Welcome to your complete guide of bodybuilding for beginners!
One of the problems beginner’s face is that there’s so much information out there. It can be overwhelming and difficult to know where you start.
That’s why I created this complete guide for you.
Here, you’re going to learn every you need to start your bodybuilding journey, from the types of workouts to do to how to eat for quality muscle gains, and other amazing tips that will help you stay on track!
*You’ll also get a complete beginner’s bodybuilding routine.
I’m also going to include additional helpful resources from pro bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Dorian Yates, Lee Haney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and several others.
Below, you’ll see the contents of this guide. I encourage you to go through each section, thoroughly…
Basics of Bodybuilding
There’s an art to building muscle. Your goal isn’t just gain weight or get big. Likewise, you don’t want to look thin and skinny.
Bodybuilding is a balancing act of two things:
- Building muscle mass
- Having minimal body fat
It’s a simple concept. But it’s certainly not easy.
When you’re training (and eating) to gain size, it’s easy to gain fat. And when you’re wanting to lean out, it’s easy to sacrifice muscle.
But I don’t want you to worry about all of that right now. Instead, I’m going to take you through the basics and help you get started the right way. And the things you’ll learn here will help to reach both of those goals.
I’ll go over some of the basic principles below that you’ll want to know before you start bodybuilding. This will help you focus on the right things when you get to the gym.
**IMPORTANT NOTE: Before reading further, watch this short inspirational bodybuilding video about the fascinating story of pro bodybuilder Kai Greene…
Bodybuilding requires consistency and patience!
It’s not an overnight process and there are no shortcuts. Make that commitment to yourself and be prepared to do this for the long-haul.
And NEVER give up!
Building Muscle Size vs Strength
As a beginner in bodybuilding, your primary goal is training for muscle size. As a result, you will get stronger. And that’s important.
However, your workouts and the way you perform each rep will be different than if your goal was solely for strength gains.
When you’re training for strength, your goal is to lift the maximum weight. So everything you do will be to support that goal. This means you won’t be doing many of the bodybuilding exercises and techniques.
Again, you will indeed get stronger from bodybuilding workouts, but lifting maximum weights is not your primary goal. So strength gains will be a ‘side-effect’ of bodybuilding workouts.
Your goal with bodybuilding is to build and shape your muscles. You will be lifting heavy weights and compound movements to gain mass, which we’ll go over in detail later. But you’ll also be using exercises and techniques that will pump more blood into your muscles during your workouts.
This gives you the best of both worlds! Muscle mass and strength!
The 2 most common ways to build muscle mass are:
- More training volume (more overall sets and reps)
- Forcing your muscles to do the work as opposed to just moving the weight from point A to B
This doesn’t mean you should shy away from lifting heavyweights. In fact, you’ll be going heavy at the beginning of your workouts.
But that’s not all you’ll be doing. You’re also going to incorporating exercises that target each muscle, helping you get that muscle separation. And that separation is what separates true bodybuilders from average weightlifters.
**This will all make more sense when you get to the beginner’s bodybuilding workout section.
Weight Training Methods for Beginners
If you’re brand new to weight training in general, this section will help you understand the preliminary elements of lifting. This is going to give you a better idea of how your workouts need to flow.
Here’s what you’ll learn about below:
- Sets and reps
- Building your foundation
- Creating a bodybuilder physique
Sets and Reps Explained
Sets and reps are the heart of weight training and bodybuilding. Here’s an explanation of both:
- Reps: Reps are simply how many times you lift the weight from the starting to the finishing position. For example, if you perform lat pulldowns 12 times from start to finish, that’s 12 reps.
- Sets: A set is the time you spend performing that exercise from the first rep to the final rep. In other words, if you are performing the bench press and do 10 reps and stop, that’s 1 set.
The purpose of sets and reps is to keep track of how much volume you’re doing, and it also helps you set goals.
For example, if you did 3 sets of 10 reps for bench press last week, you may want to do 3 sets of 12 reps this week. Or you may stick to the same number of reps and increase the amount of weight.
Building Your Foundation
Building your foundation is absolutely crucial as a beginner bodybuilder.
Think of it like a house. If your foundation is weak, the rest of the house is going to be weak. If you’re foundation is strong and solid, your house will not only be stable but you’ll be able to continue building on to it.
Your body is that house. That’s why it’s imperative to start bodybuilding the right way. It will give you a greater chance of building more muscle in the future.
There are 5 basic compound exercises responsible for building your foundation of muscle. These exercises use the most effort and will build the most muscle because they’re multi-joint exercises.
- Bench Press
- Barbell Rows
- Overhead Barbell Press
So if you’re new to all of this, I encourage you to go back and read my post Fundamentals of Weight Training first, and then come back and read this one.
This is also catered to beginners and will help you become even more familiar with general weightlifting.
Creating a Bodybuilder Physique
A true bodybuilder has that deep muscle separation meaning their muscles are visible. This is the difference between bodybuilding and powerlifting.
A bodybuilder looks like a jacked up cartoon character or a superhero!
That’s the look you’re going for. You don’t want to look like a big block with no shape.
So let’s go over the bodybuilding methods that every beginner needs to be aware of in order to gain muscle:
- Training your muscles from different angles
- Forcing your muscles to work harder
- Focusing on proper form (preventing injury)
- Giving equal effort to all muscle groups
Bodybuilding workouts are built with multiple exercises for each muscle group. These exercises are necessary to train your muscles from different angles, giving your muscle that full look.
Forcing your muscles to do the work is imperative! Bodybuilding is not about just lifting weights from point A to B. It’s about making your muscles move that weight!
4-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler explains this using his chest workout as an example in the video below…
Proper form is an absolute must. Especially if you’re a beginner.
As a beginner bodybuilder, you don’t want to start with bad habits or bad form. Poor form in the gym can also lead to injury, which can really set you back and make you lose motivation. Not to mention some injuries can impact you for life.
So, learn to master the basics of each movement. This takes extreme focus and concentration. And I’ll talk more about form in the workout section that we’re about to get into next below.
Giving equal attention to all of your muscles is imperative for building a bodybuilder physique. Many beginner bodybuilders make the mistake of focusing on the ‘show muscles.’
Oftentimes means chest and arms. Sure, you’ll look good from the front but you will look small and funny from the side and from the rear.
Bodybuilding is all about proportion. You want to look huge and jacked from ALL angles. Not just from the front.
**The ‘bulk’ of your muscle mass is going to come from your two largest muscles: legs and back. So it’s important to put extreme focus into those muscles.
Bodybuilding Workout Plan for Beginners
Below is your simple bodybuilding workout for beginners. This is a great way to get started.
- This will be a 5-day workout plan
- You’ll be training each muscle group once a week
- Your goal is to focus on one muscle group each workout
Typically, I would recommend either 5 days on, 2 days off (Monday through Friday with weekends off). Or you could also do 3 on, 1 off, 2 on, 1 off.
Example 1 – 5 on, 2 off:
- Monday: Workout 1
- Tuesday: Workout 2
- Wednesday: Workout 3
- Thursday: Workout 4
- Friday: Workout 5
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
Example 2 – 3 on, 1, off, 2 on, 1 off
- Monday: Workout 1
- Tuesday: Workout 2
- Wednesday: Workout 3
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Workout 4
- Saturday: Workout 5
- Sunday: Rest
***You’ll see inspirational workout videos of pro bodybuilding champions below each workout. These are not beginner’s workouts!!!
Rather, they are there to give you motivation and help you immerse yourself in the world of bodybuilding.
For now, stick to the workouts I give you below for at least 8 weeks. And use those videos for inspiration and motivation.
Workout 1: Chest
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Bench Press||4 x 10, 8, 6, 6|
|Incline Dumbbell Press||3 x 12, 10, 8|
|Dumbbell Flyes||3 x 12|
- You’ll start out with heavy bench press. These exercises will build the foundation for a big chest.
- The following exercises target your chest muscles even more. Make sure you contract your muscles and squeeze (flex) your chest at the peak of each rep.
- You can add another exercise after 2-3 weeks if you want (preferably another pressing exercise, like Hammer Strength Press).
For additional chest training trips, watch IFBB pro Seth Feroce’s tips below:
Workout 2: Back
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Barbell Rows||4 x 10, 8, 6, 6|
|Dumbbell Rows||3 x 8|
|Seated Rows||3 x 12, 10, 8|
|Lat Pulldowns||3 x 12|
- It’s almost impossible not to build back width and thickness with barbell rows. And this is also a heavy compound exercise.
- You’re going to do a little more for back than you did for chest. Why? Because back is your largest upper muscle and demands more attention.
- The key to building a big and ripped back is to contract those muscles when you pull the weight all the way towards you. And when you release, take your time and force that extra tension on your back muscles.
- After a few weeks, you can add more exercises.
8-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman had the indisputable best back in the history of bodybuilding. You can watch his back training video below for more tips and inspiration…
Workout 3: Legs
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Squats||4 x 8-10|
|Leg Press||3 x 10|
|Leg Extensions||3 x 12|
|Leg Curls||3 x 12|
|Seated or Standing Calve Raises||3 x 12|
- Your volume is increasing with legs. Many neglect their legs, or at best they don’t train them as hard as their upper body. Don’t make that mistake.
- You’ll start with heavy squats but after that, it’s all about volume. Legs tend to respond better (and grow faster) from higher rep ranges. This is due to the types of muscle fibers in your quads.
- Make sure you’re forcing your leg muscles to do the work on every rep. Don’t just go through the motions.
- You can later add more sets to this workout. And feel free to up the reps to 15 on everything after squats.
6-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates takes you through one of this brutal leg workout below. Granted, this is not for beginners but it will give you some ideas on what is to come for you once you get more established in your bodybuilding routine.
Workout 4: Shoulders
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Seated Dumbbell Press||4 x 8|
|Lateral Raises||3 x 12|
|Bent-Over Raises||3 x 12|
- Your shoulder workout will be similar to your chest workout.
- Building big shoulders requires focusing on those specific muscles through each exercise. Don’t sacrifice good form for heavier weight, especially with shoulders.
- You can also add more sets, or another exercise later (dumbbells shrugs is something you’ll eventually want to add).
7-time Mr. Olympia Phil Heath shares one of his awesome shoulder workouts in the video below. Again, this is not for beginners but more for inspiration.
Workout 5: Arms
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Rope Pressdowns||3 x 10|
|Barbell Curls||3 x 10|
|Single Cable Pressdowns||3 x 12|
|Dumbbell Hammer Curls||3 x 12|
- The final workout of the week is biceps and triceps. And what better way to the week!
- If you want to build huge and ripped arms, it’s going to be crucial for you to focus on contracting those muscles throughout each rep.
- Feel free to add some drop sets or rest-pause sets to your arm workout once you get started.
Top Mr. Olympia competitor and multiple-time Arnold Classic winner Branch Warren takes you through one of this arm workouts. Branch is known for his extreme dedication and brutal workout intensity, which we’re going to talk more about intensity below.
How to Increase Intensity
After going through this beginner’s bodybuilding workout plan for 2-3 weeks, you can start adding more exercises and more techniques.
Once you get the movements down, the next step is to increase the intensity of your workouts. Here are a few ways to do this:
- Drop sets
- Supersets or giant sets
- Rest-pause sets
Drop sets are one of the most commons ways to increase your intensity. Here’s how drop sets work:
- Perform a set
- Reduce the weight by about 30%
- Perform another set
- There’s no rest between these sets, which makes it a drop set
Supersets are similar to drop sets in the fact that there’s no, or minimal rest between sets. Here’s how supersets work:
- Perform a set
- Immediately perform another set of a different
*Giant set are similar but consist of more than two exercises. There’s also a short rest period allowed between these exercises.
Rest-pause sets are for next-level training intensity. Here’s how rest-pause sets work:
- Perform a set
- Rest 15-20 seconds
- Perform another set using the same weight
Learn about how these techniques and more can help you make gains faster in this post: 7 Weight Training Techniques to Increase Intensity
Bodybuilding Nutrition Guide for Beginners
A ‘huge’ (no pun intended) part of bodybuilding for beginners is nutrition.
Most of us start lifting weights to get bigger, aka to gain more muscle. But you’re not going to do that without food.
But not only do you need enough calories to grow; you also need enough of the right types of foods to build quality muscle and for other reasons that I’ll explain below.
There are 3 things you need to keep in mind with beginner’s bodybuilding nutrition:
- You need enough calories for muscle recovery (this is was allows for muscle growth to happen)
- You need the right types of calories to provide fuel for your workouts
- You need certain foods to improve and maintain good health
**Sometimes eating for health takes a backseat for beginner bodybuilders because they’re focused too much on making gains.
Whereas you can probably get away with being lenient with your diet in most cases, you don’t want to develop poor eating habits. Those habits will be harder to break later!
Basic Concepts of Macronutrients for Bodybuilding
Before we ‘dig in’ to this, don’t let things like macronutrients scare you. Many see that and immediately become unmotivated because they think they’ll have to start counting every calorie.
Heck, you may even be where I was when I first started bodybuilding; I had no clue what a macronutrient was!
So I’m going to break this down so that it’s easier to understand and follow.
Now, you’ve probably heard of many different diets that limit carbs or limit fats. Don’t get caught up into all of that. Rather, understand that you need a balance of all macronutrients as a beginner bodybuilder.
It’s true that there is not a one-size-fits-all meal plan that works the same for everyone. But there are some basic guidelines that will help you get started…
- Protein: 40%
- Carbs: 40%
- Fats: 20%
This means 40% of your calories should come from protein sources, another 40 gram carbs and 20 from fats.
Again, this is by no means the ‘perfect bodybuilding meal plan’ for everyone. It’s just a good place to start.
**You can read more details about how macros work in my post: 5,000 Calorie Meal Plan for Mass Gains with Macros By Body Type
Bodybuilding Meal Plan for Beginner’s
Here’s a sample bodybuilding meal plan for beginners. This caters to gaining mass and is considered a sensible, balanced meal plan for a day. Use this meal plan as a guide to create your own bodybuilding meal plan:
- 3-4 whole eggs (cage-free)
- 2 turkey sausage links
- 1 serving of oatmeal
- 1-2 scoops of protein powder
- 1 banana
- 1/2 serving of natural peanut butter
- 1 serving of dark berries
- 6 ounces of water or almond milk (*regular milk if you’re a hardgainer)
- 6-8 ounces of ground beef (grass-fed), turkey, or chicken
- 1 serving of whole wheat pasta
- 1 serving of fruit or green vegetables
- 6-8 ounces of steak, chicken, or fish
- 1 sweet potato
- 1 serving of brown or Jasmine rice
- 2 servings of cottage cheese
- 1 serving of fruit (this is optional if you’re ok with some carbs before bed)
**Watch how IFBB pro bodybuilder Evan Centopani eats below:
Again, this is just an example of a one-day bodybuilding meal plan for beginners. You can substitute foods in this plan, and you can also add another meal if you’re looking to gain more mass.
Remember, no matter how hard you work out, if you don’t replenish your body with the proper nutrition it needs, you will not grow. Nutrition is all about recovery and optimizing energy.
**If you’re like me, you get tired of eating the same meals. So I have a complete muscle-building recipe guide you can check out here: 200+ Bodybuilding Recipes for Gains
Rules for Quality Mass Gains
In addition, there are a few basic nutrition rules that apply to most. And these are probably the most important of them:
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of high-quality protein, healthy fats, and healthy sources of carbs
- Stick to natural, organic foods (minimize processed foods)
- Minimize sugar
- Don’t undereat
- If you tend to be on the heavy side, don’t overindulge
Bodybuilding Supplement Guide for Beginners
It’s easy to get lost in the world of bodybuilding supplements. There are so many products, brands, and types of supplements. It can be overwhelming even to us that have been in this game for a while.
But no need to fear (because TheMuscleProgram is here)! I’m going to give you a basic supplement plan for beginners.
The truth is you don’t need to be taking a ton of supplements, especially if you’re just starting out. Here’s the basic 3 I recommend starting with for beginners…
1 – Whey Protein
- What is it for? – Protein is important for building muscle. You need it to recover and grow.
- Why do you need it? – Specifically taking whey protein after your workout is a great way to kick-start the recovery process since it digests quickly. You can mix it with things like Almond or Coconut milk, fruits, yogurt, and other goodies for your protein shakes. These protein shakes also be used for between meals to increase your overall protein intake.
- Best times to take – Post-workout and between meals (or can be used as a meal replacement).
2 – Multi-Vitamin
- What is it for? – To ensure you’re getting the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to recover, function, and grow new muscle.
- Why do you need it? – Chances are you’re not getting the adequate dose of vitamins and minerals in your diet. And when you’re training hard, you need more than the average couch potato. So it’s crucial to add a multi-vitamin to the top of your list of supplements.
- Best times to take – With any meal (I take mine with my post-workout meal).
3 – BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)
- What is it for?– BCAAs consist of 3 amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Along with being the building blocks of protein, BCAAs are also necessary for muscle growth and recovery.
- Why do you need it? – Sipping on BCAA powder mixed with water during your workouts helps increase protein synthesis and prevents the breakdown of protein. It also great muscle energy during your workouts.
- Best times to take – Pre, intra, and post-workout.
As I stated earlier, there’s an influx of supplement brands and types of supplements. These are my bodybuilding for beginners basics, and in my opinion, it’s all you need for now. Build your foundation first before jumping into the fancy supplements.
**You can see the supplements I personally take on my resource page here: Jason’s Supplements
It’s Gains O’ Clock! Are You Ready?
Now it’s time to get excited about your bodybuilding journey! You’ve made the decision to jump into the gym and start getting stronger and building more muscle.
You can even bookmark this page in your favorites in case you need to revert back to it. And I think the bodybuilding for beginners workouts will especially come in handy for you.
There’s no feeling like being in the gym and building muscle, and trust me, you will do this for the rest of your life!
So, what’s next?
12-Week Mass Building Program
If you feel that you’re ready to take things to the next level, try my 12-week mass and strength training program.
This will take you through the entire process of packing on more muscle mass. And the program is detailed, taking you through every step.
Get started now: 12-Week Hardcore Muscle Building Program
Train with Passion,