T Nation

Bodybuilding for Dummies


If you find a lost sheep drowning in that sea of confusion out there, going nowhere and feeling discouraged, send them here!

Warning, if you have a short attention span, feel free to stop right here :slight_smile:

Bodybuilding is not rocket science. If you focus on the right things it's pretty straightforward. Don't think that anything in this thread is too basic, or anything new/groundbreaking. It's the principles that most advanced bodybuilders do year after year. But just because it's simple doesn't mean it's not brilliantly effective!

Stop worrying about what muscle fibers you're stimulating. Drop your Eastern bloc Olympic lifting periodization plan you picked up from bodybuilding dot com. Drop that chest blasting and "muscle confusion" routine you picked up from an article on the first page on google. Drop that over hyped ebook on clickbank talking about the "great super compensation effect of blah blah blah". Drop that strength/power/dynamic/functional "hybrid" bodybuilding training article you pinched and modified to be even worse...

...and start focusing on what actually matters

Too many people put all their faith in just one author, and are too brainwashed/stubborn into doing anything but the general things that work perfectly fine. BODYBUILDERS know what they're talking about. They have been doing this for decades. Stop listening to other people. You don't need to focus on strength first, then hypertrophy, then dynamic blah blah blah...

You are either building muscle, or burning fat (while maintaining muscle). If you can't even do ONE of those goals really well, what makes you think you can do them both at the same time and get good results? Do it in stages - get one goal out the way, then bang, onto the next goal. The last thing you need is to over-complicate matters following crap like "workout A is the fat loss workout, workout B is the bodybuilding workout, workout C is the power workout..."

Let the lifting take care of the muscle building/maintenance, and cardio/diet take care of fat.

Please stop asking people to critique your routine! :slight_smile: There is no such thing as the perfect routine. Nobody can say over the internet (especially with no videos) whether your body mechanics/leverages during the bench press is adequately overloading the pecs. Or whether squats are making your ass bigger compared to your thighs. Or whether your 15 sets per exercise, or training all your body parts twice a week is too much for your body to recover from.

Pick a standard routine that has been recommended for BODYBUILDING (duh) and do it over and over. Not some Olympic/bodybuilding/power lifting/long distance running hybrid monster. Read info from experienced ones, apply it, and don't obsess over crap. Make adjustments when and as require (if needed in the first place).


Getting stronger for reps is a bodybuilders way of monitoring muscle gains. Maintaining strength is a way to monitor whether you're maintaining muscle on a diet. As simple as this sounds, it works! More load (for a certain total time under tension/TUT) = bigger muscles.

Quality, and load going up over time, trumps quantity. Many newbies have plenty volume, but lack the required intensity/focus/load for growth. Don't be worrying about pyramiding schemes etc when you aren't even pushing it to the max and adding weight to the bar over time.

Same goes for the amount of exercises/sets per body part. If you haven't even mastered your mind-muscle connection, or consistently added weight to bar on the basic bread and butter exercises, how do you expect that millionth (redundant) exercise to do any better at stimulating growth? Especially after you're probably drained by that point and lacking the required drive to adequately overload the muscle? People add exercises for a specific reason, not just for the sake of it.

Don't underestimate the amount of calories needed for good muscle growth. No routine will work without pushing your bodyweight upwards. It's no use worrying about anything else, complicated crap, when you simply aren't consistent with your diet and eating enough over a long enough period to make the scale go up.

Don't think you can stay ripped all the time while gaining. Ripped = body fighting to add fat. Bulking = the body easily adds muscle, but isn't fighting to get fat back up.

If you were to bulk up from being really lean, it wouldn't take long at all before the body increases fat levels to a "comfortable" level (sometimes called the "set point"). Thus, if you wanted to remain really lean, the bulking phase would be cut short and wouldn't last long (no adequate long term growth and strength gains). Bulk/gain at a comfortable bodyfat range.

It you don't hold a strength level/muscle level for a decent enough time (i.e. eat enough for it), your body decides it's not necessary and drops it. So don't do extremes - quick and frequent cycles between heavy bulking and then sudden extreme dieting. Just gain at a decent pace (strength/weight gains comes in peaks/lows) and maintain it for some time, trim a little when needed, then repeat. Trimming a little is fine (when it doesn't affect strength) but don't diet to very low bodyfat levels until you are big enough to be happy with it. Remember, being ripped isn't usually a case of losing just 5-10lbs lol

It doesn't matter what your genetics are like, the principles still apply; you will always gain some fat while gaining, whether you're genetically lean or not - this is why you have a bodyfat range while gaining, not just keeping at the same amount of fat.

Some need more food and others need less. For those who need a lot less food, quality and timing (carbs mostly around active times and the morning) becomes more important. For those who need a lot more, they can get away with more "dirty" foods without it spilling over much into an unacceptable rate of fat gain.

Bodybuilding is all about making every body part grow, yet if you hardly over-load the target muscle by the end of the workout, how do you expect it to grow really well? Do you focus on the target muscle and feel/visualise it working (not just moving load from point A to B)? Do you control the load (no bouncing/momentum) with the target muscle (especially on the negative portion)? Do you actually directly train it AT ALL (e.g. arms/delts etc)? Don't even think about specializing on body parts until you get those basic bodybuilding principles right first.

This is the reason why bodybuilders split things up - it's not just due to some misguidance, or coincidence or something that only people on steroids do! Body parts need enough attention to grow. Making a body part grow a lot takes adequate stimulation/muscular over-load/focus...and then adequate recovery. Some people prefer more body part volume/frequency, and others prefer less. This is all part of learning your own body.

He who focuses on his exercises (uses them as tools and picks a decent enough one that his body likes), and adds weight to them over time etc is going to make much more progress (muscle) than the one who treats his workouts like some sort of game/ride/fun fair attraction where he gets bored within 2-3 weeks of doing it and switches to a new "amazing" exercise he's read about. Or the one who's that obsessed over a certain exercise that's just not co-operating (either due to the way it's done or body mechanics)...and thus not progressing on it. Do your exercise for long enough, take it seriously and get strong with it.

No exercise trumps every other one...no, not even the beloved deadlifts that you do to just to get an ego boost :wink: Progression is what matters. There are really good, solid exercises (bread and butter movements) out there, but don't be too narrow-minded, or think that that's all you'll ever need for a certain body part, especially as you get more advanced.

After spending years on the squats, and you have no leg development to show for it other than a huge ass and injured lower back...why would you claim that the leg press is an inferior exercise to squats? Even if you did it along with squats? Progress is what matters. If you feel it in the target muscle, if the target muscle grows really well from it, if you can add weight/reps consistently....why would it be an invalid exercise?


Sounds like a contradiction but it's not. Everyone is human, but there are subtle differences that make training unique to us. The 2 main ones are recovery and exercise choice.

Recovery; Some people have good recovery, and some have crap recovery (genetics). Hence why some people train with higher volume/and or frequency, and some with lower volume (less to recover from). And why some people can make consistent gains week after week, and why some have to pull back (to recharge) after certain periods/more frequently. This is something YOU have to work out to get the most out of YOUR training and why people's strategies differ.

Generally, if strength stagnates quickly (like within a few weeks), you aren't recovering enough, which is caused by not eating enough, and/or doing too much over the long run (too much frequency/volume or both). Remember, residual fatigue builds up one week after the other, so although it may not be really apparent at the start, and what may have been effective and manageable on the first few weeks, may be too much over the long term and lead to a point of diminishing returns (stimulation becomes greater than recovery = no growth/strength gains or limited growth/strength gains).

Trial and error is the key. Just don't over-do it with the experimentation.

Exercises; People have different leverages, insertion points etc. So one exercise may be excellent for one person, but pretty crap for another. Look for the generally recommended exercises, and if they really don't work, tweak the set-up/ROM till you feel it on the target muscle, or alter the loading parameters (e.g. use a higher rep range), or pick a variant of that exercise (e.g. front squats vs back squats).

If still stuck, pick a new exercise or do another exercise on top of it (e.g. pre-fatigue pecs before doing pressing movements, or pre-fatigue the thighs before squatting/leg pressing). Only do that if you are experienced enough to know that it's definitely necessary, after doing the exercise for some time, and that you're not just missing something obvious.


So uhmm deadlift is an ego lift
Squat hurts your lower back
and leg press are the best

man its a good article otherwise but why does every bber on here feels the need to take a dump on functional free weight moves. Leg presses have caused more hernia than deadlifts nd squat combined.


//The end

Wow, hope that was time well spent lol


cool story bro
seriously though good posts ... should keep a lot of peeps on track


Didn't dump on them, said to broaden your horizons if you need to. Doesn't have to be an all or nothing approach. Most bodybuilders utilise them all either at the same time, or at one phase of their training...your own bodies feedback is what matters most.


Thanks spar4tree!


Yeah this is good answers a lot of frequently asked questions lol


Good post! Well written.


great post!

shut the forum down and everyone just re read this when you have any doubts!


Thanks guys!

Just wish I had a time machine so I could tell myself all that 10 years ago lol. Always spent so much time as a newbie looking for the next best revolutionary thing when I was missing what actually matters all the time...

To think how far ahead I'd be right now if I had just slapped myself in the face, told myself to eat, be consistent, train all my bodyparts, focus on load progression, lowered the work sets to just one or two failure sets per exercise so I personally could recover fully (=better strength gains/muscle gains)

Oh well, hope this helps others in some way :slightly_smiling:


To continue the thread/post (babble) a little bit more, think I'll touch upon what I been seeing a lot in the beginners forum and sometimes on here too;

It seems almost unanimous by many that all beginners should do some form of strength training before concentrating on bodybuilding. Or some even believe that bodybuilding splits are useless for natural lifters (that's how I used to feel in that in the past aswell).

For beginners, in some cases, like when the trainee is really weak/skinny to start with, they can benefit from hitting bodyparts/movement patterns 3x/week. But, unless they're unusual (I could name a couple), this phase doesn't last long at all, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a be all and end all to training. This phase is simply to get the trainee used to the exercises, and the exercises aren't taken to failure or anything (volume is kept low). As soon as the initial quick adaptations have happened (balance, general strength gone up), the body is developed enough to challenge the muscles to a degree where the muscles requires longer to recover.

This may not be the case with strength focus where you don't always go to the max with your exercises, or where the volume is lower...but for bodybuilding you stimulate a bigger growth response and develop the bodyparts more fully, which requires longer to recover from.

If you are training for bigger muscles and fuller/balanced development, the body needs enough stimulus. If a bodypart is fully recovered after just one days rest, you're either still a complete newbie who's doing extremely low volume training, or not giving the muscle enough stimulation/focus for optimal growth. Or one of the very few exceptions out there (very rare it's probably not even worth mentioning). Even with low volume training, like the modern style H.I.T. where you only do 4-6 working sets or so per bodypart per week STILL requires adequate recovery (typically, at least 3 days rest between hitting bodyparts).

As for natural bodybuilders and their splits; what people get confused over is the difference between certain splits and other splits (not all bodybuilding splits are the same, whether it be frequency or volume).

The split is not always the problem, it's not taking care of fatigue/recovery that's usually the problem.


well done mate.this will help a lot of people out.same as you i wish i knew it all 10 years ago but even so its handy to read again.



Putting your overstating to good use, I see.

Good post. To bad not enough people will read it.


This should be stickied. Great article. Yep article not post.


Thanks flipya4it, JFG and ryanbCXG!

Good job you didn't see the long version :wink:


Good post its just me.


Good post!! You, my friend, have taken many concepts and broken them down to easy to understand parts. I agree with many of the other posters: most won't take the time to read this thread, even though they really should.


Thanks florelius and kegar!