Although my hypothetical beginning bodybuilding letter would be written for me, I’m certain that the 7 steps in that letter would apply just as well to you or to any other teenager or beginner who is frustrated and at a point (early in their training education), where they would waste a lot of time if they started heading down the wrong path.
I wasted so many years making so many training and diet mistakes, that I hope by sharing these 7 steps with you, that you will get started on the right track and make great gains right from the beginning.
Before I take you through each of the 7 steps one by one, first, it’s a prerequisite that we define the word, beginning bodybuilding.
Beginning bodybuilding isn’t just about getting massive muscles. Beginning Bodybuilding isn’t just for men, either. The word bodybuilding should actually be two words to eliminate confusion, stereotypes and preconceived notions. Using resistance training, in any way, shape or form, even if you’re female and only lifting 5 pound dumbbells, is body building! Beginning bodybuilding can mean anything to anybody, so regardless of your goals, don’t be intimidated by the phrase.
Now that we have that out of the way, onward to the 7 steps for any beginning bodybuilding success!
The first step to beginning bodybuilding is…
1. Pick A Goal
No matter what, if you don’t have a short term and long term goal in mind, you’ll just wander around aimlessly like a zombie with your arms out, towards anything in sight. Five, ten, or fifteen years later, you’ll wonder what the heck happened when you still look the same! I’ve seen people who have worked out longer than me, without much progress still wandering around the gym. I give them credit for being there but that feeling has got to be extremely frustrating.
You’d be floored if you knew how many people are frustrated with their lack of results, but when asked what – specifically – they are trying to accomplish, they cannot clearly define or articulate it.
Having a clear goal is the ONLY logical way to start. If you want to gain, maintain or lose weight, that is a goal. Know precisely which of these goals you want before you start as well as how much you want to lose or gain and when you want it. This one step will take you from beginning bodybuilding to intermediate. Just having a plan.
2. Figure Out How Many Calories A Day You Need
Once you have a specific goal, your next step is to determine the proper nutritional intake required to achieve that goal.
In many cases, beginning bodybuilding complaints I heard from people are they’re too skinny and tooth-pick-like, but in the very next sentence, they say they can’t eat much.
When I was 16, I didn’t eat much either. I thought the weight lifting alone was enough. I skipped many meals (especially on weekends), and I tried all kinds of protein powders and supplements, but I was clearly failing at nutrition.
My mom would cook big meals, but I’d barely put a dent in the pile of food on my plate before running off to do something… all the while, wishing I was bigger, stronger and not so skinny.
For now, just remember, calories are not hard to calculate, but if you don’t know your goal, you cannot calculate the right caloric intake, and if you don’t know the proper caloric intake, you’re not likely to achieve your goal.
3. Figure Out How Much Protein You Need Each Day
Protein is muscle. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle, and eating the optimal quantity and quality of protein combined with the optimal caloric intake, is the only way you are going to build more muscle. Beginning bodybuilding requires protein. Actually… muscle building requires it and so does preservation.
If your goal is burning fat, protein is equally important to maintain the muscle you already have. It’s also proven that getting enough protein can actually help to make you leaner.
There are very simple formulas for calculating protein requirements that do not require a degree from MIT to perform. For example, although more precise methods exist, a general guideline for protein consumption is to start with one gram per pound of body weight. I’ve seen slideshows breaking this down to slightly below to presentations saying you need more. In the end, it’s all utter bullshit. The 1g of protein for 1 lb of lean bodyweight will do wonders. You’ll have more than enough to build muscle and never too much to cause issues. And you won’t need a calculator to do it.
4. Track What You Eat
Needless to say… not a lot of people make the effort to do this. As a result, some people on “bulking” programs don’t eat enough to gain any weight, while others eat anything in sight and gain more fat than muscle. People who want to burn fat often just quit eating and end up slowing down their metabolisms. Beginning bodybuilding always includes tracking at least initially.
The fact is, if you don’t track what you’re eating, you are just guessing. Although you might guess right, guessing is no way to reach a goal with maximum efficiency. Once you know how many calories and how much protein, carbs and fat you should eat, you can easily track using a nutrition journal or software, in order to meet your daily quotas. Tracking what you eat is a must.
At this point, in only 4 steps, you’ve already created the entire foundation for your beginning bodybuilding nutrition program! There are 3 more to go…
5. Choose An Exercise Routine
There are so many workout systems being promoted today, how are you supposed to know which one to choose? Here’s a hint… choose one that involves every major muscle group with basic exercises. A good basic workout for beginning bodybuilding should include:
- Legs (squats, lunges, leg extensions, leg curls, leg press)
- Shoulders (military press, dumbbell raises, side laterals)
- Chest (bench press, flyes, dips)
- Back (pull-ups, rows, deadlifts, lat pull-downs)
- Arms (ez-bar curls, barbell curls, dumbbell curls)
- Abs (hanging leg raises, incline crunches)
- Cardio (for the heart)
I could go on and on and post 500 different workout routines complete with reps, sets and complete explanations and instructions, and you might still be confused about which one to choose. So let me ease the confusion by saying this… beginning bodybuilding isn’t about the exact or perfect program.
I’ve tried dozens, maybe even hundreds of routines and I’ll tell you something: I’ve gotten gains out of all of them even though they all have very different philosophies. Which leads me to conclude that…
THERE IS NO SINGLE-BEST, “GOLDEN” ROUTINE THAT WILL WORK FOR EVERYONE ALL OF THE TIME!
It also leads me to conclude that variation in your training programs is essential.
Here’s more proof:
Do you see the same people in your gym, doing the same things month in, month out, and a year later they look exactly the same? It’s really quite simple. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will keep getting what you’ve always gotten. (same say it’s the definition of insanity; I prefer the term homeostasis as some people just want to maintain and stay the same)
There are so many variations on exercises and routines you can do, your choices are virtually unlimited!
A word of advice if you’re tempted to stick with just one workout routine or workout philosophy Don’t. Try it, evaluate it, then try another one. Within 6 months, you’ll know your body very well and what it responds best to. But regardless of the fact that people often respond better to some training systems than others, variety is the one training principle that applies to everyone.
6. Take Supplements, but start only with the basics
While 97% of your progress will come from nutrition and training, there are still a few basics supplements you should consider.
What are the basics of supplementation?
- Daily multi-vitamin
- Omega 3 and 6 EFA complex (fish oil, flax seed)
- Whey protein (specifically for after workouts)
Just this small trio is all you should need to get started to be certain your intake of vitamins minerals and essential nutrients is 100%. Consider them your nutritional “insurance policy.”
You may reach a point when you want to go beyond the basics of beginning bodybuilding. For example, once your nutrition and training is in completely in place, then additional supplements may help you gain that extra few percent in results that bring you as close to 100% of your possible gains as you can achieve. Just remember, start with the basics before you even consider the latest “whiz bang breakthrough” because no supplement will make much of a difference if you aren’t eating and training properly and consistently. Beginning bodybuilding requires no supplementation so don’t get caught up in the hype.
7. Monitor Your Progress
It never ceases to amaze me how many people fail to follow this simple, but critical step. If you don’t test your body composition, take your measurements, track your workout progress, or snap some photographs, it’s almost impossible to know whether you’re advancing from where you started to where you want to go.
Setting small daily goals and keeping track of your progress toward them is a wonderful method for keeping your forward momentum going and for keeping yourself motivated to reach your long term goals. It’s much more difficult to stay motivated when you’re not keeping track of your progress because you have nothing to compare your current results to; no personal bests recorded to beat.
Failure to monitor your progress is the #1 reason why beginning bodybuilding gets frustrating and demotivating with diet and training routines. Many people take one quick glance at at themselves in the mirror and decide on that basis alone whether the last 4 months of effort were worth it. They make judgments on what they perceive to be reality in that one moment, without considering whether they did better today than their last workout, or realizing whether their waist measurement is smaller than 6 weeks ago. Unfortunately, we are often our own worst critics and our perceptions of ourselves are often distorted, and that’s why it’s so important to measure your progress objectively.
Beginning Bodybuilding Methods of tracking your progress include:
- Writing down what you eat in a nutrition journal or software program
- Journaling your workouts in a notebook (or using software)
- Testing your body fat and calculating lean body mass
- Taking measurements of various body areas (waist, hips, chest, arms, thighs, etc)
- Taking before and after photographs
When you track your beginning bodybuilding progress on a frequent basis, you will soon see clear, measurable evidence that your efforts are paying off. Seeing the little improvements will be a constant source of motivation for you. If there is a course correction necessary, you can make it quickly before it’s too late.
This critical step of tracking progress is often overlooked by beginners because most haven’t even figured out which workout to follow or how to eat, let alone be bothered to take all sorts of measurements. However, if you skip this step, you’ll soon become one of those people who constantly complain that their body looks the same, month after month, year after year.
If you’re a parent, here’s an analogy you can relate to (if you’re not a parent, just think back to when you were in school.) Report cards and homework quizzes are a method of tracking your child’s scholastic performance. You know where there might be a problem and can correct it before it becomes a major issue. What about your investment portfolio Would you dump money into stocks and mutual funds, then just let them go without ever paying attention to whether they were going up or down? If you wouldn’t ignore your child’s report card or your own investment performance, then why ignore your own body’s performance?