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You’re only as old as you feel, age is just a number, nothing is impossible. All well-worn quotes usually written on pictures of sunsets and posted on Facebook by kind-hearted people who are definitely glass half-full types.
But we’re here to talk bodybuilding and it is important to stick to the facts as much as possible, in this article we will try and answer the question of whether you are too old for bodybuilding.
Defining the question
Currently there are way too many variables to answer this question thoroughly.
How old are you? What would your definition of a bodybuilder be? What would your definition of success be?
For instance, is the act of training to be a bodybuilder – no matter how poorly thought out and followed – enough to make you a bodybuilder?
A terrible accountant is still technically an accountant, a guy who has written 400 unpublished Star Trek fan-fiction ebooks is still technically a writer. Going by this logic, anyone of any age can start bodybuilding.
But let’s suppose that you are discussing being a successful bodybuilder, even then we need to make this clearer.
What counts as being successful? Would getting in excellent shape count? Or do you need to win a competition? Would an amateur bodybuilding competition be good enough? Or are we talking pro cards and supplement sponsorship?
The truth is that many bodybuilders start young, but some of the most successful don’t start until their mid-twenties.
One of the most successful bodybuilders of all time, Phil Heath didn’t start until he was 23.
Compared to a soccer player (who first start kicking a ball at 5 years of age) this is incredibly late in life, but to most people reading this 23 is a long time ago!
There have been professional bodybuilders who entered at even later periods of their life, but the truly successful ones were all pretty big anyway.
If you are an out of shape 40 year old, then you are most likely not going to be winning a Mr Olympia title.
Is age just a number?
That last sentence may seem overly harsh but what you must understand is that physiologically it is harder for an older man to gain muscle.
Your metabolism will be lower, your testosterone levels will be falling (though this might not be as much of a problem for “enhanced” lifters), and there will be a general loss of strength, loss of bone density, and increase in body fat accumulation.
Are these things reversible? Yes, undoubtedly. But if you’re trying to be the best and you have to cope with these limiting factors your more youthful competition will have an advantage.
This is the reason why when Usain Bolt is 60 years old he won’t be winning 100m races at the Olympics. He will have more experience, better technique, and better genetics than anyone he lined up against, but his physiology will prevent him from competing with them.
Does this mean that I am too old to start bodybuilding?
Emphatically NO you are not too old to start bodybuilding, you are just too old to be the greatest bodybuilder of all time (provided you are older than 25 years old). But is that a good enough reason not to start?
Luckily there is a lot more to bodybuilding than winning trophies. There are so many benefits to building muscle, and the older you get the more you benefit from them.
Lifting weights can improve your heart health , improve your body composition, lower your risk of diabetes, arthritis, and other metabolic diseases . It can also help prevent back pain, and give older people more independence as it helps with mobility and cognitive function. Studies have even shown that it can improve memory.
These are benefits that can improve the lives of 26 year olds and 75 year olds.
Are there any benefits to being older?
Yes there are, but they tend to be more social than physiological. So you might find it more difficult to build muscle than an 18 year old, but you have more available money to spend on courses, personal trainers, nutritionists, supplements, and fancy gym memberships.
Also, depending on how old you are you may have more time to spare (particularly if you are retired).
Another benefit is that it is easier to lead a healthy life after your 20s as social pressure changes.
A 20 year old guy is probably going to have more pressure to go drinking or spend time in Burger King than a 60 year old. Whilst that 20 year old is getting laughed at by his friends for “being boring and staying in” your friends are going to be more accepting (depending on the maturity of your friends).
The Bottom Line
Defining what you think a bodybuilder is, is more important than anything else.
If you think a bodybuilder is someone who makes their living from it then yes you are probably too old. But even a teenager with perfect genes and attitude still has a one in a million chance of making it!
If you think bodybuilding is the pursuit of a bigger and better body through diet and exercise then you really are never too young to start.
 Cornelissen, V., Fagard, R., Coeckelberghs, E., Vanhees, L. 2011. Impact of resistance training on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Hypertension 58: 950-958
 Westcott, W. 2012. Resistance training is medicine: Effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports 11(4): 209-16