Beginner Program for Body Building
Bodybuilding is often thought of simply as a more advanced and extreme form of strength training. While this is true to a certain extent, bodybuilding entails a whole lot more than just devoting large blocks of time to lifting weights.
It's about training, discipline, goal-setting, listening to your body, measuring your progress, maintaining a specific diet, getting adequate rest, and adhering to a rigorous physical activity schedule that includes both strength training and cardiovascular exercise.
The purpose of all of this is to eventually submit yourself to judgment in a formal bodybuilding competition.
Initially, bodybuilding can be an intimidating prospect for many beginners. In addition, sifting through the large amount of information that is available from countless sources that offer their own brand of advice in terms of nutrition, supplementation, exercises, timing, overall training methods can be overwhelming as well.
While much of this advice is indeed useful, it's important to remember that generalized tips and guidelines can never take the place of your ability to listen to your body and make adjustments in real time. Your body is unique, and part of your job as a bodybuilder is to find the techniques and strategies that work best for you, not just at the onset of your bodybuilding program, but as your career continues in the years ahead.
If you have no experience with strength training, it's important to begin with the Beginner Programs for Strength Training before you graduate to bodybuilding. Developing a solid foundation of core structural strength will be your first objective, and will allow you to perform the more advanced techniques suggested throughout the Strength Training and Bodybuilding sections.
Understanding the Primary Muscle Groups
All bodybuilders should have a firm understanding of the various major muscle groups and how they work together to support the movements of the body. The operative word here is together, since multiple muscle groups are almost always involved in a single movement.
The location of each primary muscle group, along with a brief description of each, is provided below:
Creating Your Personal Bodybuilding Schedule
If your goal is to become a bodybuilder, you'll need to create a personal strength training schedule that specifically facilitates this goal. If your to goal is to become a bodybuilder quickly, creating a strength training plan that only has you in the weight room for 30 minutes at a time, a few times per week will simply not suffice. This type of plan may be acceptable for weight loss and light sculpting and toning, but it won't yield the significant gains in muscular mass, density and strength that bodybuilders require. Bodybuilders must be dedicated to their craft, and putting real, regular, consistent time into weight training cannot be avoided.
Creating a bodybuilding schedule is largely about balancing challenge with realistic expectations. Pushing yourself too hard too often will drive you to exhaustion and destroy your motivation, while creating a schedule that's too easy will result in inefficient workouts and goals that never seem to come to fruition, even after years of training. With this in mind, you should answer the following questions to help determine the ideal bodybuilding schedule for you:
As a beginning bodybuilder, your goal should be to build core strength and create a strong structural frame. This should be the primary objective of your bodybuilding schedule, at least initially. Only after developing this base level of strength and endurance should you concern yourself with factors such as toning and sculpting.
It's also important to remember that your bodybuilding schedule is not set in stone. It's not only acceptable but necessary to listen to your body, monitor your progress and make changes as you see fit while the program continues.
Nutrition and Supplementation for Bodybuilding
One of the first things you'll notice when you begin your bodybuilding routine is that the intense physical activity you're participating in each day will call for additional calories beyond what you were consuming each day previously.
In short, a high-intensity bodybuilding schedule calls for an all-natural, whole foods-based diet featuring the appropriate ratios of protein, carbs and fat.
The ratios for adding muscle mass, strength and density are as follows:
As mentioned, starting a bodybuilding program will require you to consume more calories than you did previously. However, getting these calories from any and all sources and at randoms times will not suffice.
The following tips will help you to create an appropriate dietary regimen in support of your bodybuilding program:
These tips only scratch the surface of nutritional requirements for strength training and bodybuilding. For a more in-depth discussion of all these topics, please view our Dietary Requirements section.
Many bodybuilders utilize nutritional supplements as a means of accelerating gains in muscular mass, strength and density. In other words, if two bodybuilders maintain the same strength training regimen and the same nutritional diet, the individual who employs a smart supplementation routine will experience gains more quickly despite putting in the same effort.
As such, nutritional supplements are not absolutely required for bodybuilding, though they are required for making gains quickly. Some of the most popular supplement types include creatine, whey protein, testosterone boosters, HMB, nitric oxide and glutamine. Although all of these supplement types are safe by themselves when purchased from reputable, high-quality manufacturers, they may produce side effects when consumed in certain combinations or with certain pharmaceutical drugs. For this reason, it's important to carefully research a given nutritional supplement before taking it.
Ultimately, the decision to use or not use nutritional supplementation is yours to make. Remember, though, that there's no shame in using a nutritional supplement. In fact, nutritional supplementation is often ideal from a dietary perspective. For example, consider the 200-gram daily protein requirement discussed earlier. If you were to consume all of this protein through dietary sources such as meat and cheese, you'd probably end up eating an excessive amount of saturated fat as well. In this situation, supplementing with whey protein (which consists of virtually nothing but pure protein) is ideal because it contains only what bodybuilders need and nothing they don't.
For an extensive discussion of the various types of nutritional supplements, their primary purposes, when to consume them, how to monitor gains and additional precautions, please see the Nutritional Supplements and Supplement Requirements sections.
Setting Bodybuilding Goals
Making progress as a bodybuilder is all about setting goals that are measurable and well-defined. Your eventual goal may be to compete in a bodybuilding competition, but that goal is so far in the future for most beginning bodybuilders that it only makes sense to set smaller milestone goals along the way. These milestone goals should be designed specifically to lead up to your ultimate goal of competing as a bodybuilder.
Bodybuilding goals should be highly specific. When goals lack specificity, it's difficult to know whether you've actually accomplished them, and even more difficult to determine whether it's time to set a new goal that builds on the first. The following are a few examples of vague goals, along with their more specific counterparts.
Notice how the above goals are both specific and measurable. The three goals can be measured using skinfold calipers, a weight training log and a measuring tape, respectively. These are all simple, inexpensive tracking tools that all serious bodybuilders should own.
For bodybuilders, incurring even a single injury could be career-ending. At best, an injury will delay your progress and force you to temporarily modify your bodybuilding routine. For this reason, it's crucially important that bodybuilders of all levels do what they can to avoid injury in the weight room. The following tips will help you to stay safe while bodybuilding:
The Importance of Muscular Symmetry
Among other factors such as muscular size, density and sculpting, bodybuilders are judged on the symmetry of their muscles, and of their body as a whole. When many bodybuilders think about muscular symmetry, they think of the classic example of a strength trainer whose upper body bulges and ripples with muscle, but whose lower body is thin and tiny in comparison. This is just one form of muscular symmetry with which bodybuilders must concern themselves, however.
Upper Body/Lower Body Symmetry
Indeed, bodybuilders expecting to win competitions must develop their lower bodies at the same rate as their upper bodies. However, this lack of muscular symmetry isn't always due to a lack of effort on the part of the bodybuilder. More commonly, it's a result of natural muscular conditioning prior to beginning a bodybuilding program.
Since humans typically spend a lot of time walking and standing, the muscles in their quadriceps, hamstrings and calves are naturally conditioned over time. This type of constant, everyday muscle stimulation only occurs in the lower body, not in the upper body (after all, you walk on your feet, not your hands).
As such, when a bodybuilder attempts to realize gains in muscular strength, mass and density in their lower body, doing so is difficult because the lower body muscles are already quite strong. They require higher levels of intense stimulation in order to grow.
You can accomplish this by working your lower body muscles from several different angles, with several different exercises, and in various combinations.
Maintaining overall symmetry between the left and right sides of the body is also of crucial importance for bodybuilders, though this is one of the easiest forms of symmetry to achieve in most cases.
When individuals first begin strength training, they often realize that the side of their body corresponding to their dominant hand is stronger than their other side. Although they may not realize this fact when performing an exercise with both hands on a single bar such as the flat barbell bench press, asymmetries in strength become much more apparent with a similar exercise such as the flat bench dumbbell press, which requires the bodybuilder to lift an independent dumbbell in each hand.
In the above example, a bodybuilder lacking left-to-right muscular symmetry would have a much easier time lifting equally-heavy weights with his right arm than with his left arm, given that he's right-handed. This example represents
Symmetry Across Muscle Groups
In order to be fit for competitions, bodybuilders must achieve symmetry across each of their individual muscle groups, including the abdominals, obliques, quadriceps, calves, biceps, triceps and more. In order to create this type of symmetry, you'll need to develop a strength training program in which you cycle through all muscle groups before working a given muscle group again. This is simply a matter of organizing your routine and maintaining the discipline to follow through with it, rather than focusing on just a couple of "vanity" muscle groups such as the abs and biceps.
Symmetry Within a Muscle Group
It can be easy to forget that a muscle group is described as a "group" because it contains not just one muscle, but several. As such, successful bodybuilders must concern themselves not only with symmetry across the various muscle groups, but symmetry across the various muscles within a single muscle group.
Take the deltoids for example. The deltoids muscle group, located on the contour of the shoulder, includes three separate muscles: the anterior deltoid, the lateral deltoid and the posterior deltoid. As a bodybuilder, your goal is to grow all three of these muscles at roughly the same rate. You can accomplish this by incorporating several different shoulder exercises that work the deltoids from multiple angles into your weight lifting routine.
In fact, the above link offers 9 exercises specifically for the anterior deltoids, 17 exercises for the lateral deltoids, and 9 exercises for the posterior deltoids. By rotating several of these different exercises into your routine, you'll maximize your chances of maintaining muscular symmetry within a single muscle group. This same concept applies to all muscle groups, not just the deltoids.
Lee Haney is a prime example of a champion bodybuilder with particularly excellent muscular symmetry. Lee Haney is widely considered one of the first bodybuilders to bring maximum levels of both size and conditioning to the table. His strength, mass and symmetry allowed him to win eight straight Mr. Olympia titles, beating Arnold Schwarzenneger's record in the process.
Performing the Exercises with the Proper Form
Performing weight training exercises with the proper form is important for two distinct reasons: avoiding an injury and achieving the results you're expecting from a given exercise.
Avoiding Injury by Using the Proper Form
The most important reason to perform exercises with the proper form is that doing so will go a long way toward preventing a bodybuilding injury. Quite simply, strength training exercises are designed to work your muscles. They are not designed to place an undue level of pressure on your joints. If you're feeling an unnatural sensation of sharp or lingering pain as you're performing an exercise, chances are good that it's because you're using the incorrect form.
In this case, it's important to review the guidelines pertaining to the specific exercise and ensure a proper understanding of how it's performed before trying the move again.
It's also important to listen to your body and understand the difference between "good pain" and "bad pain." Good pain usually occurs in the muscles after a strength training workout, and represents natural and expected tears in the muscle tissue that will heal to form muscles that are larger, stronger and denser than before. Bad pain usually occurs in the joints during a strength training session, and feels more apparently uncomfortable than good pain. ,/p>
As mentioned, bad pain is a strong sign that you're performing the exercise with the incorrect form. If you seem to be experiencing bad pain and you're sure that you're using the proper form, failing to properly warm up and stretch prior to the workout may be to blame.
Using the Proper Form to Gain the Expected Results
Aside from injury prevention, the main reason why bodybuilders must use the proper form is because doing so is the only way to achieve the specific results you're expecting. For example, the intent of the flat barbell bench press is to build the pectoral muscles, or more specifically the pectoralis major (middle chest). However, when you perform the bench press with the incorrect form, the work will be transferred from the chest muscles to other muscles of the body, such as the back and arms. While these muscle groups are certainly involved to a limited extent in a properly performed bench press exercise, they should not be doing the brunt of the work.
Even if you manage to work the correct muscle group, you could work the incorrect muscle within that muscle group by employing improper form. For example, the deltoids muscle group includes three separate muscles: the anterior, lateral and posterior deltoids. If you perform an anterior deltoids exercise incorrectly, you may end up working the lateral or posterior deltoids instead. This may seem like a minor difference for beginning strength trainers, but it could come back to haunt you in a bodybuilding competition.
As such, bodybuilders who use the incorrect form often end up working muscles they don't intend to work. More important, the muscles they do intend to work receive an improper workout. If your bodybuilding program isn't producing the results you're expecting, many factors could be to blame, ranging from an inadequate diet to a lack of intensity. However, using the improper form for specific exercises may be equally to blame.
Understanding the Various Muscle Groups and How They Work
All muscles are capable of two specific movements: contracting and extending. A muscle shortens in length when it contracts, and increases in length when it extends. When a muscle lengthens, this is known as the eccentric portion of the exercise. When a muscle contracts, this is known as the concentric portion of the exercise.
The terms contract, concentric and positive all deal with the "hard" portion of the exercise, or the portion in which weight is lifted against gravity. For example, the portion of a flat barbell bench press exercise in which the weight is lifted up toward the ceiling can be described as the positive portion of the rep.
Meanwhile, the terms extend, eccentric and negative all deal with the easier portion of the exercise, or the portion in which weight is lowered with gravity. For example, the portion of a flat barbell bench press exercise in which the weight is lowered down toward the chest can be thought of as the negative portion of the rep.
Push Muscle Groups vs. Pull Muscle Groups
Muscle groups come in two forms: push muscle groups and pull muscle groups. A muscle group is described as a push muscle group if it contracts when weight is pushed away from the body. Meanwhile, a muscle group is described as a pull muscle group if it contracts when weight is pulled toward the body. In other words, pushing represents the difficult portion of the rep when working a push muscle group, while pulling represents the difficult portion of the rep when working a pull muscle group.
Examples of major push muscle groups include:
Examples of major pull muscle groups include:
By working push and pull muscle groups in various combinations, you can create push/pull routines, pull/pull routines and push/push routines. Push/push and pull/pull routines are highly aggressive and excellent for breaking through strength plateaus, though they tend to create additional stress on the same muscles and joints in comparison to push/pull routines. All three routine types should be components of your bodybuilding program.
Exercises for Building Mass Vs. Definition
Bodybuilders must understand that different strength training exercises serve different purposes and offer different end results. While your primary goal is to realize continual gains in muscular strength, mass and definition, some exercises are better suited to building mass and strength, while others are intended for increasing the definition and toning of your muscles.
If your goal is to make rapid gains in both strength and mass, you will want to focus on explosive exercises such as the flat barbell bench press and barbell squats. Explosive exercises, which are sometimes referred to as plyometrics or "plyos" in the context of athletic training, typically involve a lower number of repetitions and a heavier amount of weight. Maintaining perfect form usually isn't as critical to explosive exercises as it is to rhythmic exercises. Instead, the main goal is to move the weight explosively in order to fully fatigue your muscles.
Pyramiding routines are naturally conducive to explosive exercises because they typically involve a very small amount of reps and increasingly large amounts of weight, especially in the final sets of a pyramid routine.
If your goal is to realize gains primarily in muscle definition, focus on rhythmic exercises such as preacher curls and concentration curls. In comparison to explosive exercises, rhythmic exercises typically utilize small amounts of weight and a larger number of reps, such as 10 to 15 reps depending on the exercise being performed. Since increasing muscular definition requires more finesse than increasing strength and size, it's very important to perform rhythmic exercises with careful attention paid to form. Using the incorrect form could prevent you from building definition in the specific muscle you're targeting.
The Importance of Understanding Your Body and What it Responds To
Bodybuilding is largely about creating and maintaining a very close and personal relationship with your own body. Remember, your body is different from those of all other bodybuilders due to factors ranging from genetics and metabolism to your height and bone structure. Aspects of bodybuilding such as cardio, nutrition, supplementation, workout scheduling, rest and specific training techniques are greatly influenced by these factors.
How Cardiovascular Exercise Affects Body Building
Excess body fat is the enemy of any serious bodybuilder, which is why combining a strategic dietary plan with a sound cardiovascular routine, not just a strength training routine, is so important. Although most strength trainers will probably tell you that they dislike cardio, it's just as necessary to a bodybuilding program as any other component.
As you can probably imagine, competitive bodybuilding is about more than just building massive muscle - it's about cutting fat and maximizing your ratio of lean body mass to body fat, which gives your muscles a harder, sharper and more toned and sculpted appearance and makes them more visible to the judges. As such, many bodybuilders focus heavily on cardio starting roughly 12 to 14 weeks before a competition. In theory, most muscle mass, strength and density is already developed by this time, at which point the goal is to cut the fat while minimizing losses in muscle mass.
Cardio is also important during the "off-season," which for bodybuilders represents the majority of the year in which the goal is to build muscle. A typical plan might be to perform approximately 30 to 60 minutes of cardio per day during the off-season, increasing to 60 to 120 minutes of daily cardio in the weeks leading up to a bodybuilding competition. All bodybuilders are unique, however, and you should make this decision when the time comes based on the appearance and feel of your body.
A few examples of cardiovascular exercise types for bodybuilders include:
Listening to Your Body
As mentioned earlier in this article, listening to your body is important to virtually every aspect of bodybuilding. Any advice you receive regarding bodybuilding is typically just a generalized summary of what has worked for others in the past. However, you are a unique human being, and what works wonderfully for another bodybuilder could fail miserably for you.
Here are just a few ways in which you must listen to your body as you begin and progress through your bodybuilding program:
These are just a few examples, and you can easily see how this concept applies to other aspects of bodybuilding as well.
Creating a Regimented and Consistent Workout Routine
Performing a workout routine that includes both strength training and cardiovascular exercise with regularity and consistency is of crucial importance to all bodybuilders. The first reason for this is motivation. If you simply say that you intend to become a bodybuilder someday and decide to work out whenever you feel like it in pursuance of that goal, the goal will be unlikely to ever arrive. Instead, it's better to identify yourself as a bodybuilder right now, and create a regimented schedule that supports your new identity.
Start by examining your current schedule and determine when you can set aside blocks of time for physical exercise. Some individuals prefer to work out immediately after waking in the morning, while others choose to exercise after returning home from work later in the afternoon. The evening is another popular time for exercise, so long as it doesn't prevent you from falling asleep. Remember that this decision ultimately lies with you, and don't be afraid to modify your schedule if something isn't working. Also keep in mind that, if your goal is to make gains as quickly as possible, you may need to allow time for multiple exercise sessions each day (i.e. one session for cardio and another for strength training).
Another reason to create a regimented workout routine, however obvious, is that it's the only real way to achieve the bodybuilding results you're undoubtedly seeking. Just as your muscles adapt to increasing challenge by making gains in density, mass and strength, they'll adapt to a lack of challenge by suffering losses in these areas. Sticking to a continuous, regimented schedule is the best way to convince your body that it's worthwhile to continue growing larger, denser, stronger muscles.
As a bodybuilder, you should adhere to a diet consisting of whole, nutritious foods that naturally come from the earth. Packaged and processed foods should be avoided whenever possible. As a rule of thumb, you should try to avoid any foods that could be considered empty calories - in other words, avoid foods that have a high caloric value but few actual nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Examples of high quality foods to include in your diet are lean meat, poultry, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
Bodybuilders must also pay attention to the ratios of protein, fat and carbohydrates that they consume on a daily basis. In order to do this properly, you'll need to gain an understanding of the various subsets of these nutrients, such as complete and incomplete proteins, saturated and unsaturated fats, and complex and simple carbohydrates.
Vitamins and minerals are also extremely important to bodybuilders, as they facilitate a wide variety of bodily functions including muscle growth, blood sugar regulation and the transportation of oxygen to cells. Vitamins and minerals can come from both food sources and nutritional supplements.
For a significantly more detailed overview of nutritional requirements for bodybuilders, please see our Nutritional Requirements section.
Bodybuilders often use nutritional supplements to expedite gains in muscle mass, density and strength. These supplements come in many forms, including pills, powders, drinks, bars, puddings and more. Some of the most popular supplements for bodybuilders include whey protein, creatine, glutamine, HMB, nitric oxide, natural testosterone boosters, and multivitamin supplements featuring a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
Different supplements have different purposes and offer different benefits. Whey protein, for example, is an extremely potent and pure form of protein (i.e. it's a complete protein and it contains practically nothing aside from protein) that strength trainers often use in lieu of consuming massive quantities of meat and other protein-rich food sources that typically contain high levels of saturated fat. Creatine, another extremely popular bodybuilding supplement, is used to transport energy to the muscles.
Maintaining Muscle Confusion
As a bodybuilder, one of the worst mistakes you can make is to find a series of exercises that seem to work for you and determine that you'll stick with that routine indefinitely. This sounds counterintuitive at first - after all, if something isn't broken, why fix it? - but there's a good reason for it.
The human body is extremely adaptable - so adaptable, in fact, that it can (eventually) rise to just about any physical challenge you throw at it. With strength training, for example, your body responds to the challenge of lifting increasingly heavy weights by building muscles that are greater in strength, mass and density than they were previously. Once this challenge has been met, however, the body will realize this and stop making changes to adapt to the challenge.
Continuing to add more and more weight is not always the answer, either. While it is possible to bulk up simply by doing the same exercises and progressively increasing the weight used per rep, you'll still be targeting the same muscles within the same muscle groups from the same angles. Some muscles will be relatively neglected, while others will grow much faster, reducing muscular symmetry.
As such, it's important to continually challenge your body in new ways as your bodybuilding program progresses. General bodybuilding wisdom dictates that you can accomplish this by changing up your workout every three to eight weeks. In order to alter your workout routine, you'll need to incorporate new exercises that work your muscles from different angles and in different ways, meanwhile eliminating some exercises from your routine to make room. The exercises that you temporarily retire can be added back into your routine later once it's time for another alteration.
Supersetting and pyramiding are two additional methods for adding variety to a workout routine and challenging your body in new ways. In order to perform a super set, you'll need to choose two or more exercises, perform exactly one set of each with minimal rest in between, and then repeat until all desired sets have been completed for the chosen exercises. In order to perform a pyramiding routine, you'll need to choose an exercise and perform each subsequent set with increasingly more weight and fewer reps.
Resting Between Bodybuilding Sessions
Some bodybuilders believe that sleep can be sacrificed in order to spend more time in the weight room and make additional progress. In reality, this couldn't be further from the truth. Bodybuilders (and all strength trainers for that matter) should strive to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night, as this is when the vast majority of muscle growth occurs. Skipping sleep to put in a few extra sets at the gym will not only leave you feeling exhausted and ill-prepared for your workout the next day, but diminish the value of your workout from the current day.
It's also important to allow each muscle group an adequate amount of rest in between strength training sessions. If a given muscle group is still sore from a previous workout, it means that the muscle tissue is still actively attempting to repair itself. Working a muscle group that's still sore from a prior session can be both dangerous and ineffective. For most strength trainers, 24 to 48 hours should pass before the same muscle group is worked once again. As you continue to progress as a bodybuilder, you can expect the necessary recovery period to become increasingly shorter.
As you can tell, bodybuilding is far more complex than many individuals believe. Although strength training is a crucial component of bodybuilding, and obviously the component most associated with making major gains in muscular strength, mass and density, it's just one aspect of a highly involved sport.
Paying careful attention to nutrition, supplementation, rest, recovery, monitoring your body and incorporating forms of physical activity aside from strength training are extremely important as well.
One of the most important things to remember as a beginning bodybuilder is that avoiding an injury now will greatly increase your chances of sticking with your program in the future.
In order to do this, you must learn the proper form for each exercise and listen to your body while differentiating between "good" pain and "bad" pain.
Regardless of the aspect of bodybuilding you find most appealing - improving your overall health, becoming more visually appealing, gaining physical strength - you can achieve it, so long as you're willing to build an understanding of the concepts and then apply those concepts to your life.