Do’s + Dont’s For The Novice Bodybuilder

By: Casey Davis, ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer

If you are reading this blog post you are either someone that is A.) into bodybuilding or B.) someone that is interested in bodybuilding. Keep in mind when I say bodybuilding that does not mean that you have to get shredded, oiled up, and pose on stage in front of people. Bodybuilding is for anyone that is interested in sculpting their body to look a certain way. If you are trying to build a bigger chest or bigger legs, you are building up your body, in other words, bodybuilding. I am hear to help you streamline your success in the gym and explain to you the “do’s and don’ts” of your hypertrophy programming.

For many of us the gym is our outlet. It’s the part of the day we look forward too. We look back on where we started and remember how skinny or how overweight we were and how much we’ve progressed, but many of us (including myself) find at some point in our journey we plateau. We were making such awesome progress and now the scale isn’t going up or down, strength isn’t increasing and we start to lose motivation. Why is that? Are we tapped out on our genetic potential? No. Most likely what we were doing in the gym that brought all this success is no longer working. Our bodies have adapted. Majority of the time this wall that we hit is just a lack of structure or a lack of knowledge in the gym. The next few paragraphs I will be breaking down some key points to focus on to help you progress.

How Much Is Too Much?

One of the most common reasons people stop progressing in the gym is they are simply just doing too much. Joe Smo and Sally Sue are working out 5 to 6 days a week, doing 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps on 7 to 8 different exercises per muscle group. That is a lot of volume, especially for someone that is a beginner. Most people don’t eat enough, sleep enough, or have the overall recovery capabilities to support this kind of volume. Sure you’ve made some decent progress running that 12 week cookie cutter program that you got off of some website (which was probably designed by an advanced athlete who, let’s be real, most likely doesn’t even follow this program), but that does not mean that’s what you should be doing.

So where does this leave us?

I would recommend depending on training age (how advanced you are in the gym) that you train a single muscle group with 6 to 12 working sets each week. To put this into perspective, if you were running a push, pull, and leg split (training each group 2x a week) this would approximately put you at 1 to 2 working sets for 3 to 4 exercises 2x a week for each muscle group. This may sound extremely low volume (which it probably is compared to what you are used to), but you have to keep in mind these are all out ‘everything you’ve got kind’ of sets! This will allow you to progress and recover without overtraining.

Progressive Overload and Log books are your best friends!

Now that we’ve figured out how many sets we should be utilizing each week in our programming we need to discuss how to continue to progress these sets. The progressive overload principle states that in order for a muscle to grow, strength to be gained, performance to increase, or any other similar improvements to occur that the human body must be forced to adapt to a tension above what it has previously experienced. Meaning, you cannot perform the same amount of weight for the same amount of reps and sets forever expecting change. You need to introduce a new stress or stimulus to the muscle for it to change, otherwise it will adapt and no further change will occur. The rep range I usually prescribe to clients looking to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy) and strength is a 6 to 12 rep range.

The first week or two of your programming will be centered around figuring out how strong you are in specific lifts, or establishing a baseline of strength. Once you know what your baselines are with each exercise, you need to try to progress each lift every workout through either A) load (overall weight used), B) reps or, C) execution (better form).

Common sense says that you will not be able to remember weights and reps used for each workout of your program. That is where the log book comes into play. This is a tool that I believe must be in every serious lifters gym bag. How do you know where you are going if you don’t have direction? This tool will help you to progress, keep you honest, and accountable. Go get a log book and start using it! The way the logbook should be used is… 1) write down the workout for the day 2) record weights and reps used for each working set and 3) after you finish a full cycle of workouts, turn back and look at how much weight you used for a given exercise and try to beat the log book by increasing load, reps, or overall execution of the lift. Some other things to consider is training frequency, exercise selection, exercise sequencing, specific rest periods, and R.P.E.’s, but we will save that for my next blog (Hypertrophy 101: The Do’s and Don’ts For The Advanced Bodybuilder).

Don’t Sleep On Sleep {And Nutrition}!

The final point I’ll leave you with today has to do with optimizing your recovery and performance. The Dr. always said things like “get your 8 hours of sleep” and “eat your veggies”! The Doc was right. When we don’t make nutrition and sleep a priority in our programming our training performance, energy, and overall well being will fall victim. Nutrition is what is going to aid in fueling our workouts, ignite lean tissue growth, and help our muscle recovery be more efficient. What you should be eating and how much of it is a whole other topic, but you need to make sure that it’s enough to support your activity and fitness goals. When it comes to sleep we should be aiming to get at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night (everyone is different and will need more or less). Sleep is when our bodies heal and grow. Our body releases anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone into the bloodstream which outside of the nutrition component is what pushes recovery and growth. With that said… don’t sleep on sleep (and nutrition), it is just as important as training!

To conclude this blog… don’t make things overly complicated. Stick to the principles that are tried and true and work for you and your fitness goals. I guarantee you that if you stick to these key points (continually progressing weights in the gym, not overtraining, and keeping your nutrition and sleep in check) you will progress and be able to conquer your current goals!

  • Coach Casey