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Beginning Bodybuilding


Q: I’m a 20-year-old guy from England. I’ve been training for two months now, four times a week, using a split routine. I’m trying to bulk as fast as possible without the use of steroids. My question: Are eight to 12 repetitions adequate for bulking, or should I be working in a lower or higher rep range? Also, perhaps you could suggest a routine you’ve used to bulk up with.

A: If you’ve been training for only two months, you’re really a beginner at this stage. I normally recommend that someone who’s just starting train the whole body at each workout and repeat that workout two to three times per week.  That way you establish a foundation for your physique as well as gradually push yourself to get into better condition. During the beginning phase, your strength, muscle mass and cardiovascular health should all improve. 

A beginner’s program should include approximately one exercise for each major muscle group. Because you’re doing only one exercise for each bodypart, it’s possible to train your whole body in one workout. That would be impossible if you were doing several exercises for each muscle group. 

Here are two good workouts for someone who’s just started weight training. Notice that the first workout begins with the muscles of the upper body and the second with the legs. That helps keep your body balanced by not putting too much emphasis on some muscle groups or neglecting others by training them at the end of the workout, when you have less energy. 

Workout 1 

Bench presses
Wide-grip chins or pulldowns
Seated dumbbell presses
Lateral raises
Pushdowns
Standing dumbbell curls
Leg extensions
Leg curls
Leg presses
Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts
Standing calf raises
Incline situps
Incline knee raises

Workout 2

Leg extensions
Squats
Leg curls
Hyperextensions
Seated calf raises
Incline dumbbell presses
One-arm dumbbell rows
Standing military presses
Upright rows
Lying triceps extensions
Barbell curls
Exercise ball crunches
Hanging knee raises

Perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions for each exercise. The exception would be the abdominal exercises, where higher repetitions—20 to 40—are best. 

Follow that routine for three to six months to establish a good foundation. It will build muscle mass and strength and enable you to make an easy transition to the next level.

After following the beginner’s routine for three to six months, you can move to an intermediate split routine.  You do more exercises for each bodypart, which makes training the whole body in one workout too difficult. A split routine makes you focus more on the individual bodyparts by using more resistance and more volume. You’ll also need more recuperation between workouts. 

You can divide the muscle groups in several ways when using a split routine. Because there are eight major muscle groups—chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, thighs, calves and abdominals—you train four muscle groups at each workout. 

You can train chest, back, shoulders and abs at one workout and thighs, calves, biceps and triceps at the next workout. Another alternative is to train all the pushing muscles—chest, shoulders, triceps and abs—on the first workout and the pulling muscles—back, biceps, thighs and calves—at the next.

When I was younger and trying (desperately!) to add muscle mass and get bigger, I used the push-pull routine, which was very popular at the time. I trained chest, shoulders, triceps and calves on Monday and Thursday and legs, back, biceps and abs on Tuesday and Friday. I rested on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Here’s the exact routine I used to bulk up:

Monday

Bench presses 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Incline dumbbell presses 3 x 8, 6, 6
Flyes 3  x 8, 6, 6
Dumbbell pullovers 3 x 10, 8, 8
Seated military presses 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Lateral raises 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Bent-over lateral raises 3 x 8, 6, 6
Barbell shrugs 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Pushdowns 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Lying triceps extensions 3 x 8, 6, 6
Weighted dips 3 x 8, 6, 6
Standing calf raises 4 x 12, 10, 8, 6
Seated calf raises 3 x 12, 10, 8
 
Tuesday

Incline situps 3 x max
Incline knee raises 3 x max
Squats 5 x 10, 8, 6, 6, 6
Leg presses 4 x 12, 10, 8, 6
Leg curls 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 10, 8, 6
Wide-grip chins 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Barbell rows 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Seated cable rows 3 x 10, 8, 6
Incline curls 3 x 10, 8, 6
Barbell curls 3 x 8, 6, 6
Wrist curls 4 x 12, 10, 8, 8

Wednesday 

Rest

Thursday

Bench presses 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Incline barbell presses 3 x 8, 6, 6
Incline flyes 3 x 10, 8, 6
Weighted dips 3 x 8, 6, 6
Seated dumbbell presses 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Seated lateral raises 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Upright rows 3 x 10, 8, 6
Power cleans 3 x 8, 6, 6
Close-grip bench presses 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Seated barbell extensions 3 x 8, 6, 6
Donkey calf raises 4 x 20
Leg press calf raises 3 x 15, 12, 10

Friday

Incline situps 3 x max
Incline knee raises 3 x max
Squats 4 x 12, 10, 8, 8
Front squats 3 x 10, 8, 6
Leg curls 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 10, 8, 6
Wide-grip chins 4 x 12, 10, 8, 6
One-arm dumbbell rows 3 x 8, 6, 6
T-bar rows 4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Hyperextensions 3 x 15-20
Seated dumbbell curls 3 x 10, 8, 6
Preacher curls 3 x 8, 6, 6
Wrist curls 4 x 12, 10, 8, 6

That’s a very intense routine. It took a lot of energy and commitment to do it four days a week, but it did the job of really packing on the muscle mass. Of course, I was only 20 years old when I was training like that, so I was able to recuperate much more quickly, and I didn’t have any injuries or joint problems to contend with. 

You asked about the repetition range you should use to build more mass. I recommend six to eight reps. You can see in the routine that I usually warmed up with 10 to 12 reps on the first set and then used a very heavy resistance for six to eight reps. 

When you use a weight that limits you to six to eight reps, you build a lot of strength because you’re pushing yourself to go heavier each week. You also build the maximum amount of muscle mass because you’re increasing the muscle fibers and specifically targeting the white, fast-twitch ones.

 Q: I live in Sialkot, Pakistan. I have been working out for three years in my home gym, yet my body is not growing. My shoulders, wings, biceps, triceps, upper chest, middle chest and lower chest are not big. My workout is very hard, as my chest routine shows, but I don’t see results in my body. Please tell me why.

Chest exercises:

1) Pushups 3 x 15
2) Incline dumbbell presses 3  x 12,10,8
3) Incline bench presses 3  x 12,10,8
4) Flat-bench presses 3 x 12,10,8
5) Flat-bench dumbbell presses 3 x 12,10,8
6) Flat-bench dumbbell flyes 3 x 12,10,8
7) Flat-bench pullovers 3 x 12,10,8

My coach has a gym as well. Here’s my workout schedule when I go there to train:

Monday and Thursday: chest and abs
Tuesday and Friday: shoulders, wings, back and abs
Wednesday and Saturday: back, triceps and abs

So here are my problems:

1) My upper body does not increase and does not show definition.
2) My chest is not balanced.
3) My abs are not good (fat problem).
I await your good advice.

A: I think I can give you some suggestions that will help you to achieve better results. Let’s look at your chest workout first. You’re using seven different chest exercises to build your chest—three sets for each exercise for a total of 21 sets of eight to 12 reps each. My philosophy for building muscle mass is to use the basic exercises with a heavy resistance—six to 10 reps—for a moderate number of sets. You also want to choose the correct exercises so you’re not training the same part of the muscle with similar exercises. 

Let’s look at the exercises you’re using for your chest routine and what areas of muscle they stimulate. Pushups work the outer pecs; incline dumbbell presses and incline barbell presses both work the upper pecs; flat-bench presses, flat-bench dumbbell bench presses and flat-bench flyes all work the outer pecs; and dumbbell pullovers work the upper-inner pecs and help in expanding the rib cage. 

My first suggestion is to cut back on the number of exercises you’re using. Choose one exercise for each part of the muscle. For your chest, use one basic exercise for the outer pecs, one for the upper pecs and one shaping exercise. For example, you could do barbell bench presses for your outer-middle pecs, incline dumbbell or barbell presses for your upper pecs and flat-bench flyes—more of an isolation and shaping exercise—for your outer pecs. 

Cutting back on the number of exercises and sets you use will give you more energy to put into the exercises. If you did four sets for bench presses, three sets for incline presses and three sets for flyes along with two sets of dumbbell pullovers, you’d be doing a total of 12 sets instead of 21.

The other factor for building more muscle mass is to progressively use more resistance in your workouts. You need to get stronger and stronger using the basic exercises in order to build more muscle mass. Every week you should attempt to use heavier weights or do more reps—in the six-to-10 rep range—with the same weight. If you’re using 300 pounds on bench presses for six to eight reps, your chest muscles will be much bigger than if you’re able to use only 200 pounds for six to eight reps. A stronger muscle is a bigger muscle. Remember that! 

I’d also suggest that you train more muscle groups in a workout so you don’t have to train six days a week. If you combined your chest, shoulders and triceps into one workout and your back and biceps into another workout, you’d get more work accomplished in one day, and you could use the other days of the week to rest and grow. By eliminating similar exercises, you’ll also be cutting back on the number of sets you do for each bodypart and will avoid overtraining. 

I also noticed that you’re not training your legs—a big mistake that many bodybuilders make when they begin training. The legs are the biggest muscle group in the body, and you’ll build more muscle all over by training legs heavy.

Start by doing full squats with a light weight to slowly build strength and size in your legs. If you have a leg press, you can do a few sets on it after you do your squats. Don’t forget to train hamstrings with leg curls and stiff-legged deadlifts. Here’s an example of how you could structure your workouts:

Monday and Thursday: Chest, shoulders, triceps, calves
Tuesday and Friday: Legs, back, biceps
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday: Rest 

Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at www.NaturalOlympia.com or send questions or comments to him via e-mail at John@NaturalOlympia.com. Look for John’s new DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, www.Home-Gym.com. You can send written correspondence to John Hansen, P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561.  IM

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