Muscle Maturity – Looking Better As You Age

August 27, 2008

There is a term you may or may not of heard of called muscle maturity.

The way I look at it is that over time your muscles get more and more defined from repetitive use. Over time you gain the ability to contract your muscles harder, which results in greater muscle definition. The biggest reason you don’t see a lot of older people with great muscle definition is either due to inactivity or excessive amounts of body fat.
surfing dad
[A father and daughter wake up early to catch some waves.]

A Word To the Younger Readers (under the age of 30)

Many of the questions I get are from younger people who want better ab definition. Many of the guys want better upper pecs to get that line down the middle of the pec area…or that “v” muscle near the hip bones that shows when they have low rise jeans on.

Here’s the deal…a lot of that stuff will come with time. I know you want to look perfect today, but sometimes it takes a long time for certain muscle groups to reach their potential.

A Quick Personal Story About Muscle Maturity

I graduated high school in 1988 weighing 180 at about 8% body fat. I look a weight training class senior year, I was 175 when I started. I went to college and decided I want to get big. My goal was 240 (what was I thinking), but after 4 years I got up to 220’ish. After being that weight for a number of years, I decided it wasn’t a good look and didn’t even feel very healthy.

I spent the next few years slimming down considerably and now I’m about 185 and around 8% body fat. If you were to take a picture of me then and compare it to present day, there is no comparison…I look much more defined today then I did 20 years ago…even though my stats are almost identical.

Don’t Fear Getting Older…Plan to Look Better As You Age

I think that older people are more interesting to look at than younger people. Old people have character and look much more unique then their younger counterparts. I love seeing a man and woman in their 60’s out 70’s swimming, water skiing, playing volleyball, etc. If you stay active, the body looks great over time.

Another Reason Not to Gain Excessive Amounts of Muscle

I see a lot of older gym members in my gym when I work out in the mid-day. A lot of these men and women are retired and want to hit the weights before it get’s busy around 5 pm.

The men and women who train a bit on weights and hit the cardio hard look much more healthy and agile than the men and women who focused on muscle mass their whole lives. The large amount of muscle sags over time and just doesn’t create a good look as a person ages.

Stay Lean and Trim Your Entire Life. Why Not?

I will never go back to putting on more muscle mass. From this point on I just want to maintain my same body weight, but challenge myself with tough cardio and slowly but surely gain strength.

I know that at some point I won’t be able to lift as heavy as I do now, or run as fast…but I will always have that lean, healthy look. Why not just make the decision to look great your entire life? Get in shape within the next 6-12 months…and be in “maintenance mode” for the next 60 years?

Note: This is one of my shorter posts, but I think the mind set here is really important.

Society expects people to let themselves go as they age. I guess I want to live my entire 80-90 years to the fullest.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris - Zen to Fitness August 27, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Superb post Rusty, being pretty young myself I always think my muscle will take on a more leathery look as I age and things like chest and upper abs will mature and become more defined with age. Just gotta be patient, All I know is all the guys I see in the best shape are 35+

Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later August 27, 2008 at 6:46 pm

Rusty I know exactly where you are coming from when it comes to wanting to look big versus wanting to look good. I spent years trying to get as big as possible, but as time went by I started to ask myself where it was all heading. The more muscle you build, the more effort it seems to be to maintain weight and it just takes over your life. Being lean and fit is so much better a goal than being muscle-bound.

Nick August 27, 2008 at 7:24 pm

Hi Rusty,

Great article! I’m 37 and thought this comes right on time for my next birthday. I feel better and look better than I did ten years ago…the only difference – recovery time…that being said, how about an article on what you would do to stay in shape for a five day workout week (with one hour per day devoted to training)…kind of a body blueprint for us older guys. Thanks for the website and all the ffffrrreeeeee information. You rock bro.

Adam Chen August 27, 2008 at 8:57 pm

Thanks for keeping this site up for those that aren’t seeking to become “big.” I am around 138 and 13% body fat. My goal is to get down to 8% body fat in 2 months or less. Currently I’m doing 4 sessions of weight lifting and 5-6 sessions of 30 minute cardio a week. As for my diet, I am consuming a lot of veggies, meat, as well as staying away from junk foods and simple carbs with the exception of fruits. Do you think I can reach my goal in time?

Fitness Guy August 27, 2008 at 11:43 pm

Muscle Maturity is a great concept. I have found that voer the years I have become much better at working out then I was when I was younger.

I am 41 years old now.

I used to be driven entirely by ego and huge muscles where now I am more concerned with making the most of my time and getting a great workout in half the time is a greater accomplishment now than a record on my bench.

Mdsisson August 28, 2008 at 12:52 am

Rusty, the best decision I ever made regarding health was when I turned 40 and, after 20 years of endurance racing, decided I would rather “look fit” than “be fit”. Of course, the irony is that when you look fit, you really are fit…and healthier than if you were training just to be race-fit or competition-ready.

DownSouth August 28, 2008 at 1:11 am

Good call on that, I like your outlook on it. A lot of people are in a live-now kind of mindset and end up hurting themselves physically down the road. I have no problem when putting on mass but I believe as you get older you should concentrate on leaning out. My dad was 6’4″ and 290 and is near that size now at 48 but he looks saggy and almost flabby, still massive though, just not impressive to me. And massive old people just don’t look right. And I agree on the older folks looking more interesting. Older men in great shape are more inspiring and kind of give you an enthusiastic feeling on life. And who don’t love a sexy older chick? COUGAR! Haha. Good post on this.

eric August 28, 2008 at 5:08 am

good to hear something from you rusty! at the moment i give the eat stop eat lifestyle a try and it seems to work well for me. but i wonder what you think about the exercise part of brad pilons philosophy? he believes that cardio is not necessary for weight loss and recommends only doing resinstance training. could this really work?! i guess the whole programm is in a big contrast to yours, isn`t it?

Jennifer August 28, 2008 at 9:35 am

Hi Rusty, I like the bit when you say to get into shape in the next 6-12 months and then keep it there for the next 60 years. This is a great motivating way to approach getting in shape. I am helping a friend of mine workout more consistantly (I take her to the gym and invite her to the clubs), and this is along the same lines as what I told her; that if she works hard now she can maintain all that hard work with minimal effort later.

Mike M. August 28, 2008 at 12:14 pm


I’ve been following your site for a few months now and love it. It sounds like we’re about the same age. I also graduated in 1988 at around 180 pounds and 6’3″ tall. After playing basketball and baseball in college for a couple of years I was weighing in at around 195 to 200 and was in the neighborhood of 8-10% bodyfat. Over the years the regularity of my workouts decreased, and my sedentary work life (I’m an attorney) sure didn’t help matters in that regard. Last Christmas I found myself weighing in at a whopping 250 pounds. Although my body frame can accommodate that kind of weight without causing me to look too fat, once I got back out on the basketball court I knew I was way too heavy, even though I was still pretty athletic. In April a couple of guys I work with got into a contest with each other to see who among us could reach our weight loss goal by July. In that time frame I dropped from 251 down to 218, largely by doing the HIIT training you recommend. I gain muscle mass very easily, so I minimized the weight training during the initial stages of the weight loss program but I’m to the point now where I think I’ll incorporate some weight training into my cardio workouts. I’ve got another 10 to 15 pounds to go before I hit my true goal (this Christmas is my time frame), and hopefully I will have developed the discipline to maintain that physique from now on. Sorry for the long comment. I look forward to reading your site for many years to come. I really appreciate what you do here.

Yash August 28, 2008 at 1:39 pm

But rusty, if i’m in such great shape well into my older years, won’t i haven to prepare so much more for my retired years? =P

This is a pretty true concept. Apart from a few guys that are genetically blessed to look and be athletic from the second they are born [my brother being one of them, a couple years ago he was scrawny, now he’s 15 and looks like he should be playing a myriad of sports], most results come over time, another great thing i learned this summer. everyone, especially kids in their late teens or 20’s decide they want to start taking care of themselves and all of a sudden expect things to fall into place in a month. it’s not that easy, but as excruciatingly slow as results seem compared to unrealistic expectations, seeing any progress is pretty satisfying.


WarnerK August 28, 2008 at 2:01 pm

You know, there was a short article posted to the Dragon Door website about 5 years ago that I really liked along the same lines as your post. It was entitled “Old Man Strength”. It was not about definition, but about the cumulative nature of strength. The opening paragraph was about a guy, fresh off a session of ripping +500 lbs off the floor in a dead lift, handing a jar to his 70 year old father to open. His father had been a mechanic his whole life, and there was something complete and round about the strength in his hands.

I think about this. I can out lift my father in every lift in the gym. By about triple. Yet that man can crush my hands in his. He was a farmer, and his strength is subtle and deep and it came over time. Picking up heavy things, and putting them down.

There is just no comparison for 70 odd years of lifting, moving nad living.

Helder August 28, 2008 at 2:03 pm

You know i love your posts, your site is the best i know, but i got to tell you that this might be your best post ever until now. I don’t even know what to add to this post, it’s the perfect philosophy, i always thought about it that way, looking good and being active all our lives is the way to go, i’ve never accepted the idea of older people having to be sick and weak, left in a corner depending on other people. I truly believe that if we train and eat to be healthy, while enjoying Life, we can get to our older years with the capacity to keep living our lives in a good shape and with good looks, quality of Life can always be good if we work for it from now

Tom Parker August 28, 2008 at 6:51 pm

Good post Rusty. I do agree with you that getting too big is not a nice look. However, speaking from experience I know that I (and a number of my friends) really struggle to build muscle. I’ve been training for a number of years (I’m 22 now and probably started training properly when I was 17 or 18) and for a lot of those years I didn’t really gain any muscle size. This year I started training with one of my friends who has the goal of getting as big as he can. I started doing the same routine as him (not lifting the same weight he does but lifting as heavy as I can without compromising technique). After a few weeks of doing his routine there were noticeable improvements in my muscle size, tone and strength. It didn’t make me massive but it did allow me to ‘fill out’ a little and as a naturally skinny person (I was around 130lb before training and now I’m about 140lb) I think I look better with this extra size. I still do my cardio and eat healthy (except for the odd treat) and I do cycle heavy weight weeks with lighter weight weeks but my goal at the moment is to gain a bit more lean size.

So what’s my point? Well for people like me I think an increased focus on the weight lifting is needed. I know it will never make me massive but I do look better for the small amount of size I have gained. For people, closer to an average build (such as yourself at a natural 180lb) then I agree that a less intensive weight training regime coupled with tough cardio may be more suitable because you already have some size.

To illustrate this point further I have a friend who is probably 160lb (but only about 5 foot 4 inches tall so quite well built). I lived with him in my first year at University and he did not train or exercise and his diet wasn’t great (micro kebabs were a staple). However, when I saw him with no t-shirt on he had a naturally built look (big arms, large upper body, slim waist). He wasn’t absolutely shredded but he looked like he worked out. This year he has been training with me a few times. He rarely completes a full workout (he gets too tired or gives up), he doesn’t take too much care with his technique and he doesn’t train consistently (he only joins me when he feels like it, so sometimes he will come a couple of times a week, other times he will not come for weeks). However, even with this disjointed training routine his physique has improved further. I think for someone like him your training methods would be perfect but for people like me a different approach is required until a closer to average size is gained. Some people’s bodies respond better to weight training than others and I think this has to be considered when building your own individual regime.

Just my opinion. Maybe it will change in 8 years time when I enter my 30s and have good muscle maturity 🙂

BurritoKid August 28, 2008 at 7:07 pm

show us your hs and college pix!

Zrii August 28, 2008 at 10:11 pm

Well said, most people cannot maintain excessive muscle mass for very long and if they don’t it usually turns to fat and they may even look worse than they did BEFORE they began body building. Stay fit, stay lean, don’t over due the muscle gain.

lebus August 29, 2008 at 12:50 am

At 21 years of age, I already have that ‘v-muscle’ by my hips…very well defined, however my face isn’t nearly as lean for some reason.

Nancy August 29, 2008 at 2:48 pm

As a 46 year old woman, I need to add my support for this post. I know that 46 must sound old to some of you here, but let me assure you that getting older can definitely mean getting better or at least more physically fit. This has been my experience. Over time you learn more, get more relaxed about things and are actually able to work more efficiently during your workout time. You’re more apt to allow yourself to recover. The result? Now I’m more fit, and can actually do more things with my body than I could when I was 25. And I wasn’t a slouch at 25, either. Barring any unforeseen injury or disease, I anticipate a long and active life. I already see some of my friends in decline and it’s sad. They’re only 50! But, everyone has their own path and that’s their business. Just don’t think for a minute that it has to be your path. You can get better with age!

admin August 29, 2008 at 8:11 pm


Yeah…the mid 30’s seems to be the point where everything really comes together. I completely agree.


Amen brother…that is the biggest message I try to give with this site…get fit and healthy without just trying to gain maximum amounts of muscle. You will feel and look much better for it!


That is a great idea. I always get solid ideas for posts due to comments like this. Speaking of working out 5 days per week, I need to exercise a bit more. I have really enjoyed time away from the gym this summer, but now it is time to focus hard for the next 6-9 months. I am much more consistent in the fall and winter.


Two months is about the right amount of time to hit your fat loss goals. What is funny is that it won’t happen at an even rate. All of the sudden you will build up what I call “fat loss momentum” and you will begin to drop fat like crazy. You are certainly taking the right approach!

Bill (Fitness Guy),

Great point about focusing on different things as you get older. I like your approach about just being as efficient as possible when getting in a good workout. It doesn’t take that much time to look and feel good, but it is totally worth it.

Mark (Mark’s Daily Apple),

People don’t know how fit you actually were 20+ years ago (although you are still just as fit). I’m going to make sure and add a couple of points about you to the end of this post. You are a role model to a bunch of us…and are too modest to put some of this stuff on your own site.


Great to hear from ya buddy. I didn’t know you were down with the Cougars 🙂 Just two words when it comes to that…Demi Moore. She is a beautiful woman.


I agree with Brad Pilon on a lot of stuff. I do like cardio…A LOT…More than most of the fitness authors on the Internet. You can look pretty decent without it, but I think it will give you an extra edge and sharpness that is hard to achieve without it. Plus, I’m all about being functionally fit…so I want to be able to run a few miles without feeling like I’m dying. I’m certainly not a marathon cardio type person…but intervals followed by steady state cardio makes the body look and feel terrific. There are several ways to achieve a certain look, but I like it to be backed up by a certain level of fitness as well.


Yeah…it makes it mentally easier if you think that all you have to do is get in good shape once in your life. Get the hard part out of the way now and reap the rewards for a lifetime. It makes sense to me!

Mike M,

Very cool…another Class of 88′ guy! My hair was awful back then…LOL! People who graduated in the mid to late 80’s had some funny looking senior pictures. The same thing can be said of the late 70’s. Anyway…great job on dropping all that weight. That is impressive! It will help a bunch when you play basketball as well.


If you follow this advice and get in great shape now, you better save and invest a decent amount of money. You are going to live a long and healthy life. It is a great challenge to have. You are right about people in their mid 20’s. The ones that typically look great at that age played sports throughout high school and consistently stayed active for their entire lives. So they have put a lot of time in to get their look.


I love the idea of “old man strength”. This is so true. If you have ever seen the forearms of a 50 year old construction worker or laborer, you will see a ton of muscle detail and density that is extremely rare in younger people. I’ll have to look up that article.


Yep…we get to define our own lives…we don’t have to follow any preconceived notion of what our lives should look like. There is no reason that you can’t be healthy and active well into your mid 80’s and early 90’s…basically until your journey on this earth ends.


I understand where you are coming from. For a hard gainer, it doesn’t hurt to focus on putting on a bit of muscle for a short period of time. The main thing is to not go overboard and keep feeling that you need to add more and more size. Once you get the size you are after, then you will appreciate the tips and techniques I talk about on my site. You will feel wonderful knowing that you look more and more defined each and every passing year. Plus you will feel “light on your feet”…people who have been doing HIIT for a number of years know what feeling I’m talking about.


Not a chance I’d show you my high school pics. Graduating in the late 80’s was brutal. The styles were terrible back then! I’ll see if I can find college pictures. By the early 90’s the grunge movement hit hard in Seattle and my clothes and hair style weren’t embarrassing.

Dr Ron (Zrii),

Good point. I can’t emphasize it enough…bulk doesn’t age well. It is best to “tighten up” and lean down sooner rather than later. In fact, it is my opinion that people look best at any age with that slim “Hollywood” physique.


Your face will lean out over time if you stay lean. The good thing is that you probably look young for your age, which is a great thing once you reach 30 going forward.


Very cool. My best friend’s sister in law is your same age and she puts us all to shame when it comes to being fit. She bikes to work 2 hours per day, each way! It is insane, but she loves to do it. We live in Seattle and she does this year round, even in the rain. There are some exceptionally fit people out there, people just need to keep their eyes open. You are probably a big inspiration to a lot of people. Keep up the great work!

Awesome Comments Everyone!


Sandy August 30, 2008 at 11:47 pm

I so agree, Rusty. I live in the south and I think its expected that as you get older, you will lay around and eat all day! I refuse to do that when I get to be 60 or 70. Im 40 now and am in the best shape of my life! People never guess my age right. Most people think im in my late 20’s. Im sure its due to wearing sunscreen (everday) and all of the working out! I also watch my cals! (:

Mark August 31, 2008 at 1:54 pm

Hi Rusty,

What would you recommend for someone who is very overweight? Should we do HIIT starting out? what about working out on empty stomach in the am… ?

Eric August 31, 2008 at 1:59 pm

Hi Rusty,

Need your help! I had followed your program of working out in the evening and eating little thru the evening then when my kids went back to school had to workout in the am . When I started to workout in the am on empty stomach I lost some weight but I think I lost some muscle as well. Lost quite a bit of strength and muscle now I need to lose a lot of weight but do you think I should go back to workout in evening? Thanks for your input.

Opstand August 31, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Love the site…here’s a real example of not letting age determine how you live…

Kris September 1, 2008 at 11:48 pm

Im SUPER interested in what your saying, for couple months now i’ve been lurking around and since im 152 pounds and 6’0 i just wanted to get bigger. Im 100% dedicated on eating healthy and working out everyday, and i’ve have been doing that for a while. I realized that i was kinda small compared to a lot but a recent talk with my sister made me realize that i don’t really want to look like a “muscle freak” lol. For the past week i’ve started to bulk to 180 or 170 at least to just get bigger and then cut down the fat with HIIT etc. and stay that way.

Is this a bad idea to bulk up? 30 pounds is a lot but i’m planning to maintain a clean bulk and then once i cut down, i’m staying that way. From reading about what you say about fat cells it made me wonder if i should just work out, diet a lil bit and just keep my body fat low and wait till i grow up to acctually get the “brad pitt” look lol?

Bulking up and then cutting just sounds better cause i can be “wider/bigger” and then once im bigger i can just go ahead and work that body fat down.

THANKS a lot for any responses, and i’d be GLAD to get your email to discuss this maybe a lil bit. It’s a lot of hard work, so i want to do the right thing.

Kris September 2, 2008 at 6:12 am

I’m 17 btw

cheech September 2, 2008 at 6:00 pm

hey rusty. love your site! still trying to gather information about a lot of this stuff, have yet to form my own opinion, but your site is a great contrast to a lot of the mainstream stuff out there

one thing i was wondering, though, was what exactly is that “v muscle near the hip bones ” and how is it trained? if it’ll take me years to get it looking good, then the sooner i start the better 🙂



Caleb Lee September 4, 2008 at 5:24 pm


You’re right about thinking about the future, I’m only 22 but I know that putting on tons of mass probably isn’t the BEST idea.

Guys like Sly Stallone look pretty good with a lot of mass, but you know he does his cardio too.

One of the biggest things to “sag” as men get older is their pecs, especially bodybuilders get “droopy pecs”.

Pavel recommends not working on your lower chest at all. Doing minimal flat bench and incline bench and presses overhead to combat this. (Much like the physiques weightlifters of old had!)


admin September 4, 2008 at 10:40 pm


I recommend that everyone exercises in a fasted state. This is the best way to get and stay lean. At the bottom of this site in the footer is the link: Low Body Fat Percentage. Click on that. It outlines the exact type of strategic cardio I recommend for everybody.


I do much better working out in the evening. Some people do better in the morning. If the evening works best for you, I would go back to that.


Don’t gain too much size too quickly, whether it is muscle, fat, a combo, etc. If you are 17, you will naturally fill out over time. Here is what I would do, maybe allow yourself just 3 months during the year to add a bit of mass…then spend the rest of the year staying lean and mean. It will take you a bit longer to reach a larger size this way, but you will look great the entire time. The last thing you want at your age is to get the cheesy bulky look…this is the time where you are suppose to look your best and date a ton of young women 🙂


I think Abercrombie Models are responsible for putting the focus on the lower abs and this “V” area. It is the muscle that starts above your hip bone and runs along your lower abs.


I also don’t recommend any lower pec work. I have a post on that here… Square Pecs. Great site you have going there!


eric September 5, 2008 at 4:06 am

VERY cool post, thank you rusty! i wonder if this technique also can be used for your Sensible mass building routine which means low reps but higher volume? is it then possible to get a bigger chest by doing 5 reps and 8-10 sets per body part and to emphasize a bit on the chest ecercise for 5 reps and around 15-20 sets o the chest?

eric September 5, 2008 at 4:11 am

sorry, my fault. i meant:..chest exercising for 5 reps and around 15-20 sets on the chest! i should try harder to write a better english although i am a german 🙂

Frank September 5, 2008 at 10:51 pm


Your post reminded me of Jack Lalanne:

This guy’s amazing, as always your posts further inspire me and has made me more optimistic on my physique outlook into my 30s, 40s, 50s and many years past that. Most of us recent college grads do tend to blow up or jello out cause of inactivity… just have to force discipline onto yourself, since it’ll pay off so much in the long run.
Also…. what is your opinion of swimming? How should one do HIIT in the pool, since I’d like to be able to get in about an hr of hard cardio a week, mixing steady state with HIIT. Do you think swimming should be more on the steady state, or the HIIT? Thanks man.

Fred September 7, 2008 at 9:03 pm

Ever enjoy your posts Rusty. If anyone wants to see what mature muscles look like check out Clarence Bass Even in his seventies he looks amazing.

cheech September 9, 2008 at 4:47 pm

so if I exercise my abs as usual (for me, bicycle crunches and the plank 2-3 times per week), that muscle will (gradually) develop of it’s own accord?

Frank May 10, 2009 at 7:47 pm

Lol, they call it old man strength for a reason.

Mark - Look Sharp Fitness May 27, 2011 at 10:37 am

Man I guess I’m going to have to weight a good 20 years til I look my best seeing as how I’m 15 now 🙁

Oh well! That means more time for me to get in tip top shape! 😀

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