Beginner’s guide to bodybuilding

Welcome to the world of bodybuilding, muscles, sweat and pain. We all start with little to no knowledge so let’s make this your starting point. This complete guide covers the basic techniques and exercise-side of bodybuilding and weight-lifting in the gym.

What muscles?

First, get to know how your body works, what movements recruit what muscles. Most beginners cannot tell their quads apart from their glutes. They know even less what movements these muscles are responsible for. The human body is a well-oiled machine – learn how the main muscles of the body work and you will have made one big step forward.

What exercises?

Building up on the knowledge of the main muscle groups, you need to learn about the types of exercises and workout routines to target them. Compound exercises are crucial for beginners as they work all the main muscles of the body in a few movements. The main compound exercises especially important for beginners are the squat, the bench press and the back row. Deadlifts are also a good alternative for the back.

What workout routines?

For beginners, the recommended workout routines will be whole-body workouts using the three main compound exercises together in one session. Why work out all the muscle groups when the pros and intermediate trainers use split training? Split training focuses only on one or two muscle groups in one training session. Pros need to do that because they have reached such a level that one or two exercises for a bodypart will not exhaust it sufficiently to allow it to grow afterwards.

The novice on the other hand can do just the squat and work out both the hamstrings and the quads in a singel exercise. The back row will also work the biceps at the same time. By split training and targeting just one muscle such as the biceps, there is a danger of the novice overtraining. But all things come to those who wait, so eventually beginners will be able to progress to split training and benefit from it.

Varying the whole body workout

This training programme need not be the same all the time. You can swap the order of the exercises and even the way you perform them, for example your grip width. You can add more weight or go lighter and train faster at higher reps. Do more sets or fewer sets.

What are reps and sets?

They are the building blocks of a workout. A repetition, rep for short, is an exercise movement which you perform repetitively until you complete a set. Thus a set is made of several reps. You perform several sets of one exercise to really work the muscle. The first few sets will be to warm up while the last one or two will work the muscle to exhaustion. There are many other ways of structuring the weight you lift around the sets you perform but the one just explained with the weight increasing gradually is called the pyramidal set; it is the most popular and a very effective way to build muscle mass. Several exercises together make up a workout programme. In a whole-body workout, the exercises will target various bodyparts; in a split routine, the exercises will focus on just one or two body parts.

Frequency and…

Unless you are taking legal or illegal substances to enhance your training, you should restrict its duration to under one hour. The ideal time period is between 30 to 60 minutes and your age will determine how long your energy level can last. If you are a teenager, you might be able to train easily for over 1 hour. However, what you don’t want is to be training while your energy level has dropped so low that you are depleting your reserve and cannibalising your muscle growth. Training for less than 30 minutes doesn’t exert you enough.

…length of training

You should only go back to the gym when you have rested enough and you don’t feel any more pain in the muscle you will train that day. In the very beginning, it could take up to 10 days but as your body adapts to the brutal training, you could visit the gym every two days. It is not recommended for beginners to perform whole body training two days in a row. There is also the danger here of overtraining and cutting back your muscular development.


In this guide, you will have covered the main muscle groups of the human body to understand what you are working, the compound exercises to target them and why, the whole body training routine and the reason behind it. You have also learnt about reps, sets and the structure of a training programme as well as its duration and frequency. You know the importance of adequate rest. You now need to be aware of the safety aspect of training with heavy weights as well as the importance of warming up and the usefulness of keeping a log book, a record of your performance in the gym as your training progresses.

There are more training techniques within the gym that you can learn by experience or by reading the Iron Fitness blog.

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