How to start training
What is the BEST beginner bodybuilding workout one can use in the start of their training career?
Throughout our experience with clients and observations on online boards where the main topic of discussion is training and nutrition, we noticed a trend.
That was namely the trend of ignorance about training and nutrition in the fitness masses.
Nowadays, most people ignore the fact that achieving consistent progress is a matter of putting in consistent effort and a smart approach.
Everyone wants an easy solution and so, other people make use of that and offer unified diet and nutrition plans.
However, what no one offers is a structured approach to understanding how the body works.
If we know that, we will know how to create our own, individual plan of action.
We need to understand that there are individual factors for everyone.
But then again, there are also principles and methods everyone can utilize, in order to yield certain results.
Let’s start off by understanding the workout and the goals we should set as a beginner.
Understanding the workout
We can measure each and every workout that we do, according to the 3 main parameters of the workload:
Intensity is a measure of how close we get to our maximum strength capabilities.
In other words, the more the working weight increases, the higher the intensity, and vice versa. (100% intensity = One repetition max)
Volume is a measure of the total workload, and we measure it in kilograms, pounds and for bodyweight exercises in jumps, hops, reps, etc. (Weight * sets * reps = Volume)
Density is the third parameter, which measures the volume, referred to the time needed for its completion, including rest times. (Volume : Time = Density)
Goals as a beginner
We all want results and we want them fast. However, as a beginner who is just introducing new tension to their musculature, there are some things to keep in mind:
- As a beginner, we should aim to improve the main physical properties – Strength, strength endurance, cardio endurance, explosiveness, balance
- Another goal to consider during the beginners’ phase is learning the correct execution on all exercises
- Last but not least, we should consider optimizing our eating and sleeping habits, as recovery is just as important as proper training sessions
And so, instead of tunnel-visioning one goal, such as “sixpack abs” or “16-inch arms” you should instead aim to develop a solid base, to build upon later.
Bodybuilding program for beginners
As we just mentioned, as a beginner we should aim to create a good fundament, upon which we will build afterwards.
Below, we have a program that will help you do just that.
Note that advising with a personal trainer is recommended, as you should learn the proper execution of each exercise.
We’re giving you two workouts:
- Full body workout A
- Full body workout B
Both workouts follow the same pattern in terms of muscle group distribution, however, the exercises are different.
To get the best out of it, we alternate both workouts every other day.
And so, our training week would look like this:
- Monday – Workout A
- Tuesday – Active rest (Light cardio, massage, stretching, etc.)
- Wednesday – Workout B
- Thursday – Active rest
- Friday- Workout A
- Saturday – Rest
- Sunday – Rest
Optionally, you can do a workout on Sunday if you feel recovered.
Now let’s get straight into the workouts.
Beginner bodybuilding workout – Full body workout A
For beginners, the ultimate approach to training has been times and again proven to be full-body workouts, 3 to 4 times a week.
The workout goes in an antagonistic (opposite) order of the muscle groups.
I.e – Chest & back, biceps & triceps, etc.
We generally have one exercise per muscle group in the beginner bodybuilding workout, with the first two exercises starting off with 2 warm up sets.
Incline barbell bench press – 15,12,10,10,8 repetitions
This first exercise targets one of the commonly lacking body parts for many trainees. That is the upper portion of the chest. Note that the more incline you go on a pushing movement the more the upper chest and delts are engaged.
Optimal incline angle for upper chest development is 45 degrees or slightly above.
- Set up a barbell on the incline bench
- Lie down on the bench with feet stably on the ground and head resting back to avoid neck tension
- Grab the barbell wider than shoulder width, preferably with index fingers at indication lines of the bar
- Un-rack the bar and get in the initial position, where elbows are not locked out
- Let the bar down in a controlled manner, until it slightly touches the upper portion of the chest
- Explode on the way up, without locking out the elbow
Note that elbow lockout will lead to more work for the triceps and as they are a smaller muscle group, they might fatigue and reach failure before your chest can do so.
Lat pulldowns – 15,12,10,10,10 repetitions
This second exercise is done with an initial two warm up sets with light weight, for 15 and 12 repetitions
This will allow us to warm up the pulling groups – Back, biceps and forearms
- Grab the lat pulldown bar as wide as possible
- Sit down on the seat and tuck your legs comfortably
- Look slightly up to avoid the bar hitting your chin when you are pulling
- Extend the body slightly back, out of a 90-degree angle
- Tense the back muscles and pull the bar down to the lower chest portion
- Let the bar go back up in a controlled manner
Machine shoulder press – 3 sets of 10 repetitions
Once we have warmed up both pushing and pulling groups with the first two exercises, we move on directly to working sets for the delts.
We start them off with a solid overhead pushing movement.
- Sit down on the machine and grab the handles
- Keep back and head rested on the backrest
- Place feet stably on the ground
- Push the weight up in a controlled manner, without locking out the elbows completely
- Let the weight go back down, until your triceps are parallel to the ground
- Repeat without lunking the weight- maintain constant tension
Dumbbell bicep curls – 3 sets of 10 repetitions
Alright, we’re almost done with the upper body, we’re now moving on to our next antagonistic pair – Biceps and triceps, starting off with the biceps.
Note that you can start off with the triceps if your biceps are significantly more developed
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand up straight, keeping the dumbbells next to you
- Curl the left dumbbell up, rotating (supinating) your wrist to engage the outer head of the biceps
- Let the dumbbell go back down while returning the wrist to the initial position
Note that the upper arm remains static and DOES NOT move forward as you are curling.
Bench tricep dips – 3 sets of 10 repetitions
Now to the triceps- We already did a good number of pushing movements for the chest and shoulders, so we’ll do a bodyweight movement for the triceps, which is also a pushing group.
- Set up two benches next to each other
- Sit on one bench and rest your heels on the other bench
- Lift yourself up, supporting your body on the arms
- Look up, then go down slowly
- Push up explosively, contracting the triceps with a careful elbow lockout up top
Note that aggressive elbow lockouts may lead to injury of the triceps tendons and the elbows – Take it easy!
Bodyweight squats – 15,12,12,12,12 repetitions
Oh god, is it time for legs? I’ma head out!
To make it easier for you, we included a bodyweight squat in workout A.
- Step with your feet at shoulder width
- Open toes out slightly
- Keep torso straight
- Place arms as comfortable (preferably on shoulders)
- Look forward and let your butt go down, without letting the knees go past the line of the toes
- Once your legs are at least parallel to the ground, squat up explosively, with no knee lockout – Maintain tension on the quads
Note that if you find this too easy, you can add a jump at the explosive portion of the squat when you go up.
Lying leg curl – 3 sets of 10 repetitions
Now to the quadriceps’ antagonist – The hamstrings.
- Pick a good weight and lie down on the machine
- Grab the handles and look forward
- Tuck your heels/ankles under the leg pads
- Curl the weight up, contracting the hamstrings
- Let the weight go back down in a controlled manner, without resting at the bottom
Straight legged calf raises – 15,12,10,10,10
Note that the bulk part of your calves is better activated during straight-legged movements.
This is why we primarily utilize this type of movement. You can do it with bodyweight on stairs, with a barbell, smith machine and in this case, on a calf-raise dedicated machine.
- Step on the platform with your toes
- Tuck shoulders comfortably under the pads
- Keep your body straight
- Let your heels go down below the line of the platform, slowly
- Explode up, pushing through your toes and contracting the calves
- After holding the contraction briefly, let the heels go down again to stretch the calves
- Repeat the movement pattern
Hyperextensions – 3 sets of 15
Last but not least, we have the spine stabilizing muscles, which are the spinal erectors.
Note that this exercise is especially important for females, as they have naturally weaker spinal erectors.
- Place your feet under the smaller pads and your thighs on the bigger leg pad
- Keep torso straight and arms as comfortable
- Let your body go down slowly
- Extend up slowly, contracting the spinal erectors up top
Beginner bodybuilding workout – Full body workout B
Flat dumbbell bench press- 15,12,10,10,10 repetitions
The beginner bodybuilding workout B starts with a movement that targets the middle and lower portion of the chest, namely the classical flat bench press, this time done with dumbbells
- Grab an appropriate pair of dumbbells
- Lie down on the bench comfortably
- Arch back very so slightly
- Keep the dumbbells above your chest with arms extended, with no elbow lockout
- Rest head to avoid neck tension
- Let the dumbbells go down slowly until they are by the sides of your lower chest
- Push up explosively with no elbow lockout
T-Bar rows- 15,12,10,10,8 repetitions
For the second exercise, we do a strength movement that allows us to use heavy weight. Nevertheless, we do 2 warm up sets of 15 and 12 repetitions, with lighter weights.
- Set up the barbell and get the V-Bar from the cable rows machine
- Load the bar and stand with your feet at shoulder width or wider, having the bar between your legs
- Bend over with knees slightly bent and place the V-Attachment from the cable rows machine on the bar
- Grab the V-Bar with both hands and lift the bar off of the ground, maintaining a straight back position
- Look forward and pull the weight up, until it slightly touches your torso – Do not bang it
- Contract the back and hold the contraction briefly
- Let the bar go back down, stretching the back
Dumbbell lateral raises- 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions
For the shoulder exercise, we will use a lateral raise, as opposed to the overhead pressing movement in workout A.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand up straight, keeping them by your side
- Bend elbow slightly and keep torso straight
- Look forward and raise the dumbbells laterally, maintaining the static position of the arms- No elbow extension or flexion
- Contract the delts and let the weight go down slowly in a controlled manner
Note that using too heavy of a weight will also activate your traps – Try to avoid that, as the main goal here is targeting the shoulders.
Machine preacher curls- 3 sets of 10 repetitions
- Sit down and grab the curl bar of the machine
- Set up arms, so that they are tight on the pads
- Curl the weight up, contracting the biceps
- Let the weight go back down after having briefly held the contraction up top
Note: Don’t rest at the bottom
Overhead dumbbell triceps extensions- 3 sets of 8 repetitions
Unlike workout A, we will actually include a heavy movement for the triceps.
- Pick a dumbbell and stand up straight
- Place the dumbbell on your shoulder
- Grab the dumbbell with both hands and lift the dumbbell over and slightly behind your head
- Keep torso straight and let the dumbbell go down slowly, keeping the upper arm at a 90-degree angle
- Push up explosively, contracting the triceps with a careful elbow lockout
Barbell squats- 15,12,10,10,10 repetitions
Now to the lower body – It is time for you to learn some of the big 3 (Squats, barbells, deadlifts).
We start off with squats. First off, make sure to do 2-3 sets of bodyweight squats, then 2 warm up sets of 15 & 12 reps with an empty barbell
- Place the barbell on the rack at shoulder level
- Get under the bar, placing the middle of it in the middle of your traps
- Grab the barbell at shoulder width or wider
- Un-rack the barbell and take a couple steps back
- Step with feet at shoulder width
- Open toes out slightly
- Keep torso straight and head looking forward
- Squat down slowly, until legs are parallel to the ground
- Move up explosively with no knee lockout
Seated leg curl- 3 sets of 10 repetitions
- Sit down and tuck your legs under and in front of both pads
- Grab the handles and rest your head and back comfortably
- Curl the weight, contracting the hamstrings
- Go back up slowly, without resting up top
Standing calf raises – 3 sets of 10 repetitions
For the calves, we start off with the same standing calf raise, as we do in Workout A, but then we proceed to doing a seated calf raise too.
Note that seated calf raises target the surrounding, stabilizing muscle groups that are next to the bulkier part of your calves.
Due to the fact those are stabilizing groups, they have slow twitch muscle fibers, which are best stimulated with higher repetitions, as they were made for endurance bouts.
Seated calf raises- 3 sets of 15 repetitions
- Sit down on the calf raise machine and place your toes at the edge of the platform
- Tuck your legs under the pads to form a 90-degree angle
- Un-rack the weight and let your heels go down and below the edge of the platform, slowly
- Push up explosively through the toes, to contract the calves
- Let the heels go back down slowly and repeat the movement pattern
Lower back hyperextension – 3 sets of 15 repetitions
We finish off the workout with the same exercise as in Workout A
Beginner bodybuilding diet
Now that we have an actionable program to help us get through the newbie gains phase and establish a good fundament, there is something else to consider.
That is namely nutrition, which is just as important as the workout itself.
With the given workouts, we will induce a good amount of stress on the skeletal-muscular system and so, we’ll need an adequate amount of nutrients for recovery.
There is no unified diet, as everyone is of a different height, weight, age and has different levels of physical activity.
That is to say that each and everyone of us has different DAILY energy needs to MAINTAIN their weight and physiological functions.
This amount of daily energy is often referred to as “Total daily energy expenditure” and depends on the following factors:
- NEAT – Non exercise activity
- TEF- Thermic effect of food (the energy needed to digest)
- Exercise output
Now, there are complex formulas to calculate this, but to make it easier, click HERE to use a calculator that has all the formulas integrated.
Beginner bodybuilding macros
Once we are done calculating our individual needs, it is time to calculate our daily macronutrition, needed for optimal muscle growth.
Note that optimal muscle growth and strength gains, occur in a surplus of calories, meaning that you will have to consume a greater amount than your TDEE.
Then again, we have to micro-manage our weight gain, as we want to primarily gain muscle, more so than fat.
This is why, we put our caloric surplus at a maximum of ~300 calories per day, meaning that if your TDEE is 2500 calories, you’d be consuming about 2800 calories to bulk up.
From then on, we start calculating our 3 main macronutrients – Protein, fats and carbohydrates.
Optimal protein intake forms at 0.8~1.2 grams of protein per lbs. of bodyweight. The leaner you are and the more lean body mass you have, the more protein you will require.
As you should know by now, protein is pretty much the most important nutrient for the human body and especially for active athletes.
The word “Protein” is derived from the Greek word “Protos”, which means “First/primary”.
Each and every tissue in your body is made out of protein, and so, if we consider the fact that we damage the muscle tissue during intense workouts, then logically, we’d need protein to recover it.
Note that muscle growth depends on the ratio between muscle protein synthesized and muscle protein broken down.
Optimal growth is achieved when the protein synthesized exceeds the break down.
Another important mention here is the fact that there are essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids.
Amino acids are basically the end product (and building blocks) of protein metabolism, which the body uses for growth and repair.
The essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body, which is why we need to derive them from food.
A severe depletion of amino acids, done over long periods of time will result in a decline of a number of physiological functions.
For trainees, such depletion will also result in atrophy and at the very least, suboptimal recovery and hence, growth.
Amino acids are primarily contained in all animal foods, so we do advise you to get the bigger portion of your daily protein from the following:
- Some dairy
- Whey protein
Vegans and vegetarians can combine an array of grains and legumes, to get the full amino acid profile
Optimal fat intake forms at 0.35-0.45 grams per lbs. of bodyweight.
The second most important macronutrient is the fat.
Now, for the most part, protein-rich foods like beef and fatty fish, also contain a good amount of fats.
However, if we want to get more of them to fill out the daily requirements, we can use the following products, which will provide us with healthy fats:
- All kinds of nuts
- Olive oil
- Omega-3 & 6 supplements
- Peanut butter
Optimal carb intake forms at 1.8-3.2 grams per lbs. of bodyweight, or using the rest of the calories, after we have calculated the protein and fat intake.
Last but not least, the fuel for the vehicle – Carbohydrates.
It is important to know that the end product of carbohydrates is glucose and its stored form- Glycogen.
Glycogen is stored in the muscles and the liver and is used up during intense and prolonged workouts.
In our case of full-body workouts, we will need a LOT of carbs to fuel the 60-90 minute full body workout.
It needs to be noted that there are two types of carbs – Simple and Complex.
The simple carb-containing foods like raw sugar, sugary foods and bee honey, generally have simple glucose structures.
This simple structure allows the body to digest the glucose quickly and use it rapidly.
However, that also causes the pancreas to release insulin more quickly.
That is to say that simple carbs are not the most sutainable source of energy for the goal.
Check out our article where we explain how the Keto diet affects the workout.
However, they too have a place in our diet, as their quick-digesting functionality can be utilized at a time when energy is needed ASAP, such as after a workout or during a prolonged jog for example.
On the flipside, we have complex carbohydrates, that have more complex glucose structures.
Complex carb-containing foods generally are also abundant of vital fiber, vitamins and minerals, that make the body work harder to digest them.
That means, we get a more gradual release and storage of energy from the complex carbohydrates, which makes them the preferred choice for bodybuilding training.
Here are our top picks for sources of complex carbs:
- White rice
- Brown rice
Tips & tricks
Besides total daily nutrition, there are a couple of other optimizations we can do to the nutrition plan, in order to yield optimal results.
- Protein timing around training
We need to know the fact that when we expose the body to new stress by working out, there is a flurry of processes that occur afterwards to facilitate recovery and growth.
Those constructive processes, we refer to as “Anabolic processes”.
It has been proven that consuming 0.5g of protein per kilogram of LEAN BODY MASS, withing 2 hours on both sides of training (pre and post-workout), optimizes the anabolic response of the body.
2. Daily protein distribution
When the task at hand is optimizing muscular development, there is also the daily distribution of protein that we have to consider.
It has been proven that 4 daily doses of protein, at 0.4-0.6g per kilogram of bodyweight is the best approach to maximize muscular gains.
Can you make gains with 2 meals a day? Yes. But likely, not at an optimal rate!
3. Training for fat loss
Workout A and B that we showed you are best suited for beginners trying to gain mass.
However, they can also be utilized by people who are looking to cut fat.
Instead of the constructive, heavy workouts however, we’ll do the following adjustments:
- Decrease intensity (working weight) and avoid reaching failure
- Increase repetitions slightly
- Decrease rest times between sets (~60 seconds)
All of this will allow your body to adapt to the training load, even during a caloric deficit (required for weight loss).
As a beginner, we should acknowledge that the musculature of the body was not made to just look good.
It was made functional and has certain properties, such as strength, strength endurance. explosiveness, speed, agility, etc.
Our main goal as a beginner should be to develop these properties and learn the proper execution of each exercise.
This in turn, will inevitably lead to the visual gains that we so much desire.
Ultimately, your beginner phase should last anywhere from 10 to 18 months, after which, you can proceed to implementing split training.
The beginner bodybuilding workout consists of moderate to high intensity exercises, done in the 6-12 repetition range.