If You Want To Build Muscle, Here Is Everything A Beginner Needs To Know About Training, Nutrition and More....
When thinking about starting a bodybuilding program, the first thing you will notice is the amount of information out there. The internet is filled with advice for beginners - good and bad. Where just ten years ago you would have to dig deep to find some valuable tips, it seems that nowadays you get flooded with new information and workouts that promise to make you gain muscle and lose fat faster than all the other workouts and diets before them.
With All This Free Advice, It's Easy To Get Lost As A Beginner
I know I did. Sometimes I would get really frustrated, because it seemed that every "fitness guru" was preaching something else. I remember that one guy at the gym told me to train chest at least twice a week, while someone else said that once a week is enough as more sessions can lead to overtraining. These situations would happen a lot and only years later did I realize that oftentimes the advice I was getting was both right and wrong, depending on who it was meant for.
What many trainers forget is that the key to good advice is understanding the needs of your students. You can't teach the same thing to a beginner that you would teach to someone who has been working out for decades. Beginners can't and shouldn't work out five times a week. Their body is simply not used to this level of stress.
So, What Should Beginners Do Instead?
Before we go into the actual workout, let's make sure to cover the theory behind what needs to happen for your body to build more muscle. I call this...
The Simple Muscle-Building-Formula:
Lift Heavy Weights + Eat Enough (Healthy) Calories + Rest = Success
Sounds easy, right? That's because it is. The science behind getting ripped is pretty straightforward. What requires work and dedication is its execution, but more on that later. First, I want to go into more detail on all of these three aspects of the Muscle-Building-Formula.
1. Lift Heavy Weights
Assuming your goal is to build strength and muscle, it should be more than obvious that most of your time exercising should be spent lifting weights in the gym. While training at home with bodyweight exercises is also a great way to get in shape, the fastest way to gain some serious muscle mass is by doing basic compound exercises and consistently increasing the weight you are using.
Of course, some form of cardiovascular exercise should never be lacking in a good workout routine, but for the beginner looking to “get big”, weight training is essential to increasing strength and developing skeletal muscle tissue. Your focus should be on lifting progressively heavier weights, with cardio and conditioning as the back-up priorities.
Exercise Selection - Choose Free Weight Compound Exercises
The sheer amount of possible exercises can make it seem hard to select the right ones. However, when focusing solely on effectiveness, compound exercises are always the way to go. They utilize multiple joints and are usually performed with free weights instead of machines. Unlike isolation exercises, compound movements work several muscles at once. This will give you the best results measured by the time you spend training.
Always start your gym routine with compound exercises that target whatever muscle group(s) you are training that day. Not only will you achieve maximal muscle recruitment, but more nervous system activation and an increase in testosterone levels.
Here is a list of the best compound exercises for each muscle group.
- Barbell/Dumbbell Bench Press
- Incline & Decline Bench Press
- All Row variations
- Lat Pulldowns
- Military Press
- Dumbbell Press
- Handstand Push Ups
- Leg Press
- Most Compound Back Exercises
- Chin Ups
- Most Compound Chest Exercises
- Triceps Bench Press
An example: If today you’re hitting back and biceps, begin by doing Barbell Rows and Pull Ups for your back muscles and add Chin Ups and Barbell Curls to target your biceps. This way you can create a workout that utilizes mostly compound movements. Such a workout will definitely get your blood pumping, since it works all the muscles in your back and biceps including the many small, stabilizing muscle groups.
Ultimately, there are many ways you can structure your personal workouts, but I advise you to spend at least 75% of your time doing compound exercises. This will let you best implement the concept of progressive overload, which we will talk about in a second. When doing isolation exercises, use them as finishers. They require less full body strength and can enable you to work an already tired muscle.
Progressive Overload - The Most Important Concept Of Them All
Simply put, progressive overload states that the only way to continue building more muscle over longer periods of time is by progressively lifting heavier weights (or more reps). Even though it is one of the most important pillars of successful bodybuilding, many people forget that if you don’t provide your muscles with adequate amounts of stress, they will have no incentive to change. Consistent progression is what you need to achieve a great physique and while your improvement might be slower when dieting, always make it your goal to increase your weights over time.
2. Eat Enough (Healthy) Calories
When starting your fitness journey, many people will tell you that the right nutrition is more important than the right workout. That's because it’s true. If you don't supply your body with the necessary means for a good recovery, it won't be able to get any stronger and bigger. Unfortunately, you will never see any serious gains if you aren't consuming plenty of high quality foods. Our bodies need proper nourishment for the maintenance of our bones, tissues and then some more for muscle growth.
Think of your body as a car. The longer you want to drive (=the more you want to lift), the more gas you need. Obviously, the human body is not fueled by gas, but by energy stored in our food. This energy is measured in calories. The only way you can bring your body to build more muscle tissue is by running a calorie surplus (given you exercise, of course). This means you’re taking in more calories than your body burns throughout the day.
This is what many beginners get wrong. They buy a magazine and see those fitness models with their six-pack abs and think to themselves: "I need to work out more and eat less". Wrong!
Bodybuilding is a two-part game. First you grow in size and strength by increasing your weights and running a calorie surplus (a.k.a bulking). Then once you have a good foundation of muscle, you try to lose extra fat while maintaining most of what you gained in strength and size (a.k.a. cutting).
So, What Exactly Should I Eat? And How Much Of It?
There are two ways you can make sure to constantly be at a caloric surplus. The healthier and more "scientific" way is finding your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (the amount of calories your body requires to maintain its current weight) and adding a certain value on top - let's say 400 - 500 calories. However, you will constantly have to track your calories, which can take some time and be quite boring.
The more "beginner-friendly" approach is to simply eat as much as you can of mostly healthy foods. I write "mostly" because as a beginner who is looking to put on size, quick results are important to keep your motivation up. This means you don't have to cut pizza and ice cream entirely from your diet. They aren't healthy, but they do have a lot of calories. Just make sure the majority of your meals is based around sources of good carbs, protein and fats. While we're on it, let's define those three:
Carbs have a horrible reputation and many beginners believe they are flat out evil. They only see what can go wrong when you over-consume bad sources of carbohydrates - simple sugars from soda and candy - and forget that complex carbs such as in brown rice, sweet potatoes and oats are an important source of energy for our bodies. These are especially important for those of you having a hard time gaining weight, since you need to make sure to cover your daily caloric needs through healthy foods, which your body can actually process.
Foods You Should Be Eating (Carbs):
- Brown Rice
- Whole Grain Pastas / Breads / Cereals
- (Sweet) Potatoes
- Oats and oatmeal
- Lentils & Beans
Foods You Should Limit Or Avoid (Carbs):
- White Rice / Pasta / Bread
- Sweets and Candies
- Processed potato / corn / rice products
From a scientific point of view, a protein is a chain of amino acids that your body uses to repair and grow damage to its (muscle) tissue. Even though most adults get enough protein through a balanced diet of natural foods, an intense exercise program will require a higher protein consumption for optimal results. This is where protein shakes come into play. While I'm not a big fan of most supplements, I do believe a good protein powder should be part of an athlete’s diet.
How much protein per day?
Some magazines advise you to consume excessive amounts of protein (on a regular basis I read recommendations of 300g or more). Most of the time the author is simply trying to scare you into buying his overpriced protein powder. Fortunately, when it comes down to the actual science, research has shown that the average person looking to build muscle should consume between 0.6g and 1.1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Obviously, the exact amount will depend on your goals and genetics but you should aim to hit somewhere in that range. As a newbie that means you are fine drinking one - maximum two - protein shakes per day.
Good Protein Sources:
- Lean Chicken (Chicken Breast)
- Fish (Tuna, Salmon, Halibut)
- Lean Beef and Veal (Low Fat)
- Cheese (Non-fat Mozzarella)
Vegetarian/Vegan Protein Sources:
- Green peas
- Leafy greens
- Seeds, Nuts & Beans
Just like carbs, fats aren't evil, per se. They perform a variety of important functions in your body. Again, the problem is that most people eat the wrong kinds of fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats, which increase LDL ("bad") cholesterol and decrease HDL ("good") cholesterol. Instead they should be eating healthy fats like unsaturated fats (found in olive- and canola oil) and Omega-3 fatty acids (found in flax seed oil, fish and other sources). Because fats have about double the calories ounce-for-ounce than carbs and proteins, beginners who have a hard time packing on size should opt for a diet rich in healthy fats.
Foods You Should Be Eating (Fats):
- Olive Oil
- Nut Butter
- Fatty Fish
- Dark Chocolate (in moderate amounts)
- Coconuts and Coconut Oil
Foods You Should Limit Or Avoid (Fats):
- Basically any fast-food
- Frozen Foods
- Potato Chips
Besides your workout and diet, recovery is the third main factor on your road to muscle glory. What you need to know is that the exercise itself works only as a trigger (stimulus) for muscle growth. During your time in the gym you overload your muscles and break down muscle fibers. If you provide your body with the right nutrition and enough time to recover, they will grow back larger in order to withstand higher workloads in the future. Remember:
Muscles don't grow during the workout, but afterwards!
Only when it has time to recover will your body build stronger muscle fibers and this is done mostly during sleep. You should be getting at least 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Once you go below seven hours, you will not only sacrifice possible muscle gains but also your health in general. If you find yourself under a lot of stress or simply cannot sleep that long, try taking short naps throughout the day. While there are other ways to increase your recovery ability like meditating, massages or even prescription drugs, none should ever substitute a good night of sleep.
What's Next? - Putting It Into Practice
You just learned the simple science behind building muscle. It's no big secret or bro-science and can be replicated by anyone who is willing to put in the work and discipline needed. Now that you know the strategy, it's time to come up with a game plan. Check out these articles to get you going on your road to muscle glory:
- The Step-By-Step Beginner Workout Plan For Building Muscle
- The Ultimate Bodybuilding Diet Plan For Beginners
- How To Set Motivating Workout Goals