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Bodybuilding Workouts: From Beginner to Advanced

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David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.

The Best Bodybuilding Workouts

So you’ve decided to hit the gym and put on some muscle. Or maybe you’ve been training for a while but need some guidance as to the best way to train to maximize your results. Either way, here are four tried and proven bodybuilding workouts that will take you from beginner all the way to advanced bodybuilder:

For Beginners and Early Intermediates – The Full Body Workout

If you are just starting out or have not been training for very long you will make the most progress in the fastest time by working your entire body three times per week.

This is not as hard as it sounds as you can work all your major muscle groups quite effectively with just three movements – a squat or a deadlift variation together with an upper body push and an upper body pull. This is all you will really need when you are just starting out, but later you can add in some direct arm work at the end of your workouts if you wish.

You should not do the same workout each time you train though as this will soon lead to recovery issues, so alternate two different full body workouts over your three weekly sessions. And later on you could even do three different workouts if you wish.

For more information on this type of training see my article on the full body workout.

For Intermediates – The Upper/Lower Split

When you have been training consistently for a year or so, and have made some decent gains, you will probably find you'll be able to continue to make progress much better if you split your body up a bit. However, a basic upper/lower split is all that most people need in order to get the best results.

If you train all of your upper body on the same day, however, it will end up taking longer than your lower body workouts, so what I tend to do is add biceps to my lower body days. This works well because biceps respond particularly well to more frequent training, and with this setup they get indirect training on your upper body days (from your back work) and direct training on your lower body days.

With an upper/lower split you can either train three days per week, alternating two different workouts, or four days per week, using two different workouts for upper body and two different workouts for lower body.

An example of the later type of routine is as follows:

Monday – Upper Body

  • Bench Press 3 X 5 – 7
  • One Arm Dumbbell Row 3 X 6 – 8
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 X 6 – 8
  • Triceps Pressdowns 3 X 8 – 10

Wednesday – Lower Body + Biceps

  • Squats 3 X 6 – 8
  • Leg Curl 3 X 8 – 10
  • Calf Raise 4 X 8 – 10
  • Barbell Curl 3 X 8 – 10

Friday – Upper Body

  • Overhead Press 3 X 6 – 8
  • Pull-Ups 3 X 8 – 10
  • Incline Dumbbell Press 3 X 6 – 8
  • Parallel Bar Dips 2 X 10 – 12

Saturday – Lower Body + Biceps

  • Deadlifts 2 X 5 – 7
  • Leg Press 2 X 10 – 12
  • Seated Calf Raise 4 X 10 – 12
  • Preacher Curl 3 X 10 – 12

You’ll need to do a couple of warm-up sets before the work sets listed in order to properly prepare your body for the heavier work, and also to help avoid injury. And when you reach the top end of the recommended rep range for all your sets of a particular exercise, increase the weight you are using a little on your next workout.

For Late Intermediates and Advanced – The Legs/Push/Pull Workout

This is a three day split where you train your legs (thighs and calves) on one day, your pushing muscles (chest, shoulders and triceps) on your next training day, and your pulling muscles (back and biceps) on your third day. With this program you can either train three days per week (so each body part is being trained just once per week), or four days per week, alternating the workouts. The later method will give you faster results, as you’ll be training each body part more often, yet due to the structure of the workouts you’ll still have plenty of time for recovery.

An example of a legs/push/pull workout routine is as follows:

Day 1 – Quads, Hamstrings, Calves

  • Squats 3 X 6 – 8
  • Leg Press 2 X 10 – 12
  • Romanian Deadlifts 2 X 10 – 12
  • Leg Curls 2 X 8 – 10
  • Calf Raise 4 X 8 – 10
  • Seated Calf Raise 4 X 10 – 12

Day 2 – Chest, Shoulders, Triceps

  • Bench Press 3 X 5 – 7
  • Incline Dumbbell Press 3 X 8 – 10
  • Cable Crossovers 3 X 10 – 12
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 X 6 – 8
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3 X 10 – 12
  • Triceps Pressdowns 3 X 8 – 10
  • Overhead Dumbbell Extension 3 X 10 – 12

Day 3 – Back, Biceps

  • Deadlifts 2 X 5 – 7
  • Pull-Ups 3 X 6 – 8
  • One Arm Dumbbell Row 3 X 6 – 8
  • Close Neutral Grip Pulldowns 3 X 8 – 10
  • Face Pulls 2 X 10 – 12
  • Barbell Curl 3 X 8 – 10
  • Preacher Curl 3 X 10 – 12

Remember to do your warm-up sets first, and increase the weight a little when you can do all your sets of a particular exercise for the top end of the recommended rep range. You may not need to do warm-ups for every exercise, however, as once you have done, for example, your bench presses, your chest will already be well warmed up, so you may not need warm-up sets for your incline dumbbell presses. The same applies for your other body parts as well.

And although you should be looking to increase your weights on a regular basis, you will sometimes encounter a plateau; that is a time when your progress comes to a halt. To rectify this you will need to de-load, i.e. reduce your weights by about 10% and build back up again.

For Advanced Bodybuilders – The Four Way Split

Once you have built a good amount of muscle size and strength, you will be training with much heavier weights, and will require more recovery time between workouts for the same body part. So now you should split your body into four parts and train each just once per week, so you will be training four days per week in total. There are a number of ways you could do this, but the one that I prefer is the Dorian Yates split, which is as follows:

Chest & Biceps/Legs/Shoulders & Triceps/Back

This routine separates all of the main muscle groups into their own days and pairs them up and arranges them in a sequence that is designed to minimize overlap and maximize recovery, which is particularly important for the advanced trainee.

An example of this type of workout split is as follows:

Day 1 – Chest & Biceps

  • Bench Press 3 X 5 – 7
  • Incline Dumbbell Press 3 X 8 – 10
  • Machine Flye 3 X 10 – 12
  • Barbell Curl 3 X 8 – 10
  • Preacher Curl 3 X 10 – 12

Day 2 – Thighs & Calves

  • Squats 3 X 6 – 8
  • Leg Press 3 X 10 – 12
  • Romanian Deadlifts 2 X 10 – 12
  • Leg Curls 3 X 8 – 10
  • Calf Raise 3 X 8 – 10
  • Seated Calf Raise 3 X 10 – 12

Day 3 – Shoulders & Triceps

  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 X 6 – 8
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3 X 10 – 12
  • Bent-Over Lateral Raise 3 X 10 – 12
  • Triceps Pressdowns 3 X 8 – 10
  • Overhead Dumbbell Extension 3 X 10 – 12

Day 4 – Back

  • Deadlifts 2 X 5 – 7
  • Pull-Ups 3 X 6 – 8
  • One Arm Dumbbell Row 3 X 6 – 8
  • Close Neutral Grip Pulldowns 3 X 8 – 10
  • Dumbbell Shrugs 3 X 10 – 12

Again, remember to do your warm-up sets first, increase the weights you are using when appropriate and de-load when necessary.

So, there you have four excellent bodybuilding workout plans designed to give you the maximum results in the minimum amount of time, depending on the level you are currently at. There are many others of course, but these are the most effective. So pick the one that’s right for you, combine it with a good muscle building diet and some proven bodybuilding supplements, and get started. Any questions? Just ask them in the comments below.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on April 20, 2014:

Thanks Neil. Yes deadlifts are one of my favorite lifts, and they are certainly my best lift. They are a tremendous exercise.

Neil Cook from United States on April 19, 2014:

Deadlifts will do wonders for you as a bodybuilder. Some even call them the "King" of bodybuilding workouts. I'm glad that you included them in your article. Good stuff! Source: http://bestbarbells.com

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