Both men and women have long coveted a muscular physique for thousands of years. Going back through ancient history, we find surviving sculptures in Rome of powerful men and gods, all of whom have impressive physiques.
There is hardly a hero in the movies or TV that doesn’t boast a muscular build in the modern world. This aesthetic conveys authority, power, discipline, hard work, and capability.
If nothing else, a muscular physique is admirable, desirable, and attractive. But how can you attain this type of build? The answer lies in bodybuilding.
If you’re new to the world of weightlifting or bodybuilding, you probably don’t have the slightest idea of where to begin. Don’t feel bad. Even the actors and bodybuilders with the most impressive physiques had to start from scratch, and we’re here to help.
Please keep reading for our top 11 tips for starting your bodybuilding journey.
1. Identify Your Body Type and Dietary Needs
One of the most important bodybuilding tips is understanding and accepting your potential. There are three major body types (or somatotypes) – ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. Understanding which body type you are will help you define your goals and the potential of your physique.
The Three Somatotypes
Ectomorphs are naturally long, thin, and lean. While this may be a desirable body type for lingerie models, it is challenging to build bulky muscle. Ectomorphs have a hard time gaining weight and putting on mass.
Endomorphs are on the other side of the spectrum. They gain weight incredibly easily (which includes both fat and muscle). These individuals make fantastic powerlifters and football linemen but struggle to stay lean.
Mesomorphs are the happy medium between the other somatotypes. These people are athletic and strong. They make the ideal bodybuilder because they can gain and lose weight with relative ease.
Understanding Your Dietary Needs
It’s often said that weight is lost in the kitchen, not the gym. In bodybuilding, muscles are definitely built in the gym, but what you eat has a profound effect on your gains.
Based on your body type, you need to adjust how you eat to achieve the physique you’re looking for. If you have trouble gaining weight, you’re going to need to eat A LOT. If you’re an endomorph and want to stay lean, you’re going to have to work hard not to gain fat along with muscle mass.
Find your daily calorie needs based on your BMR or basal metabolic rate. If you can find a BMR calculator that takes your body fat percentage into account, it will be the most accurate.
2. Define Your Goals
To be successful in any life area, you need to define a list of goals to strive toward. Without goals, you may progress, but without any purpose or direction.
Identify your ultimate goal, such as competing in a bodybuilding show or obtaining a certain physique. We recommend creating a vision board to keep yourself motivated.
However, remember to take your body type into account when choosing a physique to strive towards. For example, if you’re a 5’7″ ectomorph, you’re never going to look like The Rock. But that’s not to say you can’t achieve an impressive physique.
Then, break your major goal down into milestone goals. These should be a few months apart so that you can celebrate small victories as you progress. This will also keep you motivated and moving forward.
3. Invest in a Trainer or Coach if You’re New to Lifting
Becoming a bodybuilder doesn’t happen by accident. You have to know what you’re doing in the gym. You can’t expect to walk into a weight room without little or no experience and start throwing around weights like the best of them.
Just as importantly, lifting weights improperly can lead to minimized results and serious injuries. For this reason, we highly recommend hiring a personal trainer or weightlifting coach if you’re new to bodybuilding. They can teach you:
- Proper lifting form
- Effective exercises for each muscle group
- How to create a workout program
- How to prevent injuries
- And more
Even the most common weightlifting injuries can affect people for months or years. It’s best to take the appropriate steps to avoid them.
4. Don’t Neglect Flexibility and Mobility
One of the best ways to avoid injuries is by maintaining your flexibility and mobility. If you never had either, now’s the time to start working on it.
The more you lift weights and increase your muscle mass through bodybuilding, the tighter and less flexible your body will become. However, incorporating a daily stretching routine to increase your flexibility and mobility will keep you limber, regardless of how big and muscular you get.
We also recommend warming up properly before workouts using mobility drills. These will improve your functionality and minimize injuries.
5. Focus on Compound Movements
A successful bodybuilding journey focuses on the most effective exercises. These are known as compound movements.
Compound movements incorporate multiple joints and muscle groups in each lift. They call on the most muscle fibers while also improving balance, symmetry, and functionality. The major compound exercises in bodybuilding are:
- Barbell squats
- Barbell deadlifts
- Weighted lunges
- Bench Press (incline, decline, and flat)
- Shoulder press (seated or standing)
- Bent-over rows
- And more
These exercises belong at the beginning of your workouts when you have the most strength and energy.
6. Implement Progressive Overload Theory
A bodybuilding career relies on one major component – consistent progress. This is especially important for beginners who are starting from square one. This is where progressive overload theory comes into play.
Progressive overload is the science of making manageable progress over time for big gains. The simplest example would be adding five pounds onto your max barbell squat every week. After a year, you would be lifting 260 pounds more.
However, in programming, progressive overload takes on many forms. Here are some examples, using barbell squats as the highlighted lift:
- First Week – 3 sets of 10 at 100lbs
- Second Week – 3 sets of 10 at 105lbs
- Third Week – 3 sets of 10 at 110lbs
- First Week – 3 sets of 10 at 100lbs
- Second Week – 3 sets of 12 at 100lbs
- Third Week – 3 sets of 14 at 100lbs
- First Week – 3 sets of 10 at 100lbs
- Second Week – 4 sets of 10 at 100lbs
- Third Week – 5 sets of 10 at 100lbs
These examples can be customized based on your abilities. For example, if you feel comfortable adding reps and weight, do it. The primary goal is to perform better than you did the week before, every week.
7. Create Long-Term Programming
One of the most important bodybuilding tips is understanding that it’s a long journey. You’re not going to make massive gains overnight. It takes a dedicated effort over time.
As such, you need to create long-term programming. If you change up your program every couple of weeks, you’re not going to see consistent results. We recommend sticking with an individual program (doing the same routine each week with progressive overload) for at least six weeks at a time.
However, sticking with the same program for too long will result in hitting a plateau. It’s important to change up your routine. This includes:
- Different sets and reps
- Different lifting styles
- New exercises and exercise variations
- Different muscle groupings for each day
Finally, implement a de-load week before starting a new program. Do your regular exercises at about 60-70% intensity. This will keep your muscles active while encouraging recovery. It is important to start your new program at 100%.
8. Write Everything Down and Track Your Progress
Sticking to long-term programming on your bodybuilding journey is pointless if you’re not tracking your progress. You can’t know how to improve on the previous week if you didn’t’ write it down. It would be best if you saw exactly how many reps and sets you did, and with what weight, so you can improve your numbers.
This forced growth is the foundation of progressive overload theory, and it doesn’t work without a workout journal. You can also use a workout journal to look back several months so you can marvel at how much you’ve grown over time. It will absolutely shock and inspire you to see where you started.
Tracking your progress also includes monitoring and tracking your diet. We recommend using a program like myfitnesspal to make your life easier.
You can scan barcodes and look up the foods you’re eating to know many calories you’re consuming. It also breaks down the macronutrients of each food (proteins, carbs, and fats). Finally, this app will tell you how much salt, sugar, fiber, and other nutrients are in your diet.
9. Find the Right Balance Between Power and Endurance
One of the hardest parts of bodybuilding is finding the happy middle ground between brute strength and muscular endurance. There are two opposing schools of thought here.
The first is that natural bodybuilders’ only way to get bigger is by focusing on pure strength. In some aspects, this is true. Your muscles must get bigger and stronger to adapt to greater workloads, which results in increased mass.
An alternative theory, however, suggests that the best growth occurs with time under tension. This suggests that muscle growth is optimized by performing more reps and focuses on the “pump” of weightlifting.
In truth, both theories are accurate in their own right. Lifting exclusively with low reps and heavyweight increases your burst strength by focusing on fast-twitch muscle fibers. Alternatively, high reps with lighter weights increase your slow-twitch muscle fibers.
To get maximum results, we recommend doing both. You should incorporate heavy lifts at 3-6 reps, medium lifts at 8-10 reps, and light lifts at 12-15 reps. You can also use various burnout methods, such as pyramids and drop sets.
10. Focus on Your Weaknesses, Not Your Strengths
One of the biggest mistakes beginner bodybuilders make is spending too much time on the lifts that please them. These are the lifts that they’re good at or the lifts that make them feel good about themselves. Traditionally, newbies focus on upper body lifts and work their legs as an afterthought.
However, focusing on your strengths and not addressing your weaknesses can lead to major asymmetries and imbalances. For example, you don’t want to have a stacked upper body with little chicken legs. This is where the popular saying “friends don’t let friends skip leg day” comes from.
Correcting Weaknesses and Asymmetries
If you struggle with certain exercises (upper body or lower body), it means you need to put more effort into the associated muscle groups. Often, these problems come down to core strength and/or stability muscles.
You can improve muscle symmetry, stability, and overall strength by making free weights the staple of your programming. Machines and cables are nice for adding variety to your workouts. However, they don’t make your stability muscles or core muscle work to maintain balance.
Relying too heavily on machines will lead to a lack of functional strength, symmetry, and stability.
11. Commit Yourself to Resiliency and Consistency
Having a successful and progressive bodybuilding journey comes down to your mindset. How committed are you to your goals? Is bodybuilding one of your top priorities?
If you want to make big gains, you must make a big effort. If you’re skipping one or more workouts every week or consistently making concessions on your diet, your road to success is going to be rough-going.
It may sound overly-dramatic, but you need to adopt a warrior mindset. No matter how long your day was, how tired you are, or how badly you want to go home and play video games, it would be best if you got your workout in first.
This resiliency is vital to your progress. The second you allow yourself to make excuses; you start taking steps away from your goals. Commit yourself to your workout program and your nutrition plan.
Ready to Start Your Bodybuilding Journey?
If you’re looking to build muscle mass and look like the actors or bodybuilders you admire, it’s time to start your journey. Remember, if you’re going to commit, you need to commit fully.
And if you need a little extra guidance, we can help. Please take a look at some of our workout programs to find the right bodybuilding routine for you. And feel free to check out some of our other articles for more expert advice on health and fitness.