You don’t see too many guys loading up the bar after the age of 40. Plenty strength train, but many prefer the safety and convenience of the machine circuit at their local big-box gym to heavy barbells. We thought it was worth noting, then, that Brian Grasso of Quebec, Canada, is not only training hard at age 43, he’s still setting PR’s in the gym.
Grasso has been a force in the fitness industry for more than 20 years. He worked as a strength and conditioning coach for elite athletes, and in 2002 founded the International Youth Conditioning Association—an organization that promotes fitness for kids and certifies trainers to work with young athletes. Three years ago, he shifted gears to focus on the mental aspect of achieving goals and created the Mindset Performance Institute, a certification body that teaches participants how to reprogram their thinking for success. Nowadays you can catch Brian and his wife, Carrie Campbell, at brianandcarrie.live, where they dispense mindset and lifestyle advice.
Through it all, Grasso has been an athlete. He competed in mixed martial arts in his 20s and amateur boxing in his 30s. He hung up his gloves when he turned 40, but since then he’s been anything but retired. He turned his attention back to his first love—lifting weights—and is now pursuing strength goals with more passion than ever. He’s put on 45 pounds in the past year.
Here’s his training program.
The Brian Grasso Workout
Grasso performs 4–5 sets of 4–6 reps for all three lifts, using 80–85% of his one-rep max (1RM) for each.
Squat, 3–4 sets of 8–10 reps using 75% of 1RM
Bench Press, 3–4 sets of 8–10 reps using 75% of 1RM
Overhead Press, 4–5 sets of 8–15 reps
Bentover Row, 4–5 sets of 8–15 reps
Biceps and Triceps (any curl or pushdown/extension he feels like), 4–5 sets of 8–15 reps
Squat, 5 sets of 1–2 reps at 90% of 1RM
Rack Pull or Deadlift, 5 sets of 1–2 reps at 90% of 1RM
Good Morning, 4–5 sets of 8–15 reps
Leg Curl, 4–5 sets of 8–15 reps
Bench Press, 5 sets of 1–2 reps at 90% of 1RM
Bentover Row, 4–5 sets of 8–15 reps
Lateral Raise, 4–5 sets of 8–15 reps
Biceps and Triceps, 4–5 sets of 8–15 reps
Basics Are Better
“Too many people think that variety is important,” says Grasso. “It’s not. Compound lifts, executed well and regularly, is key for strength.” Exercises like the squat, bench press, and deadlift require pristine form to do effectively and safely, and that means regular practice. When your program is based on exercises that activate so much muscle mass at once, there’s little need to do much else.
By varying the intensity, Grasso can perform these big lifts multiple times per week without overtraining or getting injured. On Tuesday he gets in a high volume of work to drive muscle and strength gains. On Thursday, he backs off the weight, and Saturday/Sunday tests his limits. Note that the deadlift is only hit, at most, twice per week. It’s too stressful to train any more frequently. If Grasso doesn’t feel his lower back is up to it, he’ll do rack pulls on Thursday in their place.
Every 8–12 weeks, Grasso tests his 1RM on the squat, bench press, and deadlift, to ensure he’s progressing.
The supplementary exercises are equally as important as the “big three.” The overhead presses, rows, arm exercises and other assistance lifts are done purely for muscle gain and balance, which is why the rep ranges are higher. The goal is to get a pump. “The more muscle we have, the stronger we are,” says Grasso. “When you get bigger, you get stronger in your core lifts.”
Mobility is a Must
Everybody wants to be strong. Few seem to be able to get there without suffering a bad back, sore shoulders, and achy knees. Grasso—who had laid off heavy weights for years due to lower-back pain—says he’s no longer plagued by any of these problems. The answer, he says, is mobility.
“When you’re over 40, recovery work must be part of your routine and not just a throw-in once in a while,” says Grasso. “Five days a week, I do a 20-minute mobility routine that covers all my joints.” At night, he either foam rolls or performs static stretching.
“Generally speaking, my macros are 200–220 grams of protein, 260–280 grams of carbs, and 55–75 grams of fat,” says Grasso. He weighs 250 pounds. “I eat as much of the protein and fat as I can in the early part of the day and save as many carbs as I can for the evening.” The reasoning? Large servings of carbs spike insulin, and the resulting energy crash helps Grasso fall asleep. “Better sleep means better recovery.”
A typical day’s eating could be the following:
● Protein smoothie with spinach and berries. Brazil nuts on the side
● Chicken breast, sweet potato, mixed greens, and an apple
● Oatmeal with honey
Q&A with Brian Grasso
Onnit: Your progress is impressive. But many will be left wondering why. Why at 43 do you even care about being strong? Why risk injury with heavy barbell training?
Grasso: Strength is a natural ability in me. I’m not terribly flexible or mobile, but strength and speed are my natural assets. Because of that, I’ve always loved iron. When I stopped fighting at the age of 40, I flirted with other things—body-weight training, gymnastics training—but I’m not as passionate about anything else as I am strength.
What is the best exercise? The one you love to do, because then you’ll keep doing it. In many ways, that’s my answer to “why.”
Last year I wasn’t back squatting because I was concerned about my back. I could front squat 275 pounds and rack pull 585. Now I can back squat 450, front squat 365, and rack pull 700 with zero back pain. The fact is, when I had back problems, it was because I was weak and immobile in places that caused them. When you do this type of training correctly, those “places” get stronger and more mobile, progressively. End of back problem.
In terms of age, I don’t want to get too philosophical with this, but who the hell said that 40-plus is an age that requires a man to stop being robust? I am stronger now than I ever have been. I feel great every day. Don’t get hypnotized by societal dogma. There is no age that requires any one of us to stop being a robust, physical specimen.
Are you concerned at all about getting bigger than your joints can handle? And aren’t you putting on fat as well?
Here’s the thing…I don’t want to be on the cover of Men’s Fitness! And I’m not alone. There are so many men who get pulled into the abstract goal of having a six-pack, but in reality, they don’t really want one. And that’s why they don’t make progress.
I’m definitely keeping the big picture of health in mind. I cycle my training and nutrition every year. For the past six months or so, I’ve been getting bigger and stronger—and yes, that includes putting on a little extra fat. So, starting at the beginning of June, I will adjust my training and macros in order to cut down to a more lean physique. That phase will last three to four months, and then I’ll go back up again.
If you look at how nature works, this is really how everyone should train and eat: cycle it. We’re supposed to gain weight and strength in the winter and we are supposed to shed weight during the spring and summer. That’s 100% natural. Keeping a six-pack 12 months a year is not natural.
You’re known for your mindset coaching. How did you personally keep focused on this goal to see it through?
Mindset is everything, and it starts with not buying into societal bullshit. Why did I do this and why should other people over 40 be able to also? Because they can! Age is a number and does not represent your potential. Let’s do another article like this in four months when I’ve completed my cut phase. Wanna see a guy look epic at “middle age?” I’ll do it.
I don’t mean to come across as arrogant in the least, but I want to remind people that there are no pre-defined rules for what’s possible, based on age or anything else.