Pro Tips

The Bodybuilding Basics for Total Beginners

Start sculpting your best physique with tips from legendary bodybuilder Ric Drasin.

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Everything has a starting point in life, and for lifting and bodybuilding, it's the ground floor—there’s just no way you can start in the middle or at the top. Progress is a gradual thing, and I’ve seen so many people come into the gym and try to lift heavy right off the start only to tear a muscle and be set back a few months.

If you’re just beginning with bodybuilding, then you have to have a basic plan. Take a look at your body and focus on what you really need to do to it.

One of the biggest mistakes made is trying to bulk up right away. Bulking up was a term used in the 60s by some of the older bodybuilders who wanted to put on size fast, and it's still popular today. That said, it's usually done by experienced bodybuilders, not beginners. Of course you want to gain size and weight, but it has to be the right type of weight with quality muscle. While it may come slower, it will look better and last much longer.

Workout and Exercise

In the 60s, most workouts were geared for three days a week. Upper body was done on one day and lower on the next. The gains came pretty good because there was enough rest time between the workouts and body parts. The sets and reps were 3 sets per exercise with 8 to 10 reps. This was very basic, but worked for most people, as it wasn’t overtraining.

One of the reasons three days a week was picked was because in the 60s, most gyms had certain days for men and certain days for women to train. Men’s days were Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, while women’s were the alternate days. They didn’t train together, which meant you only had three days to train unless you did it at home.

Many felt that if three days worked, then four days should be better—and it does. This way, you can split the parts up so each one is worked twice a week. On the four-day program, you can escalate the intensity a bit and add a few more sets. Start with four sets of each exercise and three different exercises per body part.

This has always been one of my favorite routines, as it allows three days off to rest and grow. This can also be a mental problem with many, because on rest days you have a tendency to feel that you’re doing nothing when in reality, you’re growing. Nothing sometimes amounts to something, and in this case, it's so true.

If you’re just starting out, it’s really going to depend on your work schedule and hours that you can train, but I would suggest to try and get in three days a week and split them every other day.

Start with basic exercises for each body part and do two exercises—3 sets of 8-12 reps for each part. 

For example, when doing shoulders, use one pressing movement and then one lateral raise movement. If you go to chest, use a flat bench press and dumbbell flies.  Some of the other body parts are worked while doing these, so even if you’re doing chest, it’s affecting some of the delt workout. That’s why you’re not adding too many exercises at this point.

  • Working the Back: Back exercises would include a pulldown movement and then a seated pull-in movement. Same sort of sets and reps as before. This, too, works the other parts of the body indirectly.
  • Working the Arms: I like supersets such as cable curls supersetted with triceps pushdowns, 3 sets of 10 each. This is great for beginners and you don’t need much as you already have used your arms for the other body parts.
  • Working the Legs: Its simple working the legs by doing leg curls, leg extensions, and leg and calf presses. 3 sets each and 12 to 15 reps should be enough to exhaust you.
  • Working the Abs: One of the best exercises is hanging abs leg raises with the straps. It works the entire core and will really bring out definition.
  • Finisher: You can finish off with 20 minutes of cardio, your choice, treadmill or bike.

Now, this is a basic beginning bodybuilding workout and it will get you off to a good start. Your body will adapt pretty easy, and within three weeks, you’ll want to change the exercises around to new ones. You can become stale and bored with the same thing, so don’t be afraid to substitute exercises in place of each other. For example: Instead of dumbbell flies, use cable crossovers. It’s OK to step outside the box—that’s how the greats do it.

When you feel ready and have the time, you can escalate your workout to four days a week and add some more sets and reps as stated above. You’ll reach new levels in your training and see some nice changes in the mirror.

DIET

Training is important, but you also nee to consider what you put in your mouth. If you train hard like this and keep eating bad foods, the results won’t come nearly as fast, and you’ll become discouraged. It takes discipline and hard work both at the gym and in the kitchen.

Reduce your carbs and cut out sugars, white flour products, and fried foods. That alone will make a huge difference. Then when you want to tighten it up more, increase your protein to at least five times a day, and spread it out at 2½-hour intervals. With your high-protein meals, which should consist of chicken, tuna, egg whites, steak, and fish, you can add a salad, small portion of rice, oatmeal, or baked potato

Diet will be a very important part of your training and getting into shape. It accounts for about 80 percent of it, so be on the mark. You can have one cheat day, usually a Sunday, and have some things that you enjoy eating.  Diet in training isn’t really enjoyable, but you’re eating for results, not for pleasure. 

Finally, don't forget your supplements. Amino acid powder along with milk, egg, and whey protein are ideal ways to assist with quality muscle growth.  

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