Beginner's guide to bodybuilding

The Beginner’s Guide To Bodybuilding: Part 1

“Bodybuilding” is misunderstood.  Every workout routine is a bodybuilding routine.  Most people don’t like to think of it that way but its true.  Every physical activity that we undertake with the expectation of improving our physique is bodybuilding.

So get over the terms.  That goes for men and women, young and old.  We are all bodybuilders.  That doesn’t mean that we have to diet down to 5% bodyfat, buy a Speedo and quit our jobs in order to spend more time in the gym.

I don’t have time for that and I’m guessing that you don’t either.  Time is the limiting factor for most of us.  Fortunately, effective bodybuilding has more to do with quality than quantity.  If you can spare thirty minutes twice a week that should be plenty.  Forty-five minutes is better, but thirty will do it.

It sounds like a joke.  How could you make progress on that little amount of training?  “My trainer recommends three days a week of hour long workouts consisting of 12 – 15 sets plus cardio.”  Sound familiar?  That approach can be effective, there are problems:

  1. You will lose motivation after a few weeks of marathon sessions.  Even if you could keep the motivation, we all have other things to do.
  2. Cumulative fatigue will stop you from training hard or lead to an injury.


Anything else won’t do the trick and won’t keep the cycle going.  That’s why 2/3 of Americans who hold a gym membership never use it.  They tried, it took too much time away from things they’d rather be doing and they did not see the results they wanted.  They lost motivation and they quit.

Don’t train too often. Don’t train too long.  Just train hard.  That’s all the beginning bodybuilding needs to know.  By the way, almost everyone is a beginner.

So what should you do with that thirty minutes?

First you should warm up.  That doesn’t mean stretch and it doesn’t mean ride the bike for a half an hour.  It means do a reasonably quick routine to get yourself ready for action.  Save the stretching for the end of your workout.  After the warm up train three or four of the basic movements for one or two warm up sets plus one or two work sets.

What are the basic movements?

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press or Dips
  • Military Press
  • Bent Row
  • Chin Up or Pulldowns
  • Calf Raises

“Why no arm exercises?  What about barbell curls and triceps press downs?”  They aren’t necessary.  If you train hard enough on the upper body movements you do not need direct arm work.  In my experience, the indirect work you get from bench presses and bent rows is far superior in building both muscle and definition.

“OK, but what about other exercises like leg extensions, leg curls and lateral raises?”  Those are isolation movements.  They isolate one muscle as opposed to compound movements which train a group of muscles.  For example, the lateral raise hits only the deltoids while the military press trains delts, triceps and pectorals.  We want to get the maximum benefit for our training time.  Compound movements give us that efficiency.

Let’s face it, the list of possible movements is endless.  I’ll admit that there are benefits to almost all of them.  However, a beginner is not about complexity.  A simple routine that you can do it with minimal equipment is all that is necessary.  Give it a try for a month and see.

Let’s get to the details.  What about sets and reps?

I’ll save that discussion for part 2.

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