T Nation

Bodybuilding 101

There’s always been a stream of people trying to get as big as possible in the shortest amount of time, a few year ago I was one of them.

I tried doing stuff like west side for skinny bastards, TBT, Program X that was released by coach Y,… After a year I realized I had hardly changed, so I decided to read everything on this forum from anyone who was ‘big’. After all who should you listen to when trying to get stronger/bigger?

I went from 175 to 220 and lost some sludge back to 205 in about 2 years. There’s so many incredibly knowledgeable people on here and they’ve pretty much changed my life. Some people that spring to mind: CC, prof x, Stu, Modok, brick, sentoguy, zraw, kingbeef, … many many more which I’m forgetting.

None of the info below comes from me, but comes from their topics. So thank you for sharing.

What I’ve tried compiling below is a summary of the knowledge I got from many people on these boards and that has helped me beyond belief. I might have missed some things and I’ll happily add those.

[b]2 Training[/b]
2.1 General Principles
Bodybuilding ( especially for beginners/‘intermediates’ ) comes down to one thing: Getting as strong as possible in the moderate to high rep ranges. I’ll reiterate what has been said by virtually every person on here with some muscle on them: Think of a guy who benches 180 for 10, chances are his pecs aren’t that brilliant. Now think of another guy in your gym, he usually slaps on 270 for the same amount of reps, bet he looks quite a bit different from the first guy right?

[u]SO IF YOU REMEMBER NOTHING ELSE: GETTING SIGNIFICANTLY (!) STRONGER IN THE (+/-) 6-12 RANGE ON EXERCISES THAT WORK THE MUSCLE FOR YOU WILL RESULT IN BIGGER MUSCLES. [/u]

Please.

Remember.

So how do you do this?

2.2 Ramping
I don’t care if you have this friend that does straight sets on every exercise and he’s hyuge a hell, I’m not writing about your friend. Most guys who have some respectable mass on them did this by ramping their exercises and so should you if you want to stop spinning your wheels.

Ramping is so simple it’s stupid to write about actually, but as previous topics have proven, people manage to make rocket science about just about everything

There are several options for ramping, I’m pretty sure they all work just pick the one that seems to make you stronger.

A Standard Bodybuilder ramp
For all the examples let’s say your 10RM (just manage to get 10 reps in at given weight) is a 100kg’s (I’m European, multiply by 2.25 if you really want pounds)
Warmup
20kgx15, 40x10
Working Sets
60x10 80x10 100x10(fail)
So if you really want to overthink this I suppose you take about 20% jumps in weight of your final set.

B Smaller jumps
Warmup
20kgx15, 40x10
Working Sets
60x10, 70x10, 90x10, 100x10 ( Although it’s unlikely you’ll actually get 10 here ( for me this would be the case atleast ))
10% jumps

‘Modern’ BB ramp
Warmup
20kgx15, 40x10
Working Sets
60x6 70x4 80x2 100x10 ( Maybe even an extra rep here due to less volume in previous sets )

So which one do you choose? Honestly it hardly matters, you can progress on all of them. B has the added benefit of extra volume, C focuses completely on the last all out blast set, A is somewhat in the middle. I’d start of with something like A and evaluate after 2 months. PICK WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.

-You only really have to do the warmup sets on the first exercise of a muscle group, especially since you won’t be handling heavy weight
-The stronger you get the more sets you’ll probably need, but for the next few years this should be fine.

PS: DON’T OVERTHINK THOSE NUMBERS/REPS I PUT IN, THEY’RE JUST RANDOM NUMBERS THAT REALLY DON’T MATTER.

2.3 Splits

You can:
A) Do what 90% of the big guys have done to get big
B) Try to be a special snowflake and probably end up looking the same a year from now
Pick a 3/4/5 way split that you like. Which one? Doesn’t matter all that much now. I like 3/4ways since they allow for a more than once a week frequency , and you generally want that at this stage. Total training days per week should be 4/5. I sometimes go 3 if I have a really busy week and I’m on a 3way but try to average 5 or so.
Some examples:

3way
Chest/Biceps/triceps
Legs
Back/Shoulders

Chest Shoulders Triceps
Legs
Back Biceps

Chest Triceps or Biceps
Legs Delts
Back whatever arm muscle you haven’t done

4way
Chest/Shoulders
Back
Legs
Arms

Chest Tri
Back Bi
Legs
Delts

Chest Biceps
Legs
Back
Delts Triceps

5way
Chest
Back
Legs
Delts
Arms

Conclusion: Anything works, no stupid long sessions, I’ve put my favorite first in each list. Pick one, change if you don’t like it for some reason. DOESN’T MATTER. Advantage of a 3/4way is that you can increase the frequency you hit your bodyparts with and it gives greater flexibility.

2.4 Exercises

An important bit I used to fuck up on myself was rotating to many exercises/variations of exercises. It’s crucial to get strong on a set of exercises and only change them if you really have to.

Chest Pick 2 Compound exercises and 1 Isolations

-Compound: One ( Low ) Incline version and one flat/decline version. BB/DB not that important, a lot of people like DB’s better, it seems easier to feel the muscle. Jim cordova has a great picture on how you should hold your dumbells
5-10 Reps on top set
-Isolation: Cable Crossover/Flys, pick one, get a lot of blood flowing/some good peak contractions are nice here. 6-15 Reps, weight isn’t that important here.

Back 2-4 Compounds , 1-2 Isolation

-Width: Pulldowns (Any Grip), Rack Chins (!), Weighted Pull-ups/Chin-ups, â?¦ I won’t try to discuss which one is better here, for back it’s important you feel your lats working. I’d say it might even be more important than the actual weight used ( atleast as long as it’s going up ), so don’t be to aggressive when selecting weights here. I went with wide grip rack chins, people might give you looks for doing them but I found them brilliant for width.
6-12
-Thickness: Rack Pulls ( I do them in a smith LOL ), Rows, â?¦. Again, make sure you feel the muscles between your scapulae working, squeeze them together. Rows will work the lats aswell but our main focus here is working the upper back musculature 8-12
-Isolation: I like Straight arm pulldowns with a bar/rope to get some blood flowing In the area, if you really have issues activating the lats, try doing these before your compounds. Make sure you keep progressing on the compounds.
8-15

Delts 1 Compound , 2-3 Isolations

-Compound: Any kind of overhead press: Military, High inc smith, Wide grip/shoulder width/behind the neck/infront. Pick one that you like, get strong on it. 5-10
-Isolation: Lateral Raise ( I like to lean forward a bit , I feel more medial delt in this, form is everything for these ), JM partial Raises (20-30 reps ), Lateral Raise machine if you have it. 6-12
-Rear Delts: Bent over laterals, Face Pulls, Reverse tit machine. Might be good to try and go high rep on this stuff every now and then a la JM

I usually start with rear delts ( 1-2 exercises, try to get a decent pump in them ) then go to my compound and finish with laterals. Could also do rear delts at the end your back workout. Or start with laterals again like Mr Meadows and do compounds after that if you have shoulders that don’t like the heavy pressing.

Legs 2 Compounds 2 isolations ( 1 each for quads/hams ) + calves

Quads: Squatting. Front/back choose one. I go lower rep on the compound leg work 3-8. If you have the guts for it, end with a breathing squat/widowmaker set
Hams: Deadlifts, SLDL, … again 3-8 on this for me
Isolation for quads: extensions, leg press ( don’t turn this into a ham ex ),â?¦ 10-15
isolation for hams: Leg Curl, DB leg curls, whatever machines that give you a good contraction. 10-15
Calves could be done on another day. I use the dc protocol for them .

Triceps 1 Compound 1-2 isolation

-CGBP ( I like them in a smith while pushing the bar towards your feet ), Wide grip reverse bench press ( smith !!! ), weighted dips 6-12
-PJR pullovers are amazing, Reverse Grip Pushdowns, bench dips, French Press,… 8-12

Biceps 1-2 big exercises, 1-2 isolation.

Biceps is one of those muscle groups that benefits a lot from MMC ( like back/Shoulder ), well they all benefit from it ofcourse, but really getting a good contraction, feeling the negative seems to help me.
Brachioradialis/biceps: Pinwheel/hammer Curls/Offset Curls
Biceps: BB Curl/Any Preacher variant/Concentration Curls
Read john meadow’s article on arms, just make sure you progress on weight chosen with good form.

Some extra notes:

  • reps aren’t set in stone, find what you grow best on.
  • Take a week out to try different exercises with a medium/light weight. See what feels good for you. Stick to those.
    -Generally start with the compounds and then the isolations, you can try pre-exhaustive techniques to feel the muscle better but be careful that it doesn’t keep you from getting stronger.
    -Start on the low end of the number of exercises , add them if you feel you need more.
    -Technique is key, search this website for tips/look up youtube videos of big guys.

2.5 Progression

LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG. LOG.

Keep a log.

Rep range asks for 6-10 reps of Dumbell Bench Presses

  1. 5x100kg
  2. 6x100kg
  3. 7x100kg
  4. 7x100kg
  5. 8x100kg
  6. 10x100kg.
  7. 6x105kg
  8. â?¦

I great tip I read from CC 2 years ago was taking a ‘light cycle’ for every 3 ‘heavy cycles’. One cycle being the time it takes to train the entire body. I changed it a bit but generally use his principle.
Same example:

  1. 5x100
  2. 6x100
  3. 7x100
  4. 7x100
  5. Light Cycle
  6. 8x100
  7. 10x100

Whenever the weights start to stall I tend to take a light cycle and come back refreshed for the cycle after it. A light cycle generally consists of taking about 2/3 of my 10RM and just repping it out for ± 20 reps. NOT TO FAILURE. SHOULD NOT BOTHER JOINTS/TENDONS. Just try to get a lot of blood in it. I feel this has helped me progress smoothly.

2.6 A note on weight versus feeling the muscle

This has been discussed to death and I don’t feel I’m in a position to say which one is more important. I feel that feeling becomes more important the more you progress and that the load chosen at an advanced level is secondary to actually feeling the muscle work. That being said most big guys swing around big weights.
My advice: Pick an exercise that allows you to feel the muscle well and focus on the weight for the time being.

2.6 Sets

As you saw in the ramping section, there usually is only one set to failure on each exercise. You can add extra ‘blast’ sets to this. Max-ot, uses 2 blast sets for example on most exercises, but I’d go with one for now. It’s easier to focus on improving that one set and it’ll provide plenty of stimulus to grow.

If you feel your weight is not going up you could try adding a second set after a month. I like to drop the weight a bit and go a bit higher reps ( like 8-12 )

2.7 Reps

As said before, none of the rep numbers are set in stone. You grow better on 4-8? Put most of your work there then. You feel your progress comes from doing 8-12? Go ahead.
All reps ( INCLUDING WARMUP SETS ) should be done with a forceful contraction and a controlled negative. Try not to bounce the weight at the bottom.
2.8 Extra techniques
Drop sets/restpause/Supersets/statics/â?¦ These are all good techniques to increase the intensity of a workout. I honestly feel that dropping these techniques helped me progress faster. I’m now slowly and not very often trying to incorporate them into my training again.

3. Food
There’s a few extremely simple rules I take in account when gaining mass.
-EAT ATLEAST 1G PER POUND OF BODYWEIGHT IN PROTEIN EVERY DAY. EVERY. DAY. Can go up to 2G/pound. I feel like I need around 1.25-1.5 grams to grow optimally, more doesn’t seem to have extra effect. If you do one thing nutrition wise, let it be this. I don’t count calories, but I do keep track of my total protein every day.
-Gaining means eating more than you burn. So EAT.
-I’d advise cutting out a lot of the crap: refined sugars, bad fats, â?¦ And eat a lot of veggies/fruit. I understand that you might have to eat some of it if you have a raging metabolism but being healthy should take priority. You might not care now, but I’m pretty sure you’ll care later.

4 Don’t worry about the small things.

They’re not important. They’re really not. If anything they hinder you from getting to your objective. Inbalanced biceps/stubborn delts/… These things don’t matter and will probably go away if you got a bit bigger.

If you just focus on getting stronger in those reps, smash the protein and lift with good technique and dedication you’ll get to your goals in the fastest way possible. Stop searching for the answer, just do it! ( This goes for a lot of things in lifeâ?¦ )

Very good synopsis.

Have you considered submitting this as an article somewhere?

Great stuff actually. Always good to be reminded of the basics.

Nicely done. You should post this in the Beginners section as well. This would have saved me years of spinning my wheels when I started.

Edit: regarding the Beginners section, I would add something about calorie goals when starting out. It’s fine for someone who has been doing this awhile to not count their cals, but I think it’s invaluable to have an understanding of how much you’re taking in when you start out.

This is NOT a critique at all, because this is a very good write up. My biggest regret in the early years was not eating enough. Using stupid training programs was a close second.

why is ramping better than straight sets. Serious question.

every time I try to ramp I gas myself before the final set, I’ve always been a fan of straight sets (not saying they are better or anything)

or maybe I do ramp, I dunno a chest workout will look like this for me
135 x10
145 x8
185 x5
205 x2 or 3
225 3x10 working sets

is this the same as ramping. I only really do that for my first lift of the day everything else I might do one warm up set then jump straight into 3 working sets

[quote]paulieserafini wrote:
why is ramping better than straight sets. Serious question.

every time I try to ramp I gas myself before the final set, I’ve always been a fan of straight sets (not saying they are better or anything)

or maybe I do ramp, I dunno a chest workout will look like this for me
135 x10
145 x8
185 x5
205 x2 or 3
225 3x10 working sets

is this the same as ramping. I only really do that for my first lift of the day everything else I might do one warm up set then jump straight into 3 working sets[/quote]

Yes, that would be ramping (or “pyramiding” as it is also sometimes referred to). And yes, it’s common that it is only done on the first big exercise (for each body part).

Good write up Leino.

That looks like a summary of what you and C_C used to preach on here years back, doesn’t it Sento? I’m not surprised you approve :slight_smile:

About the ramping thing, I used to do that but lately I’ve been starting with my heaviest set (after warm ups of course), and dropping 10% off ever set after that. So it might look like this:

Squats

Bar x 20
60kg x 10
80kg x 6
100kg x 3
130kg x 1
140kg x 1

Then I get started with the working sets: 160kg squat to failure, 145kg to failure…130…115…100. Finito. Only resting as long as I need to catch my breath somewhat. So with something like squats maybe 1-2 minutes, while if I’m doing lateral raises it’s more like a standard drop set. I feel I get a lot more out of this than doing a standard pyramid, and while I think ramping to one top set is a fun way to train, I feel you need a good training partner with you to go beyond failure, or else it will produce limited results. Curious if anyone else here trains this way.

[quote]Purple wrote:
That looks like a summary of what you and C_C used to preach on here years back, doesn’t it Sento? I’m not surprised you approve :slight_smile:

About the ramping thing, I used to do that but lately I’ve been starting with my heaviest set (after warm ups of course), and dropping 10% off ever set after that. So it might look like this:

Squats

Bar x 20
60kg x 10
80kg x 6
100kg x 3
130kg x 1
140kg x 1

Then I get started with the working sets: 160kg squat to failure, 145kg to failure…130…115…100. Finito. Only resting as long as I need to catch my breath somewhat. So with something like squats maybe 1-2 minutes, while if I’m doing lateral raises it’s more like a standard drop set. I feel I get a lot more out of this than doing a standard pyramid, and while I think ramping to one top set is a fun way to train, I feel you need a good training partner with you to go beyond failure, or else it will produce limited results. Curious if anyone else here trains this way.
[/quote]

I don’t like going to failure. I plateau out faster I feel.

[quote]Purple wrote:
That looks like a summary of what you and C_C used to preach on here years back, doesn’t it Sento? I’m not surprised you approve :slight_smile:

About the ramping thing, I used to do that but lately I’ve been starting with my heaviest set (after warm ups of course), and dropping 10% off ever set after that. So it might look like this:

Squats

Bar x 20
60kg x 10
80kg x 6
100kg x 3
130kg x 1
140kg x 1

Then I get started with the working sets: 160kg squat to failure, 145kg to failure…130…115…100. Finito. Only resting as long as I need to catch my breath somewhat. So with something like squats maybe 1-2 minutes, while if I’m doing lateral raises it’s more like a standard drop set. I feel I get a lot more out of this than doing a standard pyramid, and while I think ramping to one top set is a fun way to train, I feel you need a good training partner with you to go beyond failure, or else it will produce limited results. Curious if anyone else here trains this way.
[/quote]

Yeah, no surprise. :slight_smile:

Understand that "ramping/“pyramiding” is really just a way to prepare the body/nervous system to use the heavy weights you will use for your “work sets”. Once you get there though, it’s entirely up to you what to do. If you like drop sets, do them. Rest pause? Go for it. Straight sets? Why not? Waves, mechanical drop sets, clusters, etc… Find what you like and what works for you.

[quote]Sentoguy wrote:

[quote]Purple wrote:
That looks like a summary of what you and C_C used to preach on here years back, doesn’t it Sento? I’m not surprised you approve :slight_smile:

About the ramping thing, I used to do that but lately I’ve been starting with my heaviest set (after warm ups of course), and dropping 10% off ever set after that. So it might look like this:

Squats

Bar x 20
60kg x 10
80kg x 6
100kg x 3
130kg x 1
140kg x 1

Then I get started with the working sets: 160kg squat to failure, 145kg to failure…130…115…100. Finito. Only resting as long as I need to catch my breath somewhat. So with something like squats maybe 1-2 minutes, while if I’m doing lateral raises it’s more like a standard drop set. I feel I get a lot more out of this than doing a standard pyramid, and while I think ramping to one top set is a fun way to train, I feel you need a good training partner with you to go beyond failure, or else it will produce limited results. Curious if anyone else here trains this way.
[/quote]

Yeah, no surprise. :slight_smile:

Understand that "ramping/“pyramiding” is really just a way to prepare the body/nervous system to use the heavy weights you will use for your “work sets”. Once you get there though, it’s entirely up to you what to do. If you like drop sets, do them. Rest pause? Go for it. Straight sets? Why not? Waves, mechanical drop sets, clusters, etc… Find what you like and what works for you.[/quote]

I do agree, I was just curious if anyone else does this thing I do. I can hit heavier weights on my top sets this way, so for those of you that feel gassed by the ramping sets you might want to give it a try, just using 1 rep “feeler” sets to acclimatize yourself to the heavier weights.

Thanks :slight_smile:

[quote]BrickHead wrote:
Very good synopsis.

Have you considered submitting this as an article somewhere? [/quote]
Maybe they could put it out here actually lol

Excellent write-up… spot on!

Purple, I’ve tried inverse ramping and actually liked it for a while. I do seem to burn out on it after a while and the progress stalls on it for me.


is a good way to go about it. I do feel that this unnecessary for beginners/intermediates and might take away from the focus on progression…

Terrible.

It doesn’t have a catchy name. It needs to have a cool name, preferably with a misspelled word in it.
X-Treme Powerbuilding
Mass Builderz
Hardcore Mass Attackz

/ball busting. Good little mini article.

[quote]Purple wrote:
That looks like a summary of what you and C_C used to preach on here years back, doesn’t it Sento? I’m not surprised you approve :slight_smile:

About the ramping thing, I used to do that but lately I’ve been starting with my heaviest set (after warm ups of course), and dropping 10% off ever set after that. So it might look like this:

Squats

Bar x 20
60kg x 10
80kg x 6
100kg x 3
130kg x 1
140kg x 1

Then I get started with the working sets: 160kg squat to failure, 145kg to failure…130…115…100. Finito. Only resting as long as I need to catch my breath somewhat. So with something like squats maybe 1-2 minutes, while if I’m doing lateral raises it’s more like a standard drop set. I feel I get a lot more out of this than doing a standard pyramid, and while I think ramping to one top set is a fun way to train, I feel you need a good training partner with you to go beyond failure, or else it will produce limited results. Curious if anyone else here trains this way.
[/quote]

I have been doing something similar for the major lifts as well. Only I dont go to failure but try to hit a specific rep range. When I drop the weight I try to do one more rep than I did in the previous set. The last set is usually in the 8-10 rep range and I try to do these reps with a pause at the bottom. I like having my energy for the first heavy sets.

Great write up Leino. Certainly felt like I was reading something written by Cephallic Carnage who was my favourite poster.

Seems like you’re not a big fan of volume training. Just wondering do you ever incorporate it in cycles or do you always ramp to 1 top set?

[quote]Angus1 wrote:
Great write up Leino. Certainly felt like I was reading something written by Cephallic Carnage who was my favourite poster.

Seems like you’re not a big fan of volume training. Just wondering do you ever incorporate it in cycles or do you always ramp to 1 top set?[/quote]

I’ve recently started incorporating it if I feel I need a longer break from the usual heavy topset. Usual clue for me to do this is when I start feeling my joints in the morning when I wake up. I think most of a novice/intermediate’s training should be based around intensity and progression, however a few weeks of volume here and there wont hurt.

I’ll generally still use ramping but use the one with the small jumps to get more volume in. I honestly never do 2 sets in a row with the same weight, but it might work for some. Sometimes I drop the weight a bit after the last set of an exercise and ‘ramp down’.Also prefer to keep a rep in the tank on most sets when doing higher volume.

"An important bit I used to fuck up on myself was rotating to many exercises/variations of exercises. It’s crucial to get strong on a set of exercises and only change them if you really have to. "

Well put. This might go quite a long a ways tw. explaining why so many have effed up trying to do what they thought were DC as well.