Becoming involved in Bodybuilding is a very rewarding experience. Bodybuilding is a process of using weight training in order to increase the size, strength, and balance of the muscles in your body, as well as decrease bodyfat. This is done through progressive resistance training, which means you must regularly increase the resistance (weight) you use as the muscle grows stronger.
Increasing resistance is possible due to the body’s ability to adapt to stress by becoming stronger in response to the stimulus of exercise. Simply put, when you work a muscle hard, the fibers are actually damaged or broken down and the body responds by repairing the muscle and making it slightly bigger and stronger to prepare for the work to be repeated. If the work (exercise) is repeated frequently (with enough rest in between for the repair process to take place) with increased resistance each time, theoretically, the muscle will get progressively larger and stronger. That is the main idea of how bodybuilding works.
It is a simple process, but there are many variables that can affect how fast and how much the muscle will grow. These factors include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Intensity of workouts
- Frequency of workouts
Nutrition is a huge part of successful bodybuilding. I recommend educating yourself on the topics of nutrition and supplements. One way to keep informed in this area is to subscribe to a good Bodybuilding magazine such as Flex or Muscle & Fitness. Both of these fine bodybuilding magazines have many great articles each month dealing with diet, nutrition and supplements.
Proper rest is extremely critical to muscle growth. In this day and age, it is not unusual to get less than 6 hours of sleep a night for a lot of people. I recommend trying to get at least 8 hours if at all possible, even if you need to take a nap! Muscle growth mostly occurs at night, during sleep, which makes it very important to get a lot!
Workout intensity is something that entire books have been written on. I recommend reading up on this topic as well. Flex and Muscle & Fitness deal with this topic in depth. Basically you need to find the right amount of intensity to trigger muscle growth. When a bodybuilder is just starting out, it does not take much to trigger new muscle growth. However, the body will quickly adapt to repeated stress and this can cause muscle growth to slow or stop all together. When this occurs, bodybuilders refer to it as a “plateau”. This is the time to increase the intensity of your training. The muscle must be subjected to a new kind of stress that it is not used to in order to stimulate new growth. Fortunately, there are many methods of changing the workout intensity, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
Frequency of workouts is something that will vary from bodybuilder to bodybuilder. A bodybuilder may workout anywhere from 3 to 7 days per week. you will want to try several different schedules to see what is best for you. You must give your muscles enough of a break between workouts to repair themselves, but you don’t want to wait too long between workouts or you will not get maximum results.
First and foremost, check with your physician to make sure you are in good physical condition to start a weight lifting or bodybuilding program! I recommend that beginners to bodybuilding start with a simple workout plan. This plan should consist of one exercise per bodypart, working the entire body 3 times per week.
Bodyparts are divided as follows:
- Chest (pecs)
- Back (lats)
- Shoulders (delts)
- Triceps (back of upper arm)
- Biceps (front of upper arm)
- Forearms Abdominals (abs)
- Quadriceps (front of thigh)
- Hamstrings (back of thigh)
- Calves (back of lower leg)
- Here is an example of a workout:
- Bench press
- Lat pulldowns
- Military press
- Tricep pushdowns
- Barbell curls
- Leg extensions
- Leg curls
- Standing calf raises
You should start out each exercise with a warm up set. For this set, choose a relatively light weight that will allow you to do 25 reps without killing yourself. This prepares the muscles and tendons to move bigger weights. Then perform three sets per exercise, 8-10 reps each.
For your first set, choose a weight that will allow you to 10 reps without struggling too much. Rest for 30-60 seconds, then increase the weight for your second set that makes 10 reps considerably harder. For your third set, choose a weight that is heavy enough that you cannot do any more than 8-10 reps no matter how hard you try. This is called muscular failure. You must take your muscles to the point of failure or they will not grow. It is at this point that your muscles will be triggered to grow because they are being asked to do something they never did before and their natural response is to become stronger.
Keep an accurate record of the amount of weight you use on each set, so you can track your progress.
It will take a bit of trial and error until you find the correct weight in each exercise. Be sure to take care when you first start out not to load the bar up with some ridiculous weight that may cause injury to your muscles, tendons, or your foot when you drop it!
As time goes on and you are diligently following your training program, you will notice that when you get to rep number 10 on your last set, you feel like you can do one or two more. This is good! Continue the set for eleven or twelve total repetitions. When you are able to do this for 2 or 3 workouts in a row, it is time to increase the weight in that particular exercise.
If you are training a relatively large muscle group, such as chest or quads, you may try increasing the weight by 10 or 15 pounds. If you are doing biceps or delts, then maybe increase only 5 pounds or even 2.5 pounds. The new weight should limit you to 7 or 8 reps on the last set. Soon you will be back up to 12 with the new weight, and then you will bump the weight up even more. These increases are what you are working so hard for. Increased weight means increased strength, which means increased muscle mass!
Make sure you take good notes as you work out. This is very important for several reasons. First, you may not remember what weight you used in a particular exercise the next time you workout, and you will waste time and effort having to figure it out again! Second, you need be able to gauge your progress as time goes on. It is an awesome feeling and great motivation to see that a month ago you were using 10 or 20 pounds less in a particular exercise than you are using now! I recommend getting a good training journal, but you can use any pad of paper. Create a space for the following data for each workout:
- Muscle Group worked
- Exercise name
- Number of sets
- Number of reps in each set
- Weight used each set
- Personal Notes
Write things down that may have a positive or negative affect on your workout, such as energy level, whether you were tired or still sore from your last workout, or maybe your left shoulder has been bothering you, etc. If you are detailed here, you may be able to learn some important clues as to what makes you have a good workout verses an “ok” workout. Maybe you’ll find that when you workout right after work you have more energy than when you wait until 8 o’clock. Perhaps you will notice that eating certain things before training causes you to feel stronger and more energized. Write down if you have a cold, or if you are recovering from an injury, or if any particular exercise hurts you when you do it. Some of these notes will be important in the future.
Use this program for 4-6 months and you should see some real progress. At that time, you may want to start to include some advanced techniques to increase your workout intensity in order to continue making good gains.