Whether you're trying to bulk up for a weightlifting competition or simply looking to add a bit of muscle mass, it all comes down to diet and exercise. Hitting the gym is crucial to bodybuilding, but it can be a little overwhelming if you're new to strength training. Follow these tips and you'll be a certified gym rat in no time.
Create a routine: When it comes to bodybuilding, you can't just wing it. It's not a great idea to walk into the gym and start lifting weights at random. Create a plan and write down your exercise routine before beginning your workout. This way, when you walk into the gym you know exactly what you need to get done and you don't waste time trying to figure out if you should be doing curls or squats. Once you create your workout routine, stick to it.
Train every muscle group: When creating your training plan, make sure that you include workouts for every muscle group. This means no skipping leg day, or any other part of the body, for that matter. To achieve the well-balanced physique that you are aiming for, it is crucial that you train every part of your body. Consider creating workout days for each muscle group. A well-balanced workout routine should include an arm day, a chest day, a leg day, and a back and shoulders day.
Continue to challenge your muscles: While it is crucial that you remain dedicated to your workout routine, it is also important that you continue to challenge yourself. If you feel that your workouts have become too easy, it's likely that you've reached a plateau. This means that you've gone two or more weeks without making any progress. To prevent a plateau, make sure that your routine is always evolving so that your muscles continue to grow. Consider increasing the weight of your strength exercises or changing the type of exercises you are performing.
Do supersets: A good way to challenge your muscles and switch up your training plan is to incorporate supersets into your workout. Supersets are when two exercises are performed back to back, effectively doubling the amount of work you are doing while keeping your recovery time the same. Exercises that oppose each other or use different ranges of movement are great for supersets. For instance, consider supersetting tricep dips with bicep curls.
Consider full-body training: Another great way to switch up your routine is to incorporate full-body training days into your workout plan. Trainers and strength coaches have long-debated the merits of full-body training versus split-body training. Some believe that full-body workouts build more muscle by working muscles more frequently, while others contend that focusing on only one or two body parts in each of your weekly workouts maximizes muscle gain. A good strategy may be to alternate between these two approaches, especially if you've plateaued with a particular approach.
Lift with the correct form: This is crucial not only to avoid injury, but to ensure you are building muscle in the most efficient manner. If you are new to weightlifting or are attempting a new exercise, don't be afraid to ask a gym employee for pointers. Additionally, if you are attempting a particularly heavy set of squats or bench presses, consider having a spotter for safety purposes. The spotter's purpose is to help you out if you reach the point where you are unable to lift the weights back to their original position.
Pay attention to the rule of failure: Be careful about pushing your muscles to absolute failure. Absolute failure means that you've completed as many reps of an exercise as you possibly can. Research has shown that consistently pushing your muscles to absolute failure is unnecessary to increase your muscle size and strength. It can also be very draining for your central nervous system and may force you to end your workout prematurely. A good rule of thumb is to lift to the point of technical failure, which means that you cannot perform another repetition without compromising your form. In other words, push yourself but remember to keep a rep or two in your back pocket.
Emphasize free weight exercises: There are plenty of machine exercises in gyms, but using free weights is a more effective way to build muscle mass. Dumbell and barbell exercises activate more muscles than machines and allow for a greater range of motion. While free weights should be at the core of your workout routine, feel free to add machine exercises as accessories and at the end of workouts when your muscles are more tired.
Prioritize your weaknesses: Say that you've got great biceps, but you know that your pectorals could use some work. Instead of going heavy on bicep exercises, focus on your pecs to create a well-rounded physique. After all, you're not going to improve your pec strength by ignoring them. At one point in his bodybuilding career, Arnold Schwarzenegger noticed that his calves had fallen behind the rest of his body in terms of muscle development. Rather than hiding this weakness, Schwarzenegger famously wore shorts to constantly remind himself to focus on his calf development.
Do not overtrain: Remember that your rest days are just as important as your training days when you're bodybuilding. If you don't let your body rest or your muscles to recover after workouts, you are simply breaking your body down and getting weaker instead of stronger. Make sure that you allow yourself at least two full days off a week and train each muscle group no more than two or three times a week.
Consume plenty of protein: Diet is just as important as exercise when bodybuilding. In order to build muscle you have to be in caloric surplus, meaning that you are consuming more calories than you are burning. To achieve caloric surplus, you should be eating more often and consuming plenty of protein. Consider having four to five meals a day, all of which should include some form of protein such as chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, and vegetables. Protein shakes are also great way to increase your protein consumption.
Avoid junk food: It is crucial not only that you are eating more than you normally would, but also that you are eating the right kind of food. Stay away from sweets, fatty foods, fried foods, refined carbs, and excessive alcohol consumption. Instead, consume quality foods such as lean proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Remember that your goal is to add muscle, not fat!
Use a calorie tracking app: When bodybuilding, it is important to keep track of your calories to ensure you maintain a caloric surplus. These days, it is easy to do this with the variety of calorie tracking apps available. Some of the best apps include MyFitnessPal, Lose It, FatSecret, Cron-o-meter, and SparkPeople.
Consider dietary supplements: Supplements are a great way to make the most out of your workouts and allow your body to perform at peak efficiency. One of the most widely used dietary supplements in the bodybuilding community is creatine, which provides your muscles with the boost of energy needed to perform an extra rep or two. There are many brands of creatine, but creatine monohydrate is the most effective. Caffeine is also a great supplement to decrease fatigue and allow you to push through your workouts. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, and pre-workout mixes. Just remember to use supplements such as caffeine, creatine, and pre-workout mixes in moderation.