Getting Started - Bodybuilding for Beginners

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Consult Your Doctor And Get A Physical

Athletic Male Picking Up Dumbbells in Gym
Mike Harrington/Taxi/Getty Images

It is always a good idea for a beginner to get a physical before you embark on a bodybuilding program. While this may sound like a cliche, there is a good reason for this:

You ensure that all your systems are in working order.

To check cardiovascular function you need the following tests: Total cholesterol, LDL/HDL, Triglycerides, C-reactive protein, Homocysteine levels.To check liver function you need: alkaline phosphatase, GGT, SGOT, SGPTTo check kidney function you need: creatinine, BUN, and the creatinine/BUN ratio.For males, a PSA test is also wise to ensure adequate prostate function.

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Ask Your Doctor To Check Your Hormonal Levels

At the end of the day,

a hormonal imbalance will prevent you from achieving your bodybuilding goals

Hormones of interest are: Testosterone, Free testosterone, IGF-1, Estradiol, DHEA/DHEA-s, and a Full thyroid panel to ensure that your metabolism is operating efficiently.

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Once You Get Your Doctor's Clearance You Need To Select A Gym

There are a couple of options that a beginning bodybuilder has:

1) Go to a health club. If this option is chosen, then select a club that is closest to your home. In this manner, you do not have to spend alot of time driving prior to your workout. A second choice would be to select a club closest to your workplace. This would work well only if you do not plan to ever go on weekends and if you do not plan to workout with your significant other. Other things to look for before choosing a health club are monthly fees, how well kept is the equipment, hours of operation, how clean is it, and whether or not you feel comfortable in the environment.

2) Make your own home gym. In talking to thousands of trainees, it seems like the majority is better served by attending a health club as most people do not have the motivation to workout at home. However, if you are like me and like to workout in total solitude, this may be the best option for you. The advantages are obvious: no fees, no crowds, you can superset alot (move from one exercise to the next with no rest), and workout anytime. Disadvantages are that you have no one to spot you so you need to be very careful with what you are doing.

Absolute beginners can get by with very little home gym equipment and make awesome bodybuilding gains. A sturdy bench with a good leg extension/leg curl attachment and a set of adjustable dumbbells such as an Ironmaster set will get you started.

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Start Out With A Beginner's Bodybuilding Workout Routine And Diet

Many times beginning bodybuilders make the mistake of using the routines of professional bodybuilders featured on magazines, when instead they should be using a routine that is geared towards their level. A good beginning routine that uses minimum equipment (namely a pair of dumbbells and a bench) is the following:

NOTE: In order to get the most out of your routine you need to start easing at this time into a bodybuilding diet as well. Please take a look at my article Easing Into a Bodybuilding Diet in order to learn how to do that.

3 Days A Week Full Body Routine:
(Perform on 3 non-consecutive days such as Mon/Wed/Fri)

75 Degree Incline DB Bench Press
DB Bench Press
One Arm Rows
DB Pullovers
Bent Over Lateral Raises
DB Upright Rows
Dumbbell Curls
Overhead Triceps Extensions
Leg Extensions
DB Squats
DB Lunges (Press with heels)
Lying Leg Curls
Calf Raises

NOTE: DB = Dumbbell

How to Progress:
Perform 2 sets of each exercise for 10-12 reps and rest 1 minute in between sets. Move up to 3 sets after 4 weeks. At 2 sets per exercise the routine lasts 45 minutes if you rest 1 minute in between sets. At 3 sets it lasts 60 minutes. Do cardio on the days off (20-30 minutes) and also do abs (4 sets of Leg Raises and swiss ball crunches for 15-40 reps).

Beginner's Bodybuilding Diet

If like most people you are eating once or twice a day or relying on fast foods to get by, then a bodybuilding diet may be absolutely different to what you are used to. If this is the case, then it is best to follow the steps provided in my article Easing Into A Bodybuilding Diet so that you slowly start changing your eating habits into the ones required to be successful at bodybuilding.

For more information on Bodybuilding Diets you can also take a look at my Introductory Guide To Bodybuilding Diets.

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Graduate To An Intermediate Bodybuilding Routine

After 12 weeks in the Beginning Bodybuilding Schedule, it is time to graduate to an Intermediate Routine in order to keep progressing. In this routine, the body is split in two separate days; chest, back and arms on day 1, and shoulders, legs and abs on day 2. Also, a leg extension/leg curl attachment will be required for those working out at home.

Day 1-Chest, Back, and Arms
75 Degree Incline Press
Flat Dumbbell Press
Incline Flyes
One Arm Rows
Two Arm Rows
Dumbbell Curl
Incline Curls
Overhead Triceps Extensions
Lying Triceps Extensions

Day 2-Shoulders, Legs, and Abs
Military Press
Barbell Upright Rows
Bent Over Lateral Raises On Incline Bench
Lunges (press with toes)
Leg Extensions
Stiff Legged Dead-lifts
Leg Curls
Calf Raises
Sit Ups (Go up to a 30 degree angle only)
Leg Raises
Swiss Ball Crunch
Knee Ins

This routine can be performed either 4 days a week by doing Day 1 on Mon/Thur and Day 2 on Tue/Fri with cardio on Wed/Sat or alternatively 3 non-consecutive days a week like Mon/Wed/Fri alternating between Day 1 and 2, with cardio in the days off.

Perform 2 sets of each exercise for 10-12 reps and rest 1 minute in between sets. Move up to 3 sets after 4 weeks. At 2 sets per exercise the routine lasts 45 minutes if you rest 1 minute in between sets. At 3 sets it lasts 60 minutes.

Intermediate Bodybuilding Diet

By now your diet should be similar to this Sample Bodybuilding Diet. If on the other hand, you are looking to just gain muscle weight, and are not interested in fat loss, then you need to be following my Sample Weight Gain Diet.

For more information on Bodybuilding Diets you can also take a look at my Introductory Guide To Bodybuilding Diets.

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Graduate To An Advanced Program

After 12-16 weeks on an Intermediate Bodybuilding Program, it is time to graduate into more Advanced Routines. This does not necessarily mean more time in the gym, though for those few of you whose ultimate goal is bodybuilding competition, then more time in the gym will be the case.

The main difference between Advanced Training and Intermediate Training is that in Advanced Training, you'll need to change your program every 3 weeks to keep the gains coming. Therefore, you will need to incorporate periodization, which is the manipulation of sets, repetitions and rest in between sets. If competition is your goal, then you may need to increase your weight training days to 6 in order to accommodate a larger number of exercises. Some options on what can be done in terms of a more advanced routine are presented below:

Day 1 -Shoulders, Biceps, Triceps

Day 2 -Thighs, Hamstrings, and Calves

Day 3 -Chest, Back, Abs

You may do Day 1 on Mon/Thur, Day 2 on Tue/Fri and Day 3 on Wed/Sat for maximum results with 20-30 minutes of cardio either first thing in the morning or right after the workout on Mon/Wed/Fri. Otherwise, you can also benefit from doing Day 1 on Mon, Day 2 on Wed and Day 3 on Fri with cardio on the days off. Choose 2 exercises for each muscle and perform 5 sets/exercise. Keep reps between 10-15 for 3 weeks and 6-8 for the next 3 using different exercises. Rest 1 min between sets.

Note: For a sample bodybuilding training routine that is fully periodized, please take a look at my Periodized Bodybuilding Workout.

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Consider Using Advanced Bodybuilding Supplements

Only at the advanced bodybuilding stage should you consider using some advanced supplementation like creatine and glutamine. These supplements work best on a body that has gone through the proper beginner and intermediate stages and that is also being trained to the maximum, is fed properly, and rested well. Also, ensure that you are using the right basic bodybuilding supplements as well. Many times, as bodybuilders get more advanced, they forget to take their basic supplements, such as multiple vitamins and minerals.

However, please beware at all times of the promises you see in many advertisements today. At the risk of sounding like I am preaching, trust me when I tell you that in my 17 years of bodybuilding experience I've yet to find a bodybuilding supplement that yields 30 pounds of solid muscle in a month. That just does not happen.

About The Author

Hugo Rivera,'s Bodybuilding Guide and ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, is a nationally-known best-selling author of over 8 books on bodybuilding, weight loss and fitness, including "The Body Sculpting Bible for Men", "The Body Sculpting Bible for Women", "The Hardgainer's Bodybuilding Handbook", and his successful, self published e-book, "Body Re-Engineering". Hugo is also a national level NPC natural bodybuilding champion. Learn more about Hugo Rivera.