Bodybuilding for Beginners: The Complete Guide

Bodybuilding for beginners is the ultimate guide for everyone new to strength training and interested in getting started in bodybuilding.

Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about bodybuilding for the beginner: the basics, the training, the nutrition, the supplements, and everything else to help you get started on your bodybuilding journey.

Welcome to the world of bodybuilding!

What Is Bodybuilding?

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, bodybuilding is “a regimen of exercises designed to enhance the human body’s muscular development and promote general health and fitness.”1

As a bodybuilder, you develop your muscles with strength training and dieting for aesthetic purposes. Bodybuilding training will also make you stronger, but that is not the primary goal of a bodybuilder.

Bodybuilding can mean many different things for different people.

Many think of someone looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger when they think of bodybuilding. That’s the sport of bodybuilding, where you compete against other bodybuilders to determine who has the most well-developed physique. That is also where the “health and fitness” part becomes less important than building as much muscle as possible.

Old-school bodybuilding competition from the 1970s.

However, you can be a bodybuilder without ever stepping onto a bodybuilding stage or even wanting to do so. As long as you dedicate yourself to developing your body through exercise and diet, you can proudly call yourself a bodybuilder.

Why Bodybuilding?

The benefits of regular exercise are numerous, and today science has caught up with what bodybuilders have been doing for many decades.

Instead of focusing on only aerobic exercise, current recommendations for physical activity include regular strength training for all age groups, from children to the oldest of old.2

You Look Better

Bodybuilding is the number one way to sculpt your body the way you want.

You can aim to pack on as much muscle as possible and build the physique of a competitive bodybuilder, or you can shape your body into a more muscular and fit version without going to extremes.

The first route requires a lot of dedication and can take many years to accomplish.

Getting in shape and building a body you can be proud of and feel comfortable with is doable regardless of your starting point.

You Get Stronger

Bodybuilding isn’t about lifting as heavy as possible. Let’s leave that for powerlifters and weightlifters.

However, a bigger muscle is almost always stronger, making bodybuilding-style training ideal for promoting strength and muscle growth.

Contrary to common myths, bodybuilding produces functional strength that you can use daily. There is no “non-functional strength,” and more muscle mass means improved performance in any athletic event or task requiring strength.

Bodybuilding makes you stronger, more fit, and better prepared for whatever life has in store.

The possible exceptions are the biggest of the professional bodybuilders with so much muscle mass that moving it around takes a lot of effort. You will not find yourself in that position if you don’t want to.

Improved Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is believing in yourself and your abilities.

When you know that you look good and are stronger and more fit than most other people your age, your self-esteem improves along with your physical attributes.

Many people with low self-esteem have become confident and started believing in themselves with the help of bodybuilding. And when you believe in yourself, it improves how others perceive you.

Bodybuilding Is Good for Your Health

While pro bodybuilding often involves health-damaging drugs, the natural bodybuilding lifestyle ticks almost all the boxes for great health.

Regular strength training and a healthy diet reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Lifting weights bodybuilding-style promotes mobility and flexibility (contrary to popular myths) and improves bone health, blood sugar, and overall physical function.3 4 5

Improved Aging

With age comes muscle loss and a decrease in physical function unless you take action and hit the weights.“Use it or lose it.”

Nothing prevents age-related muscle loss like resistance training.

Staying strong and muscular becomes more important the older you get, and bodybuilding allows you to keep age at bay and look and feel good in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond.

Getting Started With Bodybuilding

When starting bodybuilding, you need somewhere to train.

If you want to work out at home, perhaps in your basement or garage, you’ll have to buy the equipment you need for your weight room first.

You can also join a gym if you have one in your area, which usually gives you access to a variety of strength equipment most people can’t afford or have space for in their homes.

Working out at home or in a gym both have advantages and disadvantages.

Bodybuilding does not require advanced training equipment with cables and machines. Still, the experience of a fully equipped gym can be helpful or motivational, especially once you’re past the beginner stage.

Advantages of a Home Gym

  • You can train at any time of the day, whenever it fits your schedule. You don’t have to adhere to the gym’s operating hours or cancel your planned workout if your gym is closed on a holiday.
  • A home gym offers privacy. If you’re self-conscious or prefer to work out alone for other reasons, a home gym is definitely the better option.
  • You can save time by not having to drive to and from the gym or packing a gym bag, for example. In addition, you’ll never have to wait in line for a machine or a barbell during busy gym hours.
  • Once you purchase your equipment, it’s yours for life. Quality gym equipment lasts for decades; unless you regularly decide to add to your home gym, you’ll be training for free. Gym fees, on the other hand, must be paid every year.

Disadvantages of a Home Gym

  • The primary disadvantage of working out at home is equipment limitation. Unless you’re willing to spend a fortune on gym equipment, you’ll never equal the variety of equipment in a commercial gym. Having a fully equipped gym at your disposal is not necessary for bodybuilding success, but it can be nice to have the option of variety at times.
  • Alone in your home gym, it can be tricky to know if you’re performing the exercises correctly, especially as a beginner. In a gym, you can often ask the staff for help or ask an experienced bodybuilder to monitor your form. Fellow bodybuilders are usually friendly and will gladly assist a beginner with helpful advice and tips, as long as you don’t interrupt in the middle of their workout.
  • You need space for your gym equipment. If you have a basement or a garage with unused space, you’re good to go, but building a home gym in an apartment can be daunting. A home gym can be compact and still effective, but you need a dedicated area for your weights and to work out safely.
  • Not everyone will have this problem, but a lack of motivation and discipline makes skipping workouts when training at home more likely than at a gym. You can have the best home equipment possible, but it won’t build muscle unless you use it regularly.

Advantages of a Commercial Gym

  • The variety of equipment is, of course, the number one advantage of a commercial gym. While not necessary, having a wide variety of free weights, cable pulleys, and machines to choose from can be advantageous. Also, if you should happen to injure yourself, you’re more likely to be able to “train around” the injury if you have plenty of exercise equipment at your disposal.
  • Unless you’re willing to invest in air conditioning and heating, working out in the garage during a heat wave or cold snap can be challenging. You don’t have to worry about the temperature in most commercial gyms.
  • Commercial gyms often offer amenities and services like saunas, a smoothie bar, and the option to hire a personal trainer. While not applicable to everyone, others find such services helpful and convenient.
  • If a piece of equipment breaks, someone else will take care of it and fix it. If you invested in quality equipment for your home gym, the chances of it breaking down anytime soon are minimal, but it can be both inconvenient and expensive if it happens.
  • Many gyms offer childcare, which can be very convenient if you’re a parent to young kids and don’t have anyone to watch them. You probably don’t want small children around you when you’re hoisting heavy weights. Even if safety is no concern, the potential distractions can reduce the effectiveness of your workouts.

Disadvantages of a Commercial Gym

  • The training equipment you want to use during busy hours might be occupied. Having to wait in line or rearrange your planned workout is a nuisance.
  • While some gyms are open 24/7, others have set open/close hours that might not fit your schedule,
  • While a home gym comes with a high upfront expense, a commercial gym charges you yearly. Training and staying fit is a life-long commitment; over the years and decades, paying for a gym membership will likely become much more expensive.
Bodybuilding for Beginners home gym

Home Gym Equipment

If you decide to build your home gym, go for quality equipment. Don’t skimp to save a buck, or you’ll probably be disappointed in the long run or have the equipment break within a few years.

However, you don’t need much for a home gym that meets all your bodybuilding needs.

  • A quality barbell. Your number one purchase for a home gym you can be proud of and enjoy training in. Don’t buy an el cheapo rinky-dink barbell to save a few bucks. It’s better to save up for quality that’ll last you forever and give you an enjoyable lifting experience.
  • The next piece of equipment you need is a bench, preferably with an adjustable backrest. It should be robust enough to support heavy loads with a firm, supportive yet comfortable cushion.
  • Number three on the list is probably the biggest investment for your home gym: a squat rack. Without a rack, you won’t be able to squat or press significant weight. While a quality rack might seem expensive initially, you’ll be happy you didn’t buy some rickety contraption. It’ll allow you to safely use heavy weights without a spotter and without risking injury.
  • You also need a set of weight plates. The empty bar won’t be enough for long, if at all. A starter set of plates usually looks like this:
  • 2 x 20 kg.
  • 2 x 15 kg.
  • 2 x 10 kg.
  • 2 x 5 kg.
  • 4 x 2.5 kg.
  • 2 x 1 kg.

In pounds, that would be:

  • 2 x 45 lb.
  • 2 x 35 lb.
  • 2 x 25 lb.
  • 2 x 10 lb.
  • 4 x 5 lb.
  • 2 x 2.5 lb.

That is enough to get you started. You don’t need to buy all the weight plates you ever need at once. Once you’re strong enough to require heavier loads, upgrading your collection with more is easy. Your plates don’t even have to be the same brand.

  • Adjustable dumbbells have a place in all well-equipped home gyms. If you don’t have room or don’t want to spend a fortune on dumbbells, you can get a pair of adjustable ones with a weight range suitable for your strength progress. While you can build an excellent physique using just a barbell and a bench, having access to dumbbells increases the number of potential exercises in your toolbox exponentially.
  • You probably don’t want to invest in a pulley machine first thing, but getting a pull-up bar to train your back is inexpensive and takes no room.
  • Don’t forget gym flooring if you want to protect your floor from damage. It might not matter much if you work out on a concrete floor in the garage, but gym flooring, typically made of foam or rubber, is essential if you don’t want to risk damaging your house.

Over time, you might look to expand your home gym with more equipment, like resistance bands, kettlebells, and more, but the above is enough to take you far towards your bodybuilding goals.

Bodybuilding Training

Your muscles don’t grow by themselves. It’s up to you to give them a reason to do so.

The best way to stimulate muscle growth is through resistance training. When you lift weights, you send signals to your muscles, telling them to adapt to the hard work by growing bigger and stronger.

During the following 24–48 hours, your body adjusts to the stress of the workout by repairing muscle fibers and adding new muscle protein to them.6

The above is, of course, a significantly simplified explanation. A tremendous number of chemical reactions happen in your body that are only relevant for academic purposes. Still, the result is slightly bigger and stronger muscles.

The process of creating new muscle tissue is called muscle protein synthesis. Over time, the increases in muscle protein synthesis after your training session become apparent as new muscle mass.

Reps and Sets

Time for some basic bodybuilding terminology! You’ll see the terms sets and reps throughout this article, and if you’re new to strength training, you might not know what they mean.

  • Repetitions, or reps for short, are the number of times you complete the movement of an exercise. Let’s say you’re doing bench presses. You lie down on the bench and lift the barbell from the rack. You then lower the bar to your chest and push it up again. That’s one repetition! The same goes for any strength-training exercise you can imagine. One repetition of squats is squatting down with the barbell on your shoulders and standing back up again, for example.
  • A set is a series of reps. If you perform ten reps in a row without a rest period, that’s one set. You then rest for a few minutes and do your next set. A strength-training set can be anything from a single repetition like a powerlifter to dozens of reps for an athlete training for muscle endurance. A repetition range of 6–15 is typical for bodybuilding purposes.

When you see something like 3 sets x 8–10 reps in a workout, it calls for three sets of eight to ten repetitions each: do 8–10 reps of an exercise, rest, do 8–10 more reps, rest again, then finish off with the third set of 8–10 reps.

Training Progression

You need to challenge your muscles to keep progressing and see long-term muscle growth.

Progress stalls if you keep doing what you are already doing, lifting the same weights week after week. You’re not forcing your muscles to adapt by growing bigger and stronger because they can already handle your training sessions.

The key to long-term muscle growth and bodybuilding success is progressive overload. As you continue lifting and gain experience, you add a little more weight to your exercises, do a repetition more whenever you can, and gradually add training volume.

You need very little training to gain strength and muscle size as a beginner.

Often called newbie gains, you rapidly gain muscle and become stronger when you take up weight training for the first time. You’re going from nothing to something, so any strength training you do means you’re overloading your muscles. You might be able to increase your weights from workout to workout and add pounds of pure muscle to your frame in a short time.

That’s also why matching your training to your experience is essential.

You don’t want to jump into a pro bodybuilder routine as a beginner, as that training volume will be too much for your body to handle right now. You’ll likely find yourself unable to recover, become overwhelmed, and maybe even injure yourself.

Besides, you don’t need that kind or amount of training yet. You’ll experience maximum gains from a few sets per muscle per week and get a gentle and effective introduction to bodybuilding.

Training Volume

How much training is enough for someone starting bodybuilding, and how much is too much? You want to hit the sweet spot that lets you consistently gain muscle mass and strength and still recover from your workouts.

Research shows that the more sets you do for a muscle every week, the better your gains – up to a point.

One set is better than not training at all. However, three or four sets per muscle mean significantly better gains than one set. More sets increase muscle growth even further, but every added set leads to smaller and smaller additional gains.

In other words, more training is better, but only to the point where you can’t recover properly. 

optimal training volume bodybuilding

Current research suggests that well-trained athletes need at least ten weekly sets per muscle to optimize muscle growth.7 

As a beginner, you likely need fewer than ten sets to reach the “optimal training volume” point at the top of the curve. We suggest you start with ten sets maximum for the first month or two, then use it as a minimum guideline.

How Often Should You Train Each Muscle?

It doesn’t matter how often you train a particular muscle group, as long as you get your sets done over the week. You can train your chest, for example, once per week and get the same gains as if you worked it three times if the total training volume is the same.8

As a beginner to bodybuilding, it’s better to train a muscle group more often for other reasons.

You’re still learning how to perform the exercises with proper form and establish a so-called “mind-muscle connection” or how to activate the working muscles maximally.

If you perform an exercise or train a muscle more often, that goes much faster.

Letting an entire week pass between workouts for a particular muscle allows the nervous system to partially “forget” the movement.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

For powerlifters and other athletes training for pure strength, a lower number of reps, 1–5 per set, produces the best results.

However, you have more options as a bodybuilder primarily interested in muscle hypertrophy.

Light training with many reps, heavy training with few reps, and anything in between builds similar amounts of muscle.9 10 11

That means you can train however you prefer and still make the best possible gains.

That being said, I suggest you stay in the 5–15 rep range for most of your sets.

Always lifting heavy could increase the risk of injury, and you’d also need to do more sets for the same muscle-building effect.

Doing many reps with light weights is tremendously uncomfortable as acidosis builds up.

For practical purposes, stay in the moderate rep range, and you’ll reap the muscle-building benefit without the risks of very heavy training or the discomfort of very light training.

Training to Failure

Training to failure means you can’t complete another repetition without assistance or “cheating” by using momentum. Many bodybuilders consider training to failure necessary for maximum muscle growth.

However, research suggests that you don’t need to train to failure to see gains in strength and muscle mass.12 13

Advanced bodybuilders might benefit from failure now and then. As a beginner, it’s likely better if you terminate most of your sets a rep or two before failure.

While training with high intensity is challenging and fun, training to failure can lead to overtraining and psychological burnout if you do it all the time.14 Constantly aiming for failure could impair recovery, increase muscle damage, stress your central nervous system, and even slow down your gains. 

If you want to challenge yourself now and then and go all-out on a set, sure, go for it. It won’t do any harm. But don’t train to failure all the time. Also, avoid failure in heavy compound exercises like the bench press and the squat, where you can easily injure yourself.

Stay within a moderate rep range, and you don’t have to train to muscular failure, meaning faster recovery and a less uncomfortable experience. “No pain, no gain” is an overrated proverb. Work hard, absolutely, but work smart.

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?

For trained athletes, long rest intervals between sets are slightly better for bodybuilding purposes than short rest periods.15

Resting for two to three minutes is standard practice, and that’s a suitable rest interval for beginners as well.

If you prefer a shorter rest, it won’t do any harm, and it’ll save time for sure.

As you gain training experience, taking two to three minutes to recover between sets allows you to lift heavier and do more reps for possibly slightly better gains over time.

Your First Six Months of Bodybuilding

In this section will find excellent bodybuilding workout plans for your first six months of training and suggestions for taking it to the next level once you’re past the beginning stage and keep making progress.

A common mistake when you’re new to bodybuilding is trying to make things too complicated.

You might look at how competitive bodybuilders train and copy their six-day program, thinking it’ll make you build muscle like them.

It might, but not yet.

At that point, they have years and years of training experience. Their bodies can handle a very high training volume and still recuperate and grow.

As a beginner, you don’t need to blast your biceps with 20 sets of curls per workout. You’ll get optimal results from just a few sets per muscle and workout without spending hours in the gym.

Remember the “optimal training volume” curve earlier in the article? Doing more sets than you need pushes you past where you want to be and into territory where, at best, you’re wasting time and energy. At worst, overtraining, which could grind your progress to a halt, becomes a concern.

For someone new to bodybuilding training, I recommend following a full-body workout routine of basic exercises three days per week for the first few months.

Full-body training offers several benefits for the beginner. Instead of completely destroying a muscle group with a dozen or more sets, which could require many days to recover from, you train each muscle a little each workout, but you do it more often.

A beginner doesn’t need a massive number of sets to stimulate muscle growth. Doing too many sets eats into your recovery.

Instead, you hit each muscle with just enough training for optimal muscle growth and do it three times per week instead of one. And, because you’re still learning to perform the exercises, you get to practice the movements for the working muscles more often.

Bodybuilding for Beginners Workout Routine

The Bodybuilding for Beginners workout routine consists of two different full-body sessions. You’ll train three times per week, alternating between workout A and workout B on different days, like this:

Week 1:

  1. Monday: Workout A
  2. Tuesday: Rest
  3. Wednesday: Workout B
  4. Thursday: Rest
  5. Friday: Workout A
  6. Saturday: Rest
  7. Sunday: Rest

Week 2:

  1. Monday: Workout B
  2. Tuesday: Rest
  3. Wednesday: Workout A
  4. Thursday: Rest
  5. Friday: Workout B
  6. Saturday: Rest
  7. Sunday: Rest

You then continue with week three, which is identical to the first, and go from there.

If you can’t work out on Mondays, rest on Tuesdays, and so on, you can simply rearrange your training and rest days to fit your schedule. Just make sure you have one day of rest between workouts.

Remember, your muscles grow when you rest them during the 24–48 hours following your training session, not while you’re actually lifting.

The full-body approach is still optimal if you can only work out twice weekly. Three training sessions per week is likely a bit better, but you’ll still be able to make good progress working out two times per week at this point in your bodybuilding career.

Most sets consist of 8–10 reps, an excellent rep interval for the beginner bodybuilder and for building muscle and becoming stronger.

Once you’re able to complete 8–10 repetitions in all sets of an exercise with good form, increase the load you’re using a little.

There is no minimum increase to consider; just try to add a little weight to the bar, pick the next set of heavier dumbbells, or lower the pin on the weight stack of whatever machine you’re using one step. When you can perform 8–10 reps with that weight, increase your training weights a little, and rinse and repeat.

That’s how you keep making progress over time.

Bodybuilding for Beginners is one of many training programs available in the StrengthLog workout tracker app. It is 100 % free, and you can download it and give it a go by using the buttons below:

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

Warming Up

Warming up before hoisting the heavy weights improves your flexibility and focus.

You increase your overall body temperature and the blood flow to your muscles, allowing you to perform your best. It could also decrease your risk of injuring yourself compared to jumping straight into your first set.

Consider spending five to ten minutes of low to moderate-intensity cardio gets your heart pumping and blood flowing. It’s not 100 % necessary, but it helps your body prepare for the high-intensity work to come.

Any type of cardio that gets your heart rate up is suitable: walking or jogging on an incline treadmill, the cross-trainer or rowing machine, or the stationary bike, for example.

Remember that your goal is to get warm and prepare for your weight workout, not aerobic fitness, so don’t go all-out on your warm-up cardio. Keep the high-intensity, high-impact exercises for when and if you do cardio for cardio’s sake.

Because the shoulder joint is complex and with a unique range of motion, you might want to do some shoulder-specific dynamic warm-up movements first.

  • Arm circles, going from small circles to a full range of motion.
  • Shoulder rolls, both forward and backward.
  • Overhead pressing movements without any external load.

You’ll also want to do a couple of ramp-up sets using progressively heavier weights before your work sets.

Start with an empty bar, really light dumbbells, or by selecting a light load on a machine, depending on the exercise. Increase the weight set by set until you’re at the weight you’ll be using for your actual sets.

As a beginner, you might not be able to handle heavy loads, meaning there is not much to ramp up. In that case, perform a few sets with just the bar or light dumbbells, and you’re ready to go.

Yes, warming up feels like a chore, it takes time, and you just want to get to your workout, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Workout A

  1. Squat: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  2. Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  3. Bench Press: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  4. Lat Pulldown: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  5. Overhead Press: 2 sets x 8–10 reps
  6. Dumbbell Curl: 2 sets x 8–10 reps
  7. Tricep Pushdown: 2 sets x 8–10 reps
  8. Hanging Knee Raise: 2 sets x max reps (do as many repetitions as you can with good form)
  9. Standing Calf Raise (optional): 3 sets x 8–10 reps

Workout B

  1. Leg Extension: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  2. Leg Curl: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  3. Close-Grip Bench Press: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  4. Barbell Row: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  5. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  6. Barbell Curl: 2 sets x 8–10 reps
  7. Crunch: 2 sets x 15–20 reps
  8. Standing Calf Raise (optional): 3 sets x 8–10 reps

You might notice the optional exercise for calves. Why is it optional? It’s because calves are notoriously stubborn and won’t respond to training for many. Some argue that your genetics almost entirely determines your calf development. Be that as it may, calves require more training than feasible in a beginner’s workout routine. If you want to add the calf raises at the end of your workout, feel free to do so, but it’s not mandatory.

Let’s take a look at the workouts with detailed walkthroughs of each exercise and how to perform it with proper technique.

Workout A

You perform this workout twice every other week and once every other. It consists primarily of free-weight compound movements for a complete full-body session. These are far from all possible exercises for bodybuilding, but they provide a great place to start,


The barbell squat is the most popular and likely the best exercise to improve overall athletic performance, regardless of sport. It’s also a competitive lift in powerlifting, a fantastic bodybuilding exercise for lower body development, and the first exercise in Bodybuilding for Beginners.

Powerlifters are primarily interested in lifting as heavy as possible and getting the weight up no matter what.

However, for hypertrophy training, you want to perform the squat in a controlled manner, keeping tension in your muscles throughout the set. If establishing a good mind-muscle connection means less weight on the bar, don’t hesitate to decrease the load.

Place the bar relatively high up, slightly below your trapezius muscles, and use a reasonably narrow foot placement. The high bar squat allows you to target your quads effectively and work them through an extended range of motion: a recipe for muscle growth.

Squat down to parallel or below. If you lack the mobility for a full squat, go as deep as possible with good technique. Don’t load the bar with too heavy a weight and do half-squats. It’s better to do full squats with a weight you can handle than sacrifice form and range of motion to lift heavy.

Bodybuilding for Beginners barbell squat

Muscles Worked in the Squat

Muscles worked in barbell squats

How to Squat with Proper Form

  1. Place the bar on your upper back. Inhale and brace your core slightly, and unrack the bar.
  2. Take two steps back, and adjust your foot position.
  3. Squat as deep as possible with good technique.
  4. With control, stop and reverse the movement, extending your hips and legs again.
  5. Exhale on the way up or exchange air in the top position.
  6. Inhale and repeat for reps

Read more:

>> How to Squat: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Alternative exercise:

Leg Press

Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is an excellent exercise for strengthening and building your posterior chain muscles, including your hamstrings and lower back.

Keep your knees slightly bent during the exercise and get a good stretch in your hamstrings at the bottom without rounding your lower back. Slow and controlled movements are key here. Don’t go too heavy. You want to feel it in your hamstrings, not turn it into a whole-body exercise.

Romanian deadlift bodybuilding technique

Muscles Worked in Romanian Deadlifts

Muscles worked in romanian deadlift

How to Do Romanian Deadlifts

  1. Get into the starting position by deadlifting a barbell off the floor, or by unracking it from a barbell rack.
  2. Inhale, brace your core slightly, and lean forward by hinging in your hips. Keep your knees almost completely extended.
  3. Lean forward as far as possible without rounding your back. You don’t have to touch the barbell to the floor, although it is OK if you do.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position. Exhale on the way up.
  5. Take another breath, and repeat for reps.

Bench Press

Some call the barbell bench press the king of upper body exercise, and they are not wrong. The bench press involves all the muscle fibers in your pecs but also hits your shoulders and triceps, making it a fantastic exercise for building a strong and massive upper body and a given in Bodybuilding for Beginners.

You don’t have to let the bar come to a complete stop on your chest like a powerlifter, but make sure you lower the bar with control and don’t bounce it off your chest to get it up again. You might be able to handle more weight on the bar, but you’re using momentum and leverage to lift it. Keep it under control and press the bar upwards using your muscle strength to complete the lift.

Bench Press Exercise bodybuilding technique

Muscles Worked in the Bench Press

Bench press muscles worked

How to Bench Press with Proper Form

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale, hold your breath, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control, until it touches your chest somewhere close to your sternum.
  5. Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
  6. Take another breath while in the top position, and repeat for reps.

Read more:

>> How to Bench Press: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown is one of the best exercises to increase the width of your back. It effectively targets your lats, a large muscle covering almost your entire back except for your trapezius at the top. In addition, the lat pulldown is an effective mass-builder for your biceps as well.

Use a medium-width grip with your palms facing forward when performing the lat pulldown. It gives you an extended range of motion and activates your lat muscles fully. Here’s what not to do:

Don’t use body momentum to get the bar down to your chest. Rocking back and forth during the lat pulldown is a common mistake. Yes, it allows you to use more weight, but you reduce the amount of work your lats are doing.

Don’t lean too far back. Instead, keep your chest out and your shoulders back, allowing you to contract your lats completely. If you perform the pulldowns leaning way backward, you turn them into a rowing exercise and transfer the load to your inner back instead of focusing on your lats.

Lat pulldown pronated grip bodybuilding technique

Muscles Worked in Lat Pulldowns

Muscles worked in lat pulldown with pronated grip

How to Do Lat Pulldowns

  1. Grip the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you), slightly wider than shoulder width.
  2. Sit down with your thighs under the leg support, keep your chest up, and look up at the bar.
  3. Inhale and pull the bar towards you.
  4. Pull the bar down until it is below your chin or touches your upper chest.
  5. Exhale and slowly return the bar until your arms are fully extended.

Overhead Press

Primarily a shoulder exercise, the overhead press also works your chest, triceps, and core muscles, making it an excellent overall compound movement for size, strength, and stability.

Don’t bend your legs to help you press the bar up. If you can’t complete a set without bending your knees to gain momentum, it’s time to lower the weight. Instead, contract your glutes, brace your abdominal wall to achieve stability, and use a full range of motion from below your chin up to straight arms.

Overhead press bodybuilding  exercise

Muscles Worked in the Overhead Press

Muscles worked in overhead press exercise

How to Overhead Press

  1. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Inhale, lightly brace your core, and unrack the bar.
  3. Let the bar rest against your front delts while you take a step back from the rack.
  4. Press the bar up to straight arms, while exhaling.
  5. Inhale at the top, or while lowering the bar with control back to your shoulders.
  6. Repeat for reps.

Dumbbell Curl

The dumbbell curl isolates your arm flexors (a fancy word for your biceps!) and is an excellent exercise for building great guns. Some might argue that back exercises provide enough stimulus for the biceps for a beginner, but for a bodybuilder, it doesn’t hurt to introduce direct biceps work right from the start. So, that’s what we’re doing in Bodybuilding for Beginners. Besides, getting a good biceps pump is a great feeling.

Keep constant tension on your biceps throughout the set by not resting at the bottom of the movement. Also, avoid using upper body momentum to swing the dumbbells and curl only using your biceps.

Dumbbell Curl bodybuilding exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Curls

Muscles worked in dumbbell curl exercise

How to Dumbbell Curl

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells in an underhand (supinated) grip, arms hanging by your sides.
  • Lift the dumbbells with control, by flexing your elbows.
  • Don’t let your upper arms travel back during the curl. Keep them at your sides or move them slightly forward.
  • Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

Triceps Pushdown

Probably the most popular of all triceps exercises, the pushdown is easy to do and effectively isolates your triceps. The triceps is a surprisingly large muscle, making up two-thirds of your upper arms, and it makes sense to include direct triceps work in your workout regimen. 

Keep your arms tucked to your sides and the movement to the elbow joint. Try to squeeze your triceps as you extend your arms and feel it working. Prioritize form over using as heavy a weight as possible. You can use a rope instead of a bar if you prefer.

Tricep Pushdown bodybuilding exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Tricep Pushdowns With Bar

Muscles worked in triceps pushdown with bar

How to Do Tricep Pushdowns

  1. Stand one step away from the cable pulley, and grip a bar about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Pull the handle down until your upper arms are perpendicular to the floor. This is the starting position.
  3. Push the handle down until your arms are fully extended.
  4. With control, let the handle up again.

Hanging Knee Raise

Some say that training your abs is unnecessary, that other compound movements take care of them, and that abs are made in the kitchen. While it’s true that you won’t see your abs if they are covered with fat, and training them won’t make them appear without a cutting diet, your abs respond to strength training just like other muscles. They grow bigger and stronger, and if you want stand-out abdominals, treat them like the rest of your muscles and work them hard.

The hanging knee raise is a great overall core exercise, as it targets your abs and hip flexors. Avoid swinging your body back and forth to focus all the work to your abdominal area.

Hanging Knee Raise exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Hanging Knee Raise

Muscles worked in hanging knee raises

How to Do Hanging Knee Raises

  • Jump up and grab a bar, placed high enough that you can hang from it with straight legs.
  • Without swinging and with bent legs, lift your knees as high as you can in front of you.
  • Lower your legs again, with control.

Standing Calf Raise

The calf raise is an easy-to-do exercise that isolates your inner and outer calf muscles. Contract them fully at the top and ensure you get a good stretch without bouncing at the bottom.

Standing Calf Raise exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Standing Calf Raises

Muscles worked in Standing Calf Raises

How to Do Standing Calf Raises

  • Place your toes and the ball of your feet on the foot support. Place the shoulder pads against your shoulders, and stand upright in the starting position.
  • Lower yourself down by bending your ankles in a controlled movement.
  • Push yourself up by extending your ankles.

Workout B

The second workout of Bodybuilding for Beginners hits the major muscle groups of your body, just like the first, but with some variety and different exercises to cover all aspects of a complete full-body experience. 

Leg Extension

While the back squat (or the leg press) is an excellent compound exercise for your lower body and building muscular legs, it doesn’t train your entire quads. Adding the leg extension makes for complete quadriceps development.16 In addition, the leg extension is second to none for getting a pants-bursting leg pump.

Keep tension in your leg muscles by contracting them when you straighten your legs and lower the weight under complete control.

Leg Extension bodybuilding exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Leg Extensions

Muscles worked in leg extensions

How to Do Leg Extensions

  1. Adjust the machine so that you are correctly positioned. Your knees should be in line with the machine’s joint.
  2. Extend your knees with control, until they are completely straight.
  3. Slowly lower the weight again.

Leg Curl

The leg curl isolates your hamstrings and perfectly complements the Romanian deadlifts in workout A of Bodybuilding for Beginners. It’s important you train the back of your legs with the same effort you train your quads, as even competitive bodybuilders often lack hamstring development.

Just like with leg extensions, maintain muscle tension throughout the set and contract your hamstrings fully. Feel free to use either the lying leg curl machine or the seated leg curl, depending on which you prefer and which are available at your gym.

Seated Leg Curl exercise technique
Lying Leg Curl exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Leg Curls

Muscles worked in lying leg curls

How to Do Seated Leg Curls

  • Adjust the machine so that you are correctly positioned. Your knees should be in line with the machines joint.
  • Push the weight down by bending your knees as far as possible.
  • Slowly let the weight back again.

How to Do Lying Leg Curls

  • Adjust the machine so that you are correctly positioned. Your knees should be in line with the machines joint.
  • Lift the weight by bending your knees as far as possible.
  • Slowly lower the weight again.

Close-Grip Bench Press

The close-grip bench press is a variation of the standard bench press. Still an excellent exercise for your chest and shoulders, it targets the triceps more than the regular wide-grip bench.

There is no reason to use a narrower grip than shoulder-width. Doing so just puts stress on your wrists without any benefits. 

Close-grip bench press

Muscles Worked in the Close-Grip Bench Press

Muscles worked in close grip bench press exercise

How to Close-Grip Bench Press

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
  2. Grip the bar narrower than in a regular bench press so that your hands are directly above your shoulders or even closer.
  3. Take a breath and hold it, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control until it touches your chest somewhere where the ribs end.
  5. Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
  6. Take another breath in the top position, and repeat for reps.

Barbell Row

You can’t go wrong with barbell rows for building a massive, thick back. If the bench press is the king of exercises for the front of your upper body, the barbell row might be the monarch of the back.

Barbell Row

Muscles Worked in Barbell Rows

Muscles worked in barbell row exercise

How to Do Barbell Rows

  1. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, and lean forward with the bar hanging from straight arms.
  2. Inhale and pull the bar towards you.
  3. Pull the bar as high as you can, so that it touches your abs or chest if possible.
  4. With control, lower the bar back to the starting position.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Like the overhead press of workout A of Bodybuilding for Beginners, the seated dumbbell press primarily targets the shoulders and is an excellent exercise for building massive delts. Using a pair of dumbbells allows for a slightly longer range of motion, and by performing the exercise seated, you eliminate the need for other muscles to keep your body stable.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press bodybuilding exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Muscles worked in seated dumbbell shoulder press

How to Do Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

  • Sit down on a bench with a raised backrest.
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells, and lift them up to the starting position at your shoulders.
  • Inhale and lightly brace your core.
  • Press the dumbbells up to straight arms, while exhaling.
  • Inhale at the top, or while lowering the dumbbells with control back to your shoulders.
  • Repeat for reps.

Barbell Curl

The barbell curl, just like the dumbbell variant you performed in Workout A of Bodybuilding for Beginners, allows you to focus on your biceps without involving much of the rest of your body. Stay in control of the movement and avoid swinging the weight or leaning backward to get the bar up.

Barbell biceps curl bodybuilding exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Barbell Curls

Muscles worked in the barbell curl

How to Barbell Curl

  • Grip a bar with an underhand (supinated) grip, hands about shoulder-width apart.
  • Lift the bar with control, by flexing your elbows.
  • Don’t let your upper arm travel back during the curl, keep it at your side or move it slightly forward.
  • Reverse the movement and lower the bar back to the starting position.


A classic bodyweight exercise for strengthening and building your abs, the crunch has been a mainstay in bodybuilders’ workout routines for many decades. It’s easy to do, and you can adapt it to your strength level by holding a weight against your chest for added resistance.

crunches exercise bodybuilding 

Muscles Worked in Crunches

Muscles worked by crunches

How to Do Crunches

  • Lie on your back, with your hands in front of your chest and your knees bent to about 90 degrees.
  • Lift your upper body by contracting your abs and bending forward.
  • Bend as far forward as possible while still keeping your low back in contact with the floor, and then return to the starting position.

Standing Calf Raise

No difference from workout A: the standing calf raise is the complete calf exercise, and there is no reason to change a winning concept.

Bodybuilding for Beginners Workout Routine: Home Gym Training

The Bodybuilding for Beginners workout routine does require access to more advanced gym equipment. If you work out in your home gym, alternate between these two workouts instead:

Workout A (home gym version)

  1. Squat: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  2. Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  3. Bench Press: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  4. Pull-up: 3 sets x max reps (do as many repetitions as you can)
  5. Overhead Press: 2 sets x 8–10 reps
  6. Dumbbell Curl: 2 sets x 8–10 reps
  7. Barbell Lying Triceps Extension: 2 sets x 8–10 reps
  8. Hanging Knee Raise: 2 sets x max reps (do as many repetitions as you can with good form)
  9. Heel Raise (optional): 3 sets x 8–10 reps

Workout B (home gym version)

  1. Barbell Lunge: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  2. Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  3. Close-Grip Bench Press: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  4. Barbell Row: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  5. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  6. Barbell Curl: 2 sets x 8–10 reps
  7. Crunch: 2 sets x 15–20 reps
  8. Heel Raise (optional): 3 sets x 8–10 reps

The challenging exercise of these for the beginner is the pull-up. Not many have the strength to go a significant number of pull-ups.

However, there is a solution.

If you place your training bench behind you, you can put your feet on it and push yourself up with leg power, just enough to complete the reps. If you have a training partner, you can ask them to hold your lower legs and assist you.

Bodybuilding for Beginners Workout Routine: Machine Training Only

Alternatively, you might want to train exclusively using machines and cables. That’s perfectly viable. There are no set rules when it comes to bodybuilding. A Bodybuilding for Beginners alternate routine using only machines could look like this:

Workout A (machine only version)

  1. Leg Press: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  2. Leg Curl: 3 sets x 10 reps
  3. Chest Press: 3 sets x 10 reps
  4. Lat Pulldown: 3 sets x 10 reps
  5. Machine Shoulder Press: 3 sets x 10 reps
  6. Cable Curl: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  7. Tricep Pushdown: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  8. Machine Crunch: 3 sets x 15–20 reps
  9. Standing Calf Raise (optional): 3 sets x 8–10 reps

Workout B (machine only version)

  1. Leg Extension: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  2. Leg Curl: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  3. Machine Chest Fly: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  4. Machine Row: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  5. Machine Lateral Raise: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  6. Cable Curl: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  7. Tricep Pushdown: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  8. Cable Crunch: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  9. Standing Calf Raise (optional): 3 sets x 8–10 reps

Follow the Bodybuilding for Beginners workout routine for two months, and you should see a massive increase in strength and visible muscle growth all over your body. You’ve laid the foundation for your future training and a bodybuilding physique.

From here, you can go many different directions and try out various training programs and splits, but one I highly recommend and suggest is the four-day-a-week upper/lower split.

Instead of training your entire body every time, you split it into two workouts, one for your upper body and one for your lower body. This allows you to do more work for each muscle group without your training sessions becoming overly long and still hit them twice per week.

Here’s an outline of StrengthLog’s Upper/Lower Body Split Program. It consists mainly of compound movements that work several muscle groups simultaneously, with some select isolation exercises to target specific areas.

Upper Lower Body Split Program bodybuilding

Since your main goal is bodybuilding, not just strength, I suggest you perform all the optional exercises for complete muscular development.

Just like Bodybuilding for Beginners, StrengthLog’s Upper/Lower Body Split Program is available in StrengthLog, and once again, it’s completely free. You can download it using the buttons below:

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

All exercises come with complete instructions on how to perform them in the app, along with animations showing proper form.

Read more about the program here:

>> StrengthLog’s Upper/Lower Body Split Program

You can follow StrengthLog’s Upper/Lower Body Split for as long as you enjoy it and keep making progress.

For example, it could be your go-to program for the next four months. Then you have six months of bodybuilding experience under your belt.

After that? The bodybuilding world is your oyster. Your body is ready for whatever training program you decide to pursue.

Your Future Bodybuilding Training

Experienced bodybuilders often split their muscle groups into three or more workouts. Most competitive bodybuilders only train one major muscle group per workout, “blasting” it for multiple sets and only returning to it a week later.

Some of the most popular so-called bodybuilding training splits include:

The Push/Pull/Legs split. You train your pushing muscles (chest, shoulders, and triceps) on day one, your pulling muscles (back and biceps) on day two, and finish off with legs (and perhaps calves) on day three. This split allows plenty of rest to recover and grow, and there is little muscle overlap, meaning you don’t have to worry about your triceps being sore on chest day.

Push pull legs bodybuilding split

You’ll find several P/P/L splits suitable for any experience and fitness level in StrengthLog.

The “bro-split.” The bodybuilding split affectionately called the “bro-split” takes it a step further, dividing the body into four or more training days. The bro-split allows you to focus all your energy on one or two muscles, and the workouts are time-efficient and high-intensity.

Typically, each gym session is dedicated to only one or two major muscle groups, but you perform many straight sets, sometimes 20 or more, for each.

On the other hand, you’ll need to have the time to spend nearly every day in the gym.

Also, because you do many sets for each muscle, your set quality might suffer towards the end of your training sessions.

Our most popular training program for bodybuilding is called Bodybuilding Ballet and is designed as a classic “bro-split.” It’s a premium program for intermediate and advanced bodybuilders, available in StrengthLog. The default five-day version looks like this:

There are many more bodybuilding splits in StrengthLog, including our 4-Day Bodybuilding Split and Bodybuilding Blitz, if you prefer your workouts short and sweet but still effective.

Of course, these are just suggestions, workout routines successfully used by hundreds if not thousands of aspiring bodybuilders. However, you are free to try out any bodybuilding program that catches your eye or even design your own. Bodybuilding has no rules you must follow for success.

Read more:

>> The 10 Best Bodybuilding Splits: a Complete Guide

Eating for Bodybuilding

No matter how hard you train or even if you’re blessed with the best genetics for building muscle, if you don’t support your efforts in the gym with good food, you’re not going to see the desired result.

eating for bodybuilding beginners

Meeting your nutritional needs with a proper diet for bodybuilding doesn’t have to be complicated. You can boil it down to four steps:

  • Eating enough calories
  • Getting plenty of protein
  • Fueling your workouts with quality carbohydrates and fats
  • Opting for nutritious food choices to cover your vitamin and mineral requirements

Providing your body with nutritious foods is critical for gaining lean mass, muscle recovery, and health. Much like you build a house on a solid foundation, your diet is the foundation that supports your efforts to build a muscular physique.

How Many Calories Do You Need?

Calories measure how much energy you get from the foods you eat.

  • If you eat more calories than you use up, you gain weight and store the excess as mostly body fat.
  • On the other hand, eating fewer calories results in weight and fat loss.

Eating the right amount of calories for you is crucial for bodybuilding purposes. 

A caloric surplus makes it easier to pack on muscle. At the same time, you don’t want to eat excessive amounts and gain too much fat, as it can be a struggle to get rid of when you want to lean down and make your muscles visible.

If you carry excess body fat, a caloric deficit is needed to reduce it and get leaner. Eating fewer calories than you take in also makes it harder to gain muscle.

Bulking and cutting are two popular dietary strategies in bodybuilding.

  • During the bulking phase, you combine strength training with eating more calories than you burn in order to gain weight, preferably in the form of muscle mass.
  • Cutting is when you “cut” your body fat to make your muscles more defined. That means eating fewer calories than you take in and maintaining hard-earned lean mass through intense weight training.

You can use our calorie calculator below to estimate how many calories you need. It is based on the Mifflin-St Jeor equation, one of the most accurate formulas. Enter your sex, weight, height, age, and estimated activity level. It will calculate your maintenance calories (the total caloric intake you need for your body weight to be stable).

Calorie Calculator


Activity Level



Aim for a calorie intake slightly above your maintenance calories to gain muscle effectively.

If you’re naturally thin and new to bodybuilding, you can go for a larger surplus than someone who has been lifting weight for years. You’ll use many of those extra calories to build lean mass, not body fat. 

As a beginner, you can add a pound of body weight or more as pure muscle per month.

An advanced bodybuilder would be happy to gain that much weight as lean mass in a year.

There is no reason for massive amounts of excess calories when you’ve been training for years because you can’t gain muscle very fast anyway. The surplus would only add to your body fat, not your muscles.

If you’re new to bodybuilding and able to add quality mass more quickly, you can make use of a larger caloric surplus.

The optimal energy surplus to build lean mass while minimizing fat gains is still unknown, but research suggests an interval of 350–475 kcals above maintenance as an excellent place to start.17

For example, if the calculator gave you a maintenance level of 3,000 calories, eating 3,400 calories per day would ensure you get enough for optimal muscle growth without adding too much body fat.

Read more:

>> Eating for Muscle Growth: When, What, and How Much

However, you might not want to begin your bodybuilding journey with a bulk if you are overweight. You’d gain more body fat and make it more challenging to get lean in the future.

If you’re unhappy about your body fat levels, it’s a good start to cut first.

Advanced strength athletes will struggle to add muscle while cutting, but you have the advantage here because you’re new to bodybuilding. You are much more likely to gain lean muscle while losing body fat, giving you the best of both worlds.

Going on a diet to lose fat before taking up strength training is a big mistake and not an uncommon one. You want to combine a weight-loss diet with bodybuilding training. That approach allows you to maintain or gain muscle while leaning out.

A weight-loss diet without lifting means losing significant amounts of lean muscle along with body fat. 

The more overweight you are, the more aggressive you can be with your caloric restriction without losing muscle mass. However, for gaining muscle mass simultaneously and maintaining your energy levels in the gym, a caloric deficit of around 500 kcals per day is ideal for most bodybuilders.

If the calorie calculator suggests you eat 3,000 calories per day for maintenance, that means cutting back to 2,500 calories.

For in-depth help with a successful cut, whether you need to lose a few pounds or reach low levels of bodyfat, check out out comprehensive yet easy-to-understand step-by-step guides:

>> How to Cut: Lose Fat and Keep Your Muscle Mass

>> Macros for Cutting: Count Your Way to Fat Loss

Protein, fat, and carbohydrates are the three macronutrients that provide the building material and energy to fuel your bodybuilding efforts. The macronutrient ratio of bodybuilding differs a lot from the average diet.

Protein Need for Bodybuilding

Protein contains the building blocks your body uses to build and repair tissue, including muscle tissues. Gaining muscle will be much more challenging if you don’t eat enough protein.

All the protein you eat contains 20 amino acids, 9 of which are essential. These essential amino acids are the ones your body needs to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and build muscle.

Free amino acids vs protein
Free amino acids form different proteins.

European and US authorities recommend a daily protein intake of around 0.8 grams per kilogram (0.36 grams per pound) of body weight.

That’s not enough for a bodybuilder. Strength-training combined with a protein-rich diet is the recipe for gaining lean body mass.

  • For example, the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that 1.4–2.0 g protein/kg (0.65–0.91 grams per pound) body weight/day is sufficient for building muscle mass for most.18
  • Another recent review concluded that 1.6–2.2 grams per kg (0.7–1 gram per pound) maximizes muscle growth.19

You can use our protein calculator to find out how many grams of protein per day is ideal for you, depending on your bodybuilding goals.

Protein Calculator
Unit of weight:
Your current goal:
Your current body fat level:

Protein intake

g per day

g per day

g per day

g per day

g per day

g per day

Protein per meal


g of protein per meal

g of protein per meal

I recommend 1.4–2.2 grams of protein per kilogram (0.64–1 grams per pound) of body weight per day to maximize your gains in lean muscle mass.

If you’re cutting to lose body fat, your protein requirements increase. In that case, I suggest at least 1.8 grams per kg (0.8 grams per pound) to maintain or even gain lean body mass while losing fat.

If you’re already reasonably lean or go on an aggressive cut, up to 2.7 grams per kg (1.2 grams per pound) and day can be helpful to avoid muscle loss.

Some of the best protein sources, loosely ranked for muscle-building purposes, include:

  • Milk and dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, quark, casein- and whey protein powder)
  • Eggs (egg whites and whole eggs)
  • Red meat (beef, pork, lamb, game, ostrich)
  • White meat (chicken, turkey)
  • Fish and seafood
  • Soy-based foods (tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy protein powder)
  • Quinoa
  • Beans, lentils
  • Nuts, almonds, seeds
  • Grains


You can get all your protein from regular foods or add a protein supplement. Protein supplements don’t make you gain muscle faster but can be convenient if you struggle to reach your target intake.

Read more:

>> Protein for Strength Training: The Ultimate Guide

How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Meal, and How Often?

Your body absorbs all the protein you give it, but it can only use so much per meal for muscle-building purposes. A massive 340 grams of lean beef providing 90 grams of protein does not build more muscle than a portion a third that size.21

A simple strategy to ensure your muscles always have the building materials they need is to spread your daily protein intake evenly over the day, aiming for around 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every three to four hours.22 23

Read more:

>> How Much Protein Per Meal Can You Use to Build Muscle Mass?

Eating 30–40 grams of high-quality protein after a workout is a good idea. You speed up recovery and kick-start muscle protein synthesis. A protein shake is a convenient option if you don’t fancy a regular meal immediately after training.


Dietary fat is critical for your body to function properly. Fat is a great energy source and keeps your cells healthy, increases the uptake of several vitamins, and allows your body to produce many hormones, including testosterone.

Fat is more calorie-dense than proteins and carbs. A gram of fat provides nine kcals, compared to a gram of protein or carbohydrate, which provide four kcals.

Getting between 20–35% of your daily calories from fat is good for performance and health.24 Bodybuilders trying to build muscle shouldn’t go below that, as it could compromise anabolic hormones.25 26 Each gram of fat provides nine calories. To get 25% of a 2,500-calorie diet from fat, you’d need to eat about 70 grams of fat. 

As a simple rule of thumb, eat 0.5–1.5 grams of fat per kilogram (around 0.2– 0.7 grams per pound) of bodyweight per day. That interval allows you to tailor your fat intake to your preferences without compromising your bodybuilding progress.

Saturated fats have a bad rep, but if you’re healthy, you probably don’t have to worry about including foods rich in saturated fatty acids in your diet.

While cutting down on saturated fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats likely reduces the risk of heart disease, saturated fats probably aren’t as bad as some make them out to be. Also, many foods rich in saturated fats are excellent muscle-building foods rich in protein and other valuable nutrients.

You’ll find plenty of unsaturated fats in foods like olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Unsaturated fats are often referred to as healthy fats.

Saturated fats are found in, for example, meat, eggs, butter, and full-fat dairy products. Bodybuilders have used these foods as a staple to gain weight and build muscle.

Omega-3s are essential polyunsaturated fats with multiple health benefits and maybe even muscle-building properties. The two crucial omega-3s are found mainly in fatty fish, and if you don’t eat fish often, you might want to consider a quality omega-3 supplement.


Your body doesn’t use carbohydrates to build muscle directly, but they can still benefit bodybuilders. You store the carbohydrates you eat as glycogen in your liver and muscles, and muscle glycogen is the primary fuel during a gym session. 

Low-carb and high-carb diets seem equally effective, as long as you eat enough calories.27 However, for most bodybuilders, a moderate carbohydrate intake is a good middle-ground and provides your muscles with easily accessible energy.

The following are excellent choices of carbs to fuel your bodybuilding workouts:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Grains
  • Rice
  • Potatoes, both regular and sweet potatoes
  • Bulgur
  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Fruits
  • Berries
  • Vegetables

25 Simple Meal Ideas for Bodybuilding

Wondering what to eat to support your bodybuilding efforts? Here are 25 simple high-protein meal ideas:

  • Grilled chicken breast with roasted sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli
  • Tuna salad made with canned tuna, hard-boiled eggs, and mixed greens
  • Scrambled eggs with spinach and whole-grain toast
  • Greek yogurt with mixed berries and sliced almonds
  • Grilled salmon with quinoa and roasted asparagus
  • Cottage cheese with sliced peaches and whole-grain crackers
  • Lean ground turkey with brown rice and steamed green beans
  • Protein smoothie made with protein powder, frozen berries, and almond milk
  • Grilled steak with roasted brussels sprouts and mashed sweet potatoes
  • Baked tofu with mixed vegetables and brown rice.
  • Grilled shrimp skewers with brown rice and roasted bell peppers
  • Turkey chili made with lean ground turkey, kidney beans, and diced tomatoes
  • Baked salmon with roasted Brussels sprouts and quinoa
  • Chicken fajitas made with grilled chicken breast, peppers, onions, and whole-grain tortillas
  • Steak stir-fry with mixed vegetables and brown rice
  • Greek salad with grilled chicken breast and feta cheese
  • Protein pancakes made with protein powder, oats, and egg whites
  • Black bean and vegetable soup with a side of whole-grain bread
  • Grilled tuna steak with roasted root vegetables and mixed greens
  • Chicken Caesar salad with grilled chicken breast and hard-boiled eggs
  • Roasted tofu with mixed vegetables and soba noodles
  • Grilled flank steak with roasted sweet potatoes and green beans
  • Lentil and vegetable curry with brown rice
  • Chicken and vegetable kabobs with a side of quinoa salad
  • Scrambled egg whites with smoked salmon and avocado toast.

Bodybuilding Supplements

What you eat is essential for bodybuilding success, and supplements can’t replace nutritious foods or rescue a poor diet. However, meeting your nutrient needs isn’t always easy, or at least not convenient.

As a beginner bodybuilder, make sure your diet is on point. After that, you might start looking at supplements to aid your efforts.

No supplements are necessary, but a select few offer benefits you can’t get from regular foods or the convenience to make them viable options in certain situations.

best supplements to gain muscle


The only supplement scientifically proven to increase strength, boost performance, and help you gain muscle mass, creatine is the go-to choice for any bodybuilder.

More than 500 studies over several decades confirm that creatine is effective and without adverse effects.28 29

bodybuilding for beginners creatine

While you can find many novel forms of creatine on the market, the original creatine monohydrate is still the best and the least expensive.

Read more:

>> Creatine: Effects, Benefits and Safety

Protein Supplements

A protein powder is an excellent addition to any bodybuilder’s supplement arsenal. Protein supplements are easily absorbed and provide high-quality protein and the amino acids you need to build muscle in a convenient package.

You won’t build more muscle using protein shakes than from the same amount of protein from regular foods, but a shake is convenient and makes for an excellent option on the go or after a workout.

Whey protein, made from regular milk, is the most common and versatile protein supplement. You can use it as a snack, post-workout recovery aid, or for boosting your daily protein intake.

Another popular protein supplement, also made from milk, is casein. Both are quality proteins your body can use to build muscle.

whey vs casein vs soy protein bodybuilding

If you prefer a plant-based alternative, soy or pea isolate are good options.

Read more:

>> Whey or Soy Protein for Building Muscle?


You can’t go wrong with caffeine if you’re looking to improve your exercise performance or just need an energy boost. It’s the most popular drug globally and well-recognized as effective for boosting performance in almost all sports, including strength training.

It doesn’t matter if you get caffeine from a caffeine pill, an energy drink, coffee, or any other source. The problem with coffee is that you might have to drink 2–3 large cups to get enough caffeine for a performance boost. If that’s not a problem for you, go for it, but some might feel uncomfortable working out after drinking that amount of coffee.

Three to six milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight an hour before training is a safe and effective dose.

Read more:

>> Caffeine: Effects, Benefits, and Safety

Other Supplements

There are numerous other bodybuilding supplements, some effective, some worthless, but those are the ones to consider first as a beginner.

You might also benefit from a few other supplements for general health reasons, although they won’t give you an immediate advantage in the gym.

  • Vitamin D, at least during the winter and if you’re not out and about in the sun much.
  • Omega-3s if you don’t eat fatty fish often.
  • A standard multivitamin/mineral supplement ensures you get enough of the essential micronutrients.

Avoid supplements that promise things that sound too good to be true. They often are. Some examples include BCAA supplements, testosterone boosters, and “fat burners.” Those are useless money sinks lacking scientific support.

Read more:

>> The 5 Best Supplements to Gain Muscle in 2022

Want to learn more about dietary supplements? Which ones are worth your money, and which are questionable or useless? Check our StrengthLog’s Supplement Guide, our free guide where I review 26 of the most popular supplements.

Bodybuilding for Beginners: Tips & Advice

Here are eight tips and pieces of advice that will guide you on your journey from a beginner to an advanced bodybuilder.

Learn Proper Form

Learning how to perform the exercises before you pick up the weights is essential.

Not only do you get better muscular development from using the correct form, but you also reduce the risk of injury.

Also, if you pick up bad habits by getting used to performing an exercise incorrectly, they can be very tricky to break.

Train Your Entire Body

When you start seeing results from your efforts in the gym, chances are you’ll notice one or two muscle groups growing faster and easier than the others.

It’s easy to get caught up in that quick progress and dedicate even more time and energy to that body part, often at the expense of other muscle groups that might be more stubborn or just not as fun to train.

Suppose you want to focus more or exclusively on a few muscle groups and consciously decide to do so: fine. But if you regret it later and go for a more balanced approach to muscular development, it’ll be a struggle to correct things and catch up.

And, if you’re aiming to compete in bodybuilding down the road, muscular symmetry and balance are vital for success. A bodybuilding contest isn’t won by a few stand-out body parts but by a physique with as few weaknesses as possible.

Listen to Your Body

As a beginner, it’s easy to get blinded by the fast newbie gains and forget the importance of rest and recovery.

But keep in mind that your muscles don’t grow while you’re training them (apart from the temporary pump) but when you rest and feed them during the days that come.

That’s when the size of your muscles increases.

It’s tempting to ignore your rest days and hit the gym many straight days in a row, but that’s not the best course of action at this point. Let your body recover properly from your workouts, rewarding you with better muscle growth.

In addition, don’t force yourself to the gym when sick.

If it’s just the sniffles and a little bit of dry cough, hitting the weights is OK.

But with a fever, elevated heart rate, or symptoms below the neck: take it easy, add an extra rest day or two, and come back when you feel better.

Don’t Worry About a Missed Workout

Everyone misses a workout now and then. Something comes up at school, work, or in your personal life, and you just can’t make it to the gym even though it’s training day.

Sometimes things get in the way, and most likely, it will happen again. Don’t stress out about it. It’s not a big deal. Just pick up where you lift off, and it won’t impact your training results at all.

Once you get more experienced, a more extended layoff from training, like a week or more away from the weights now and then, won’t do any harm. Bodybuilding isn’t a race but a life-long endeavor.

Do Some Cardio

Lifting weights is fantastic not only for building muscle but also for your health. However, the combination of heavy lifting and cardio is the ultimate health elixir.

To benefit from aerobic exercise, you don’t have to become an endurance athlete or do massive amounts of cardio. Twenty minutes to half an hour of moderate-intensity cardio two or three times per week does the trick.

A better cardiovascular capacity will likely also help you recover better between sets in the gym.

You might have heard that cardio will destroy your gains or make you lose muscle. It does not.30 As long as you don’t overdo it, regular cardio can be part of the bodybuilding lifestyle, and even enhance your fitness levels and health.

If you incorporate cardio into your workout plan, either do it separated from your strength training or do it after you have completed your weight session. You want your muscles filled with energy when lifting, so don’t empty your reserves by doing cardio first, except for a short, low-intensity warm-up.

Muscle Soreness

Muscle soreness, also called delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS for short, is a muscle pain that sets in a day or two after working out.

I’m sure you have experienced at some point when performing strenuous work you’re not used to doing.

You can expect to get sore when you start the Bodybuilding for Beginners Workout Routine or any other new training program, but your muscles will soon get used to the unexpected workload, after which it won’t be so bad.

After many decades of research, science still hasn’t discovered what causes DOMS, but it’s not harmful to train with lingering soreness, and it’s not a sign of muscle breakdown.

Anabolic Steroids

Everything in Bodybuilding for Beginners is written with the non-enhanced, natural bodybuilder in mind. I strongly advise against using anabolic steroids or performance-enhancing drugs without a prescription from a doctor.

However, it would not be truthful to claim anabolic steroids aren’t a part of bodybuilding. They are. It’s also naive to assume beginners and new bodybuilders won’t be tempted to try them.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic variations of the male sex hormone testosterone, used to build muscle, gain strength, and boost performance by athletes looking to gain an advantage. Both male and female bodybuilders use them for their muscle building effects and to recover faster.

However, they also have legitimate medical uses. They are used to treat various hormonal problems and to prevent muscle wasting after severe burns, to mention a few examples.

Steroid use is prevalent in competitive bodybuilding and among the general public. In 2019, 3 to 4 million Americans used them to increase their muscle mass and to look better.31

Do steroids work? Definitely. They significantly impact your ability to build muscle and recover from training.

Can steroids damage your health? Yes, it is beyond dispute that they are harmful.32

Side effects range from acne and gynecomastia (the growth of breast gland tissue in men) in the short term to a long-term increase in premature atherosclerosis and heart disease.

I am not going to delve into steroid use and abuse in bodybuilding in this article.

However, I suggest you don’t even consider anabolic drugs as a bodybuilding beginner.

As an adult, you can make your own choices about your own body and health, but anabolic steroids are certainly not worth it at this point in your bodybuilding career.

Your muscles will respond to your training without them, and in addition, you’ll get to know your body and what works and what doesn’t work much better without artificial and possibly health-damaging aid.

Track Your Progress

Perhaps the most important thing to keep gaining muscle and strength is progression.

Maintaining a workout log of how much you lift is the best way to track your progress over time. It removes the guesswork and lets you focus on your training instead of trying to remember what you did the last workout.

Whether you use a pen and paper to document your workouts in a physical journal or track your progress with a digital workout log on your phone, keeping a record of your progress makes it easy to plan your training and look back at what worked and what didn’t work.

The StrengthLog workout log app for Android and iOS is easy to use and lets you track your training, create your workouts and programs, monitor detailed statistics over time, and much more. It’s your quick start guide to bodybuilding success.

In addition, it comes with a bunch of training programs for any fitness goal, including bodybuilding, designed by experienced coaches, plus exercise guides perfect for the beginner.

StrengthLog is free without ads, and you can give it a go by downloading it using one of the buttons below. We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of the premium version, which you can activate in the app.

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

Join 80 000+ monthly users!

Final Words

You’ve reached the end of Bodybuilding for Beginners! I hope you had fun reading it and that it will help make your first steps on your bodybuilding journey enjoyable and productive.

Armed with your newfound knowledge, you’re set to become the next Mr. Olympia. Well, maybe not. But who knows? All champion bodybuilders were beginners once, just like you, and set foot in the gym for the first time.

If the competitive aspects of the sport don’t interest you at all, bodybuilding still offers you a great way to look your best, feel your best, and live a strong and healthy life.

Regardless of your sex, weight, or body type, whether you’re in high school or a senior, bodybuilding can improve your health, body composition, and mental strength. Taking that first step and hitting the weights might be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.

For more bodybuilding, check out these great resources:

>> Bodybuilding: The Ultimate Guide

>> 15 Best Bodybuilding Programs: Beginner to Advanced


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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas is a certified nutrition coach with over three decades of training experience. He has followed and reported on the research fields of exercise, nutrition, and health for almost as long and is a specialist in metabolic health and nutrition coaching for athletes. Read more about Andreas and StrengthLog by clicking here.