everything flows better and is in balance… but I’m still 215!

So basically, my overall muscle mass stayed pretty much the same (maybe a small improvement since I am leaner on average) for the past 10 years or so. And it’s not like I don’t know how to train; I am great at getting results for performance and muscle mass. I pretty much never skip workouts and I always train hard and smart. So the only conclusion I can make is that my body is not designed to carry more muscle than what gives me a fairly lean 215lbs or very lean 200lbs body.

Oh I was bigger at times. I was 225-228 in some pictures for T-nation from about 6 years ago. But to be honest it was a lot of water retention. Lucky for me I tend to retain more water inside the muscles than beneath the skin, so it makes my muscles look bigger and fuller. But I had to eat like crazy, became physically uncomfortable and my body couldn’t sustain that weight for a long time. I also got heavier the few times I tried steroids. But under normal circumstances, regardless of my training style, I seem to be limited to being 215 lean. But the way I train can totally change how that 215 looks.

Trust me, I did try to force growth by eating more, a lot more. I did get “heavier”… up to 235 and even hit 245 at one time but was pretty fat. At 235 I looked thick and solid… looked great with a t-shirt… but not so much without one… when I decided to drop the fat, I would go back down to 215!

So what I realize is that I have three choices:

  1. Continue to be hard-headed, doing everything I can to try to beat my physiology and get bigger… likely getting much fatter and hurting my health and longevity

  2. Take large doses of steroids and growth hormone to get past my natural limit; also endangering my health (especially considering my health issues)

  3. Be satisfied with the overall amount of muscle I carry and focus on making small tweaks to change my overall look and put more emphasis on improving performance and well-being.
    To me the choice is very simple!

I’m focusing more methods that minimize mTOR activation, improves systemic function, target an improvement in the physical capacities that are lost first as we get older (speed, power, strength). And then add a very small amount of localized hypertrophy work, only on the muscles I want to emphasize to get the type of look I want.

So for most of my workout:

  • I de-emphasise the eccentric (1/3rd of my lifting is olympic lifts, 1/6th is deadlifts where I drop the bar on every rep. I also do prowler and farmer’s walk)

  • I keep reps low to minimize reliance on muscle glycogen (which spikes cortisol release) so my sets for most of my workout are 2 or 3 per set.

  • I focus on fairly heavy BUT not maximal work to avoid creating excessive inflammation and CNS stress. I start my training cycle with 80% on my main movements (for 2-3 reps) and progress really slowly.

  • I do most of my work as a circuit to improve cardiac output. Again to improve my overall health. Its not an endurance circuit, there is still 60-90 sec between exercises… enough to maintain performance but also to keep my heart rate elevated.

  • I do jumps and throws to maintain power

  • I avoid methods maximizing mTOR activation on big movements as I believe that these will really speed up the aging process. I limit these methods to a small amount of isolated work and only for what I want to emphasize.

Is this the way to get hyuouuuge? No it isn’t. But in my situation aging well, improving physical performance, maintaining overall muscle mass, getting leaner and looking better is more important than being the biggest dude in the gym.


Great article, i am a late starter in terms of Lifting but at 43 years of age i am still trying to improve weekly bit by bit…
I have also come to the realization that there is a certain bodyweight i also hover around no matter what i do and to be honest force feeding myself has always been a chore in order to increase size, so i just don’t do it any more and as time goes on i have found i am much stronger than when i was heavier and eating more, I feel better than ever too.
Great to hear that Deadlifts and Farmers walks are a staple for you as this is a large part of my training mixed in with Barbell Squats, Front Squats, Pull up variations, Dips, Rows, Shoulder Press and Abs.
I usually do them as a circuit rather than individually except for Deadlifts and Barbell Squats these i do seperate but your thoughts on this would be appreciated?
Boxing is my cardio and i find personally this really helps with fat loss week to week.
Great to get some articles for some of us who are heading towards 50.

My training is simple at the moment.

I have two different workouts. Workout A and Workout B… I alternate them.

Power clean
Back squat
Bench press

Power snatch
Military press

I do 8 sets of 2-3 reps… all with the same weight. I start at 1 x 3, 7 x 2 and add one rep at every workout… so the second time I do a workout I do 2 x 3, 6 x 2… the third time 3 x 3, 5 x 2, etc. When I complete a workout with 8x3 \I add weight and go back to 1 x 3, 7 x 2

It’s done as a circuit with about 1 minute or 90 sec between sets.

At the end I either add farmer’s walk/prowler or one muscle training with isolation exercises.

Today I started including some activation stuff. I started the workout with 3 sets of 5 jumps then did a circuit of 1 hand barbell snatch, 1 hand barbell deadlift and javelin press. Did 4 circuits with moderate weight just to sensitize my neuromuscular junctions.


Thanks for the response and appreciate the information shared.
Cheers Brent.

So does that mean that rest pause and the strength/mass training program is bad for overall health?

Appreciate the information. Do you do each workout 3x per week, so 6 workouts a week?


At the moment I train 6x a week yes

Its not bad for health. But if you are more concerned with slowing down aging than gaining a lot more size it might not be optinal. That having been said its better than most regular programs out there.

Now unless someone is in his 40s slowing down aging or using methods that have the least negative inpact is likely not necessay


Curious if you have started to look into some of the work coming out about autophagy as sort of the flipside or balance of mTOR activation.

I have worked on the nutritional side with some overweight clients using limited fasting and am seeing some weird things like skin tags falling off / moles disappearing, etc.

Just curious…I personally have had a lot of luck leaning out and basically maintaining 180 using a leangains method. But at 41, it is like you said I cant move off 180 anymore to save my life. I just look better.

Ok good. I am 30 and bought the strength size program from your website. I’m getting good results and like rest pause training so I dont want to stop that.
And I always thought that the more natural muscle you have one you the healthier you are.

CT, I really appreciate the honest insights that you share with us. Thank you for that.

Re: mTOR and aging, how exactly do you think mTOR interferes with it. It’s kinda established fact as per Medline data that excess body mass (both lbm & fm) is not good for longevity.
Did you experienced some ageing problems like achy joints, reduced recovery or immunity etc. when following mTOR focused training and nutrition protocols?

Also, it appears your strength and performance also cycled during all these years when your total mass stayed constant but mass concentration shifted with the training focus. Have you observed this thing happening with other athletes too?

CT. I would like to thank you for being so candid lately about your diet and workouts. I’m 55 and have been following your work for many years. The information you have been putting out lately is refreshing for me. Again thank you for sharing your hard earned wisdom

CT, I couldn’t agree with you more. I am 66, I’ve trained steadily for 50 years. And while I still like larger muscles I’m thinking differently now.
Your methods have given me the greatest gains (most particularly the layers program). I still train hard but my mindset is totally different.

I have found a couple of things that I feel are greatly helping me in the advancing age category. One, is taking metformin. Many doctors feel it is the best antiaging drug available. It also down regulates mtor.

The other is the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. It is the best thing one can do for oneself in terms of anti inflammation and it greatly stimulates stem cell production. Watch a Ted Talk by Dr. Shai Efrati (he’s Israeli), he’s a specialist in hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The Ted Talk is titled Reverse Aging. Also, anything by Dr Paul Harch who I have been, and still am, working with closely.

Very interesting artice CT! Thanks for the insight. I am 45 and have come to realize that I can’t put on much more muscle mass then I already have at 215 lbs but I can make my overall look better and become leaner and more aesthetic. I have to start thinking about anti aging and staying healthy which I guess means decreasing mTOR activation. It also doesn’t help that I just found out that I have the APOE 4 gene which causes my body not to metabolize cholesterol like it should which can lead to high cholesterol, heart disease and alzheimer’s. It would be great if you could write more articles about your current training for anti aging and ways to decrease mTOR and still gain a little muscle for the older lifters like me. I would also be interested in what your thoughts are on diet, nutrition and supplementation for anti aging and longevity. I have heard that eating a typical high protein, high carb bodybuilding type diet also increases mTOR. What are your thoughts and diet and supplementation for optimizing your body as you get older?

True, insulin activates mTOR… so consuming a lot carb can lead to mTOR activation. Some amino acids (mostly leucine and glycine) also amp up mTOR so a mega high protein diet is likely a bad idea (not necessary anyway) and dairy especially should be kept lower.

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Here are a few takeaways.

1- I am not convinced mTOR speeds up the aging process. Not that I disagree, but it sounds speculative, and I simply do not know enough about it.

2- I completely AGREE that your body has a genetic limit when it comes to muscle mass and I base this off of 32 years of consistent weight training.

3- I believe your training methods have a huge influence on your physique (as CT noted, that his body shape would change based on what he was training for). In my 20’s and 30’s I focused on powerlifting. I worked maximal poundage with low reps. As a result I was able register competition lifts of: squat 3x bodyweight in squat (#480 @ #160), bench press (#330 @ #175), and deadlift (#550 @ 175). BUT I barely looked like I worked out. At age 43 I decided to switch to bodybuilding and focused on more reps, working the muscle instead of the movement, constant tension etc. As a result I quickly added #15 of solid muscle. Within 6 months or so of training like a bodybuilder I went from #170 to #190 (I am 5’7") but my bench press, squat and deadlift were all significantly weaker in the 1RM. I thought if I could gain #15 in 6 months, imagine what I could do in a couple years. Well, I have been busting my ass for the past 5 years, training harder, eating better, and guess what…I am still 190!!! I am convinced I have hit my genetic max.

4- This could be the best article I have ever read on TNation or any other muscle site for that matter. Typically articles tell you to chase your dreams, there are no limits, and often times the key to untapped potential can be found in PRODUCT X, that they just happen to be getting into stock in the near future and are accepting pre-orders. This article was none of that. THANK YOU CT.

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Dude, do a simple pubmed or google scholar search for mTOR and aging

Thanks man, I feel that it needed to be said. You know even from a marketing standpoint (if I were someone interested in marketing and selling stuff)… it would seem to me that selling false expectations is the worst thing to do to get repeat customers.

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So much gold here!

Too many things to touch on (esp. this “body morphing” concept of being the same weight but looking totally different depending on your training style…i’ve seen this on my physique time and time again)

CT not sure about the MTOR aging thing…I’m of the camp that more muscle (naturally) = better health and is even more important as someone gets older.

Now the thing that is interesting: you current training style. This is very much like Look Like a Bodybuilder Train like an athlete which was overall one of the most “pleasant” ways to train.

It’s the whole low rep, focus on explosive performance, no grinding/failure on the big lifts that has been the centerpiece of your philosophy since recently (and even arguably now, you tend to favor DB/assistance exercises done to failure while still hesitant on the big movements to failure)

For me this is the only style that reinvigorates me to train. I might even buy that whole insulin sensitizing, CNS activation claims made in the original look like bodybuilder/train like athlete program :slight_smile:

I think it’s unarguable this style is the way to go for long term adhrence/progression but I also think it has incredible potential for size/physique (way less burnout than other styles).

The thing I’m trying to square is what one should be aware of when implementing this style so that IT DOES NOT BECOME an “olympic lifting” regiment where you get all the strenght/performance gains but very little size gains (excluding chinese lifters who do BODYBUILDING WORK after their core o-lifts).

Am I comparing apples to oranges? Is what you’re doing now (and basically look like bodybuidler/train like athlete style) different than how o-lifters train (different in a good way for size) and is it just a matter of doing a few assistance exercises at the end (failure/intensification method) to max out hypertrophy?

Again do a simple search about mTOR and aging… the info is pretty straight-forward. Just because you don’t want it to be true doesn’t mean that it isn’t. I gave a seminar with an anti-aging expert and I spend a long time extoling the virtue of amplifying mTOR activation and IGF-1 release to increase muscle growth… and he went on to talk about the best way to slow down aging being to decreaze mTOR activation and IGF-1 release LOL!

I’m NOT saying that having more muscle is bad. In fact quality of life as you age is strongly correlated with lean body mass. What I’\m saying that the biochemical responses that come from focusing on high volume bodybuilding work that amplifies mTOR the most COULD have a negative impact on aging as you get older. It’s not the fact that you are adding muscle that is the problem.

BUT caloric and carbs intake has likely a greater impact on aging than training. Overeating, especially carbs, will keep mTOR activation higher throughout the day, training will do so only for a few hours. It is well established that a lower (but still sufficient) caloric intake is linked to a longer life.

Regarding muscle, building muscle through mTOR potentiating methods when you are 35 or less is fine. But as you get older you might want to focus on methods that do not maximize mTOR activation… you can still build muscle with those BTW.

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