Bodybuilding is a newer sport, so there’s not a ton of information out there quite yet about how to make sure your newly started bodybuilding journey is as efficient as possible.
In this article, we will be giving you 20 Tips for Bodybuilding Beginners. And these are all tips that I wish someone told me when I first stepped into the gym!
Hopefully, this list helps you, and please comment below if you have any advice you’d like me to add to this list.
#1 – It’s All About Muscle Tension NOT Strength
Bodybuilding is a sport that’s all about actually building the aesthetic look of the body itself.
It’s about that beach bod, you know? The goal is to look like a Greek god, it’s not about just raw strength like powerlifting is.
I know most people find a healthy medium between aesthetics and strength, but for the most part- to actually look good, the process is a lot different than you think.
It’s all about muscle tension, and not about strength. Put less weight on the bar, and focus on doing SLOWER reps that make your muscles EXPLODE.
There’s a reason that when you do bicep long head exercises they tell you to squeeze your biceps at the top- it’s all about overloading the muscle, not the actual weight.
To grow muscle, you need to do what is called progressive overload. You need to shock the muscle, in Arnold’s terms.
And yes, while heavier weight does help progressive overload, to really develop that shredded and defined muscle, you need to overload the muscles themselves by overworking them as hard as you can. Here are some things to follow:
- Squeeze the muscle throughout the whole rep.
- Make sure to stretch the muscle fully. (MAXIMIZE range of motion)
- Slow down the reps.
- Make sure to use mind-muscle connection during your whole set.
It gets much more complicated than that- but those are some good ground rules to follow.
#2 – You NEED To GAIN Weight, NOT Lose It!
A lot of people (and understandably so) think you need to focus on eating less and eating a lot of vegetables.
This is actually completely wrong. While vegetables (like broccoli and its cancer-fighting abilities) are great for bodybuilding- as counterintuitive as it may sound- you want to GAIN weight when you are bodybuilding, not lose it!
(Just to be clear, you can still eat these vegetables, just make sure you’re eating other foods too, so you gain weight)
This is because muscle can’t come out of thin air. It’s the thing they taught you in science class, The Law of Conservation of Mass. Your muscles cannot pop out of thin air, you need to turn a surplus of food into that surplus of muscle.
Don’t worry, for the most part- you won’t really put on fat. Even if you’re dirty bulking early on, you’ll basically grow only muscle. It’s estimated that a new bodybuilder can put on nearly 22 pounds of muscle in their first year, so unless you somehow gain more than 22 pounds a year- you will put on little fat.
But, without gaining that weight, no muscle will ever grow. If you’ve been in the gym working hard for around a month and you start to grow weaker (you can’t lift as much) that’s a sign you aren’t eating enough.
Also, make sure to get enough protein every day!
#3 – You Don’t Need Protein Shakes or Bars
I know it seems that everyone that workouts drinks protein shakes daily.
The truth is, you don’t need protein shakes, bars, or anything like that.
Which seems so strange- right? Why does everybody use them if you don’t really need them?
Well, big companies spend millions of dollars convincing you that you need these products to grow muscle. You really don’t.
The truth is, protein powders and stuff are just good for HELPING you reach that protein goal. If you can get that protein through normal food, then there is no reason to use protein powder.
Protein powder is better for people that are busier throughout the day and can’t really get time to cook or to a restaurant with high-protein foods.
Otherwise, there’s no difference between the protein in your powder or your eggs.
So don’t think you need to go out there and spend a ton of money on protein powder and bars. When I started out, my school lunch was one of the best sources of protein I could get- namely because it was free.
Save yourself some money and eat as much protein as you can at home, it will save you money instead of dropping a ton of money on powders.
#4 – It’s much easier and cheaper to cook meat than you think, even if you’re a teen.
Look, when I started bodybuilding when I was 16- I had virtually no idea how to cook at all. And I had no idea how expensive or difficult it might be to start cooking meat, so I just avoided it.
We all know that bodybuilders need around 120g of protein a day, and meat is the best source of this. Just for reference, a single chicken breast can get you nearly 30-40g of protein, and most of those are pretty small.
Yet, I was scared to start cooking meat and stuff on my own. I thought it’d be really expensive and complicated.
But, the truth is, even as a teenager- it turned out that cooking meat was much easier and cheaper than I thought.
Since I know some of you are in my shoes wondering how you’re supposed to cook off so much meat without breaking the bank- here’s my advice:
Go to the store (like Target, Walmart, even Amazon) and pick up a small and cheap ‘George Foreman Electric Grill’. It will run you about $20-30, and all you have to do is plug this thing into any wall outlet.
It doesn’t take up much space, it is super easy to clean, and it will cook your meat fast.
Speaking of meat, turns out- it’s actually really cheap if you know what to get.
If you want to get the less commonly bought meat like Spare Ribs or Chicken Thighs- you’ll save even more money. I bought something like 8 chicken thighs for $4 one time, and that was a ton of protein. (Even if it wasn’t my favorite meat, it was still chicken!)
But, for the most part, you’ll just want to shop around for some deals. For instance, I just got 2 pounds of ground beef for $2 at my local Kwik Trip. And here or there at Target, you’ll see something like 8-9 chicken breasts on sale for $6-7.
The truth is if they don’t sell it- they just have to throw it. They NEED someone to buy that and just stick it in their freezer for a few months so they can at least break even on the meat sale.
So whenever I’m out and I see a good deal like that, I’ll get that and just shove it in my freezer.
Then, when I need the meat- I’ll defrost it in the microwave for about 1-2 minutes until it’s kind of ‘thawed’, then slam it on the George Foreman electric grill.
Around 8 minutes later you’ll have a perfectly cooked and nutritious dinner in front of you. Plus, there’s no complicated clean-up or anything. Honestly, all you really have to do is empty the drip tray and you’re good.
So, if you were like me and were super worried about somehow fitting in all of this protein to your diet out of nowhere, don’t stress it. Just follow my advice:
- Get the $25 small George Foreman electric grill.
- Plug it in, it doesn’t take up much counter space.
- Get some cheap meat you like at the store that’s on sale, defrost it from the freezer when you need it.
- Throw it on the George Foreman, cook for a bit, then eat. (Obviously season it!!)
- There’s no complicated clean up or anything with this. You just kind of stow it away.
- Repeat as many times as you need. I usually find myself cooking a ton of different chicken breasts, steaks, fish, and beef patties throughout the day. I honestly just buy meat that’s on sale to not break the bank.
It really is that simple!
Now, obviously, this isn’t the tastiest way to do it. But when it comes to bodybuilding, it’s all about the nutrients- not the taste. And this is the most time-efficient way to do it.
(It doesn’t taste bad necessarily, but it won’t be Gordon Ramsay levels per se)
#5 – Compound Lifts Are Your Best Friend For Growing Muscle
We all want to put on as much muscle in as short of a time as possible. I mean, that’s just common sense.
Now, the best way to do this is to do those compound lifts in your workout program.
Look, I know they suck, but they are hands down the best way to put on muscle, scientifically.
Overhead presses, bench presses, barbell rows, squats, and deadlifts are all mass building monsters. They activate and grow so many muscles in your body that other exercises simply cannot replicate.
Just doing 5 sets of 5 reps for squats will do so much more than just the quadricep extension and hamstring curl machines can do for you. (It’s a good idea to do both squats and the machines to get good muscle growth)
Overhead presses are the best for turning your shoulders into boulders, there’s no argument on this stuff.
If you want to really put on muscle, don’t skip those compound lifts.
#6 – Your Triceps Make Your Arms Look Bigger, Not Your Biceps
We ALL want to have bigger arms. But, doing bicep curls isn’t actually the way to do that.
I know it sounds crazy, but nearly 70% of your arm size is from your triceps, NOT your biceps. I made the same mistake when I first started working out!
I barely worked my triceps at all and only focused on biceps as I wanted BIG ARMS. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way- 6 months later, I still had tiny arms.
If you want to have big arms, of course, you need to work out your biceps, but your triceps should be your priority. Doing dips, tricep extensions, et cetera are all movements that will grow your triceps.
When these start growing, the overall ‘size’ of your arm grows. This is what makes your arms look gigantic for the ladies.
#7 – Supersets Save Time and Build More Muscle
I love my time in the gym- just like anyone does. But, most of us can agree that we would rather not spend 2-3 hours a day in the gym.
So, it’s time to start super-setting.
Supersets save time and build more muscle. Super setting just means that after you get done with one exercise, you do a different exercise in the meantime- instead of just sitting around twiddling your thumbs.
Honestly, supersets sound awesome when you put it that way. You just use your downtime to be more efficient.
That’s why I am very surprised supersets aren’t more common. I think most people don’t do it just because they think it will ruin their muscle growth or something.
But the truth is, supersets save a ton of time in the gym (usually they cut my workout time down by 40-50%) and they actually cause your muscles to be overloaded more, resulting in slightly more muscle growth.
So, let’s give an example of this so you understand it.
Say you just did some bicep curls. Instead of just sitting at the machine waiting 1-2 minutes before your next set, you just walk over and do tricep extensions in the meantime. It’s a great use of your time and will help put more muscle on in the long run.
Then, when you’re done with the tricep extensions, you just go back to your curls.
I’m surprised this isn’t more common.
#8 – Creatine is Your Friend, It’s Easy to Take, and Natural
When I first started bodybuilding, it seemed impossible to really find any reliable information about creatine.
And still, to this day- it kinda is like that. You got big companies that pay Google millions to put their ads everywhere on the search engine to spam you and almost force you into buying their product.
And that just kinda makes it all…suspicious.
So, here’s the truth:
Creatine is natural. In fact, it’s in all of the meat you eat. The more creatine you have, more or less the more water gets put in your muscles. This just makes you look bigger and has no effect on strength- and it will not cause muscle loss if you stop taking creatine. You honestly don’t have to take much every day, but the aesthetic results speak for themselves.
Most supplement companies recommend taking a scoop which will be around 5 grams, I honestly find myself just taking less (closer to 2 grams) just to save money and it kind of has the same results.
Yes, you do need to stay hydrated because that creatine will put more stress on your kidneys if you’re not hydrated.
Some science shows that you’ll get a tiny increase in muscle growth with creatine use, but it’s still up in the air.
So- what should you do? Buy a cheap bag/tub of creatine, take 2 grams a day, stay hydrated, and you’ll see a noticeable increase in how ripped you look. It isn’t a huge difference, but it’s definitely there.
You’ll most likely notice the creatine kicking in when you’ve been on a cut for a while and you finally go to the pool or something, that’s when you’ll really see the shred.
#9 – Don’t Let People in The Gym Intimidate You – It’s More Common Than You Think
If you’re new to the gym, or you’ve just started bodybuilding- you may have already seen some of this.
Much bigger (trust me, they’re much smaller than you think) guys sit there and stare at you, shoulder check you, get in your way, or grunt and try to intimidate you.
Thankfully, this is very rare, but it is still more common than most people think. I’d say 1 in every 100 people in the gym is going to be like this.
Look, you’re in a spot where people are usually taking performance enhancers, have crazy hormones, are mad at something, or are on a ton of pre-workout.
MOST OF THE TIME, again, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, these guys are not actually trying to intimidate you, but are just pumped up on caffeine or something and don’t even notice you. (they’re not doing it on purpose, or doing it towards YOU specifically)
However, there is always some punk that tries to intimidate new lifters. Look, most people coming to the gym are there for body dysmorphia reasons anyway, they likely have low self-esteem. These guys are bullies just trying to feel better than you.
Don’t let these people intimidate you. Laugh them off and continue your work out in peace. Tell the gym staff about it, call 911 if they keep threatening you- but by God do not let them stop you from working out again.
Truthfully, striking up a conversation with these guys is the best way to get them to stop intimidating you. In most cases when I run into tools like this, I just try to compliment them in some way to stroke their ego (sick bicep pump bro), and more often than not they will like suddenly be your best friend.
I get it, I am feeding into them a bit and I shouldn’t be- but this is the way that resolves it without conflict and just gets rid of the problem entirely.
Trust me guys, I have had literal physical altercations in the gym that have resulted in law enforcement and court being involved. Just stroking the guys ego 99% of the time gets them to leave me alone or even start smiling at me instead of being all weird.
Don’t let these guys scare you out of the gym. It’s a shared space that you’re both paying for. (Check out how to get access to multiple gyms for just $25/month)
Talk to the gym owners, mind your business, or strike up a conversation with them, or call 911 if it gets that bad, file for a restraining order, even SWITCH GYMS. But PLEASE do NOT quit working out because of them. They only do this because they’re jealous of what you’ll become in a few years with hard work.
There’s a reason Planet Fitness’s Lunk Alarm and their ads for it have been so effective, people like this are real.
#10 – Machines Are Your Friend
I know a ton of people in the bodybuilding world get told by their friends when they start out to just skip machines and focus on barbells and dumbbells.
While using dumbbells and barbells are core components of any workout program, machines are also great. In fact, I’d say MOST of my muscle growth is from machines themselves.
The key is to use machines correctly.
Don’t skip your work out program’s core guidelines of barbell overhead presses, bench presses, squats, etcetera- this is the most important stuff of your program.
After you get that stuff done, using machines that mimick those movements to further stress your muscles and put more tension on them. This will basically force muscle growth out of you.
Here’s what I recommend:
Let’s say you just did some grueling overhead presses. Now, you want to use the overhead press machine to do volume sets where you are able to press a lot more without having to worry about a barbell smacking you on the head. And during this, you want to superset the machine with side lateral raises.
Now, you are overloading your shoulder muscles completely, using the machine effectively, and you’ll get a ton of muscle growth in return for it.
So, don’t stray away from the machines like ‘the guy at the gym’ told you to. They are great for muscle growth, when you use them correctly.
Now, replacing your barbell sets with machine sets is the completley wrong idea. That is when machines aren’t effective.
Use them correctly, and they will pay off!
#11 – It’s OKAY To Eat Junk Food Here or There
I think we can all name a guy in our gym or friend group that will cause a literal SCENE if you are caught eating anything other than Fire Roasted Asparagus with Unseasoned Chicken Breast.
Yep, picture him screaming at you? DUDE YOU’RE GOING TO KILL YOUR GAINS, YOU’RE GOING TO PUT ON A TON OF FAT BRO. WHAT ARE YOU DOING BRO?
The truth is, it’s okay to eat junk food here or there. In fact, I recommend it.
Pizza, ice cream, pasta, are all foods that are junk food- but are actually good for bodybuilding. Most of my diet in my off-season (where you try to gain weight) consists of junk food. It’s honestly much cheaper and easier to eat than 50 grilled chickens every day.
And I’m not the only one, Rich Piana would always be caught eating Ben and Jerry’s every day, and he had one of the biggest arms and one of the best physiques in the bodybuilding world.
So, don’t listen to your friend. Junk food is okay in moderation, and can help you put on muscle.
#12 – Sleep and Take Rest Days or You’ll PAY For It
I’ll keep this one short and simple.
I know many of us want to be that macho man that is always on his grind in the gym. It can literally be addicting to be picking up those heavy weights and feeling stronger every day you get in there.
But, you need to sleep well and take rest days or you’ll pay for it.
Take it from me, I was having a bad week where I was sleeping only maybe 4 hours a night. I was using the gym as a way to get my mind off of things (which isn’t always a bad thing). The problem was- I was going way too hard for the way the too little amount of sleep and rest I had.
Suddenly, I injured myself very badly. Keep in mind, I was an 18-year-old athlete that had been lifting for years without injury before. I literally somehow pulled my back muscle over my wingbone, I could barely even breathe it hurt so bad.
I had to take weeks and even close to a full month off of the gym, and I still didn’t feel recovered.
If you don’t want to sleep well or take rest days, your body will force you to the hard way. Don’t risk injury by trying to be all macho.
Oh also- just so you know- if you don’t take enough rest days or sleep well, you won’t grow muscle.
Here’s a famous saying you should jot down: “You don’t grow any muscle in the gym, only outside of it”.
Basically, it’s hinting at the fact that you don’t grow muscle by the actual lifting process, it’s the eating and sleeping process that finally lets your body grow that muscle.
#13 – Plateaus Suck, Here’s How To Get Out of One
At one point or another, you’ll plateau.
While you probably won’t see this in your first few months of lifting, perhaps 4-5 months in you’ll finally hit your first plateau where you’re just kind of confused why the weight isn’t going up.
I will tell you the dirtiest secret in all of bodybuilding, and the real way to get out of a plateau: time. Your body will win, you just need to wait.
Trust me, your body doesn’t want to sit at a plateau, it sees that as being inefficient with energy. So, you need to internalize that mindset that this is a long-term game. Treat it as such.
Don’t go in there trying to outlift it and injure yourself. That won’t work.
What you need to do is slightly increase your calories, take a few extra rest days, sleep even more, and slowly work through it by adding different accessory exercises in.
So, let’s say I get stuck on a squat plateau. I will take 2 extra rest days, increase my calories by 200 each day, sleep an extra hour every night, and then do some additional lunges, calf exercises, and glute exercises.
Trust me, take this slow and steady, then you’ll see that plateau disappear. I think too many people get focused on trying to beat the plateau itself that they injure themselves trying or set their body up for success.
Your body wants to win that war and put on that muscle, you just need to be the one who sets it up to win- not lose.
#14 – Internalize It’s a long term game.
As beginners, we have a tendency to think we are doing something wrong if we don’t see a lot of muscle in the first few months.
With any other sport, if you aren’t doing things right within the first few months, it shows.
The problem is, with bodybuilding, is that even when you’re doing everything right- it doesn’t show. And that’s why there are so few bodybuilders out there.
I mean, just looking at my article, How Long Does It Take To Be a Bodybuilder? and you’ll see that this is a long-term haul. It can take literal years before people even think you look ‘buff’.
This sport isn’t for the weak. When you suddenly don’t look like one of the famous bodybuilders after one month of weight lifting, don’t knock yourself down- realize you need to keep working hard.
Now, if after 3 months you haven’t increased strength or muscle at all, like AT ALL, then something is wrong on your end. Likely, you aren’t eating enough (the most common problem for bodybuilders). Just get some more food in you and keep going.
#15 – It’s All About Consistency, The Only Bad Workout is One You DIdnt Do
Bodybuilding is a really tough sport in the sense that it’s very unforgiving.
Many of you will realize this right away. The sport directly reflects the effort and time you are putting into the gym and your diet. You can’t really blame anyone else if you are falling behind.
Because of this, I see a ton of new bodybuilders freaking out and thinking it’s the end of the world if they miss a day or have a bad workout.
If there is anything we senior bodybuilders can tell you, it’s that the sport is all about consistency. Going to the gym 4-5 days a week, even if a few of those workouts are poor, is much better than going irregularly and randomly or even not at all! You can’t do one good workout a week, and then expect muscle to come.
It’s better to do 4-5 moderate-intensity workouts rather than 1-2 super high-intensity ones per week. As backward as it sounds, the bodybuilding game is all about consistency.
I think most people are way too hard on themselves about having bad workouts. We all have them from time to time, sometimes we are sick, ill, or dealing with some personal stuff. But, I want you to remember this:
“The only bad workout is one you never did”.
Even if you got some serious things going on at home, and you’re still hitting the gym, even if you’re much weaker- this is good. Obviously, it’s a good idea to take a rest day, but people underestimate how much your muscles get worked just by you doing even a sloppy workout.
A lot of our bodybuilding routines are designed to get every last fiber of our muscles broken. They are designed to bring you to 100% muscle failure at the end of your workout, even a sloppy version of these workouts are very impactful in the long run.
So, if you have a bad workout, don’t get too hard on yourself. Just keep staying consistent with it all and the muscle will keep coming.
#16 – We All Have Different Body Types
I know that all of us will just trust what the other big guys in the gym say. This isn’t a bad idea- but do keep in mind that bodybuilding is a sport that changes drastically from person to person.
I learned this the hard way. I spent way too long trying to turn out how my friends did, without realizing we all have different body types.
I learned I, personally, have a much ‘bulkier’ physique. I’m not really the ‘lean and mean’ kind of guy, my body type looks much better around 13% body fat. The best way to describe how I look is (as some hot girl at a restaurant told me) “stocky and buff”.
But, if I try to get down to 7% body fat, I just look really bad.
Meanwhile, my friend Scott looks fantastic at 7% bod fat, and likewise when he goes above that it doesn’t look so good.
That’s when I had to just learn that each of us have different body types and we all look different.
I mean, even look at the stars on stage. While they all look phenomenal, they aren’t all carbon copies of each other- they are all different in their own way.
So, if you aren’t looking exactly like your friends or a famous bodybuilder-don’t worry. We’re all different.
#17 – Listen To Your Body
As I mentioned above, bodybuilding is a sport where everybody is a little different on the inside.
Because of this, you need to listen to your body and what works well for it. Don’t spend all your time focusing on following the programs perfectly.
If there is an exercise that feels better or works better for your body, do that instead of another one that may feel uncomfortable.
For instance, I LOVE skullcrushers, but none of my friends like them at all, they hate how they feel and just don’t feel the muscles activating. Meanwhile, they all LOVE the overhead tricep dumbbell extensions, and I cannot do those, I just don’t feel any muscle activation at all.
That’s just an example. All of our bodies are a little different, so some exercises may work better for you than they do for me. That’s perfectly okay, adjust your workout programs as needed.
So, the bottom line is to be a little flexible with your programs. It’s okay for a few changes to make it better for your body.
#18 – Don’t Skip Working Out Your Back
Almost all of us new bodybuilders skip working out our back.
And I mean, it kinda makes sense. Most of us don’t really see our back muscles growing, we don’t really feel our back when we are working out, and most of us are more focused on our arms to impress the ladies.
But, the truth is, if you skip working out your back, you will pay for it dearly.
Overtime not working out your back will seriously mess you up.
First of all, your physique will look worse in the long run- trust me.
But the biggest thing is actually this weird problem that develops that essentially like ruins your shoulders. Your shoulders will naturally start to roll forward, causing you to have horrible posture.
Down the road, this actually can develop into a very serious medical condition that can cause serious impingement and injury of tissues in your shoulder socket.
#19 – Cardio Does NOT Kill Your Gains!
For some reason, there’s a weird belief that cardio stops your muscle growth.
This is completely wrong. The truth is, literally every single bodybuilder that competes does cardio.
Cardio is critical in keeping your heart healthy, fat low, and your body in good shape.
But, the idea that cardio kills gains is not true at all. While this myth has (thankfully) subsided a little bit- if anyone tells you this, just ignore them.
#20 – Have FUN! There Are Ways To Make Lifting Fun with Friends
To most of us, just lifting weights itself can be fun. And most of us are doing it for other reasons, like a hobby to get our mind off of things.
But, there are a lot of ways to make lifting fun with friends- while still putting on muscle.
Hitting PRs and having friends hype you up always creates memorable experiences.
But, pushing each other in the gym or playing lifting games is a great way to make lifting fun while still putting on muscle.
My friends used to play this game of “21”. You and your friend face each other with the barbell, then you start the game. You lift it for 1 rep, then your friend lifts it for 2 reps, then he hands it back to you and you lift it for three, then you hand it to him for 4 reps. And well, you go back and forth until one of you hits 21 reps.
It sounds easy at first, but it gets INCREDIBLY difficult, there’s no rest and you’re doing literally hundreds of reps. Now, I don’t even know how safe this exercise is, but me and my buddies always have a ton of fun with it. We usually get games of 3-4 people doing this, and it gets intense.
It’s always fun when someone is struggling or drops the barbell and everybody enjoys it. Plus, it’s one of the best bicep exercises you can do. Your arms will be SORE, and that’s an understatement.
My point is, you don’t have to think of the gym as some solitary confinement. Even if the gym lowkey looks like a prison- you can still have a good time and grow muscle at the same time.
Conclusion of The Top 20 Bodybuilding Tips for Beginners
Hopefully, this list helped you. I tried to put myself in the shoes of my old self when I first stepped in the weight room and think of all the mistakes I made that I wish someone would have told me ahead of time. It would have saved me countless time, effort, and money! Plus, I’d have a lot more muscle.
Let me know in the comments below if there is anything I should add- and I will put it in and credit you!
Thank you for reading.