Basics of Bodybuilding

Basics of Bodybuilding – Where to Start?

Basics of Bodybuilding

Basics of Bodybuilding

Regardless of your background, starting out in bodybuilding can be a daunting process. The basics of bodybuilding can leave you with an incredible amount to learn, concerning not just training, but also nutrition.

In this article, we will take a look at some of the most important basics of bodybuilding. It is important to note that these fundamentals are not just things that you should be concentrating on when you start out bodybuilding, they are more like the foundations of your bodybuilding career and should be incorporated into your training from the ground up.

Your Training Plan

When it comes to the basics of bodybuilding, the importance of working compound exercises as a beginner must not be underestimated. Compound exercises involve many different muscles and allow you to lift bigger weights than if you were to work your muscles in isolation. It is recommended to include some, or all, of the compound exercises listed below in your weekly training programme:

Basics of Bodybuilding - Training

Basics of Bodybuilding - Compound Exercises are a Must When Starting Out in Bodybuilding


The number of repetitions (reps) that you perform for each exercise is an important factor in governing gains in strength. It is widely rumoured that the best way to attack repetitions, is to perform 3 sets of 10 reps. This is not carved in stone, and it is strongly recommended that, rather than stick to the 3 sets of 10 rule, you mix things up a little. What we are concerned with is the total number of repetitions  for each exercise – which, ideally, should be around 25 – 30 reps.

Basics of Bodybuilding Tip #1 The lower the reps you do per set, the higher weight you should be using.

In order to acheive this number of reps, you can use any of the below combinations:

  • 3 sets of 10 reps,
  • 5 sets of 5 reps.
  • 2 sets of 15 reps.
  • 10 sets of 3 reps.
  • 4 sets of 8 reps.

Volume Training

Volume is the amount of work you complete whilst training. Strictly speaking, this equates to reps x sets per week. Monitoring your volume of training is a useful tool (and simple to do if you log your workouts with an iPhone app such as Gym Buddy). As a general rule, beginners should aim to keep their total reps for all of the compound exercises listed above, below 100 (per week). However, this is only a guide, and if you feel capable of working larger volumes, then do that, but listen to what your body tells you.

Deciding on a Training Routine

Sadly, there is no ‘best fit’, one size fits all programme for training. It is really about spending time finding what works best for you. As we are discussing the basics of bodybuilding, we’ll talk about a few effective training routines that you can use as a foundation, which you can fine tune to suit you. But first, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t do:

There is always someone talking about the latest ‘cutting edge’ training programme, or some magazine/blog claiming to contain the training programme used by the professionals. These are almost always rubbish! These programmes may work for the pros, but please remember that these guys are, more often than not, using steroids/performance enhancing drugs – so what works for them may have little or no effect on us mere mortals.

However, what has been proven to work, is ensuring that you use variety in your training to keep the body guessing whats coming next. One of the key rules of the basics of bodybuilding is: If you perform the same workout routine, week after week, the body will adapt just enough to cope with this and no further. If your workouts are varied, and each gym sessions shocks the body; your workouts will be much more effective.

Varying your workouts doesn’t just mean varying the exercises that you perform. You can also vary any of the following:

  • Rest time between sets.
  • Number of reps per sets.
  • Speed at which you perform each rep.
  • Using supersets.

Basics of Bodybuilding Tip #2 Ensure you use variety in your training – Keep the body guessing.

Example Workouts

5 Day Split

  1. Monday – Shoulders/Biceps (3 exercises each – 3 sets of 8-10)
  2. Tuesday – Back (4 exercises – 3 sets of 10)
  3. Wednesday – Chest/Triceps (3 exercises each – 3 sets of 8-10)
  4. Thursday – Rest/Cardio
  5. Friday – Legs (4 exercises – 3 sets of 10)
  6. Saturday – Rest
  7. Sunday – Rest/Cardio

Body Part Split

On the ‘Body Part Split’ workout, pushing, pulling and legs exercises are grouped together and done on the same day. The workout is very effective as it allows you to really work the muscles responsible for pulling, allowing plenty of time for recovery. This means that when it comes to pushing day, your muscles are not fatigued, and so, your workout is unhindered.

  1. Monday – Pulling Exercises (4 exercises – 4 sets of 8-10)
  2. Tuesday – Rest/Cardio
  3. Wednesday – Pushing Exercises (4 exercises – 4 sets of 8-10)
  4. Thursday – Rest
  5. Friday – Legs (4 exercises – 3 sets of 10)
  6. Saturday – Rest
  7. Sunday – Rest/Cardio

Alternate 5 Day Split

This workout is a little more effective than the ‘5 Day Split’ described above, as the secondary muscle is not involved in the work done by the exercises aimed at the primary muscles. For example, on Chest/Bicep day, the biceps are not involved in the exercises done for the chest muscles, and so when it comes to training them, they will be fresh, stronger and able to work harder.

  1. Monday – Legs/Shoulders (3 exercises each – 3 sets of 8-10)
  2. Tuesday – Rest
  3. Wednesday – Back/Triceps (3 exercises each – 3 sets of 10)
  4. Thursday – Rest/Cardio
  5. Friday – Chest/Biceps (3 exercises each – 3 sets of 8-10)
  6. Saturday – Rest
  7. Sunday – Rest/Cardio


Basics of Bodybuilding - Cardio

Basics of Bodybuilding - Cardio

Of the three main types of cardio (hard & fast, long & slow and interval training), there is no one type that is more effective than the others. The best way to attack cardio is to vary your workouts and incorporate all three types.

The human body needs different types of stimulii in order to train itself fully. The fact that high intensity cardio-vascular exercise is hard work, should not be a good enough reason for you to avoid doing it. It is the only real way to get fit.

  • Long & Slow Long & slow cardio need not just involve running, it can also incorporate the rowing machine and bike.  The emphasis on long & slow cardio shouldn’t be to work too hard, but instead you should aim to cover a long distance. Very low intensity cardio is a very effective method of burning fat.
  • Sprints Sprints can be carried out on a variety of machines in the cardio room, but the most effective method is to do them whilst running. Aim to complete 4 to 6 30 to 50 metre sprints, separated by 30 to 60 seconds of running at a normal pace.
  • HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) HIIT is very similar to sprints as described above, although HIIT is best carried out on an exercise bike where you have the facility to include many more, short, sharp intervals. Most modern exercise bikes have an interval function which will change the difficulty setting/gradient for you.

The harder the type of cardio is, the less often you should do it. You should be aiming to do at least 1 set of sprints every week and one or two ‘Long & Slow’, lower intensity sessions. Experiment with your cardio and find what works best for you, and don’t forget to enjoy it!

Basics of Bodybuilding Nutrition

Having already discussed the basics of bodybuilding training, it must be stressed that you must put as much effort into your nutrition as you do with your training. Nutrition is a huge subject, which is discussed in a variety of articles here, but I will summarise the most important factors:

Basics of Bodybuilding - Nutrition

Basics of Bodybuilding - Nutrition

  • Eat something every 2-3 hours. Small meals and often is much better than 2 or 3 large meals.
  • Ensure every meal contains a source of lean meat/fish/dairy for protein and vegetables for vitamins and minerals.
  • Try to make sure your carbohydrates come from wholegrain starches.
  • Drink lots of water throughout the day.
  • Seeds and nuts are a great source of protein and micronutrients.
  • Aim to eat your recommended 5 pieces of fruit & veg everyday.
  • Your diet should provide you with a daily source of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). This can come from food or supplementation (Flax Seed Oil/Fish Oil).
  • For those with busy lifestyles/jobs – this isn’t an excuse. Buy some plastic containers and prepare your meals for the next day, the night before.

Workout Nutrition


Providing your body with adequate nutrients, for the workout you are about to put it through, is paramount. Your pre-workout meal (usually around an hour before training) should consist of protein and carbohydrates. Think of it as fuel for your workout. Without the pre-workout meal, your body will most likely be in a catabolic state for the majority of your workout.


Consuming nutrients during your workout is a great way of ensuring that your body stays clear of catabolism. Carbohydrates, protein or amino acids can be consumed intra workout. Purple WRAATH from Controlled Labs is a great ‘Intra Workout’ supplement. It is added to the water that you would normally take to the gym, tastes great and is packed with essential amino acids.


Some would argue that the ‘Post-Workout Window’ is the most important nutritional window available to bodybuilders. It is widely believed that immediately after a workout is the time when your muscles are so depleted of nutrients that they will literally Hoover up whatever you consume. Your post-workout meal should consist of protein (ideally whey protein – for recovery) and carbohydrates (for energy and to replenish depleted glycogen stores in muscles), and should be consumed as soon as possible after your last set. Supplements are great for the post-workout window, but you should be looking to eat some food around 30 minutes after. Some great post workout meals include:

  • Two large yoghurts with a banana and 40 grams of oats.
  • 100g of fresh fish, a large yoghurt and a glass of milk.
  • A 3 egg omlette.

Basics of Bodybuilding Tip #3 Put as much effort into your nutrition as you do with your training.

Sleep – Give Yourself Time to Grow!

Another of the basics of bodybuilding that is often overlooked is the amount of time allowed for sleep. Sleep is the time when the body repairs itself, which means sleep is when the body grows. If you are waking up in the morning feeling tired, you are NOT getting enough sleep. You should be aiming for 9 hours of good quality, unbroken sleep, every night. If 9 hours isn’t possible, you should get a minimum of 8. Even depriving yourself of 1 hour per night could be costing you in potential gains.

It is also important to ensure that your body has enough nutrients to get it through the night. Consuming protein straight before bed is a great way of achieving this. Casein protein is best for pre-bed, as it curdles when it comes into contact with stomach acid and takes around 6 hours to digest, providing the body with a constant source of protein throughout the night.

Basics of Bodybuilding Tip #4 You need proper sleep! Aim for at least 8 hours every night.

Basics of Bodybuilding Summary

There is a lot of information to take on board here, but you don’t have to commit it to memory – this page is here as a reference to the basics of bodybuilding. There is stacks more information around the site, and articles are regularly posted. Stick to the basics, enjoy your time in the gym and find ways to balance this with your existing lifestyle. Bodybuilding is a very rewarding sport. It won’t be long before you start noticing some serious results, and these will just act to motivate you further.

Photo Credit : Mike Baird


  1. kay

    I normally do 40mins of running on a machine one daily and 5 times a week. Last month I lost ten pounds and want keep this progess maintained by running two times daily 40 mins each session. Will this be good or bad to lose weight?

  2. Andy

    Provided you eat a good balanced diet along with this CV routine, this should be enough to provoke weight loss. Your aim should be not just losing weight, but reducing body fat. Low intensity CV is best for reducing body fat. Try and keep the heart rate at around 60 – 65%.

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