How To Train Like A Bodybuilder

Bodybuilding isn’t a sport where you can just go into the gym, pick up heavy things, and expect to succeed.

In fact, bodybuilding has a very specialized form of training that requires intense dedication every single day you step into the gym.

So, here’s how to train like a bodybuilder:

To train like a bodybuilder, you need to emphasize ‘hypertrophy’ training instead of strength training. You can do this by squeezing your muscles on reps, overloading your muscles with low rest times, and ‘confusing the muscle’- As Arnold Schwarzenegger would put it.

Let’s cover a ton of different ways you can change your exercise habits to truly train like a bodybuilder.

How to train like a bodybuilder. Photo by Sabel Blanco from Pexels
How to train like a bodybuilder. Photo by Sabel Blanco from Pexels

Why Bodybuilders Train Differently

Bodybuilding is much different than other sports like powerlifting.

In powerlifting, your main focus is to pull something very heavy. It doesn’t matter how much fat is on your body or how your muscles look- it all depends on your raw strength to pull that weight.

Bodybuilders, on the other hand, have to train far differently than that. Bodybuilding is all about the physique. Bodybuilders are judged harshly on their appearance, how shredded their muscles are, low body fat percentage, and how they pose.

Because of this, bodybuilders can’t afford to just go into the gym and lift heavy things mindlessly. They have to train in a far different way.

Bodybuilders Train For ‘Hypertrophy’ Not Strength

Bodybuilders train for ‘hypertrophy’ NOT strength.

Strength training is like going into the gym and just focusing on being able to lift heavier things.

Hypertrophy training is specifically focusing on ways to grow the muscle itself, instead of the strength competent.

So, strength training basically doesn’t focus on how you look at all- but focuses on lifting heavy fricken stuff. Meanwhile, hypertrophy only cares about how you look- not so much about the weight behind it.

With this in mind, the training styles are completely different.

Typically, for people trying to build strength- they may try a program like Stronglifts 5×5. This program is great at building actual strength, and muscle to a degree. But overall, its strength is in the strength. (See what I did there?)

Meanwhile, people trying to build muscle may be keener to try a program like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Blueprint to Mass, which focuses more on rep ranges and other techniques designed to blow up your muscles.

So, let’s get into it- and find out how to train like a bodybuilder.

#1 – “Shock and Confuse The Muscles” As Arnold Schwarzenegger Said

First things first, we need to look at some wisdom from one of the most famous bodybuilders, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was a fan of this concept called ‘shocking the muscles’. He believed, and well, rightfully so that our muscles get used to the kind of training we are doing, and we need to switch it up and ‘confuse’ them to get growth and shape out of them.

Arnold said, “sometimes we hit the wall…our muscles are saying, ‘Look, I know all your tricks…you’re going to bench press, then go and chest press. I am prepared for that”. Now, since your muscles know exactly what you’re doing- they aren’t getting ‘overloaded’ like they used to.

The entire method of growing muscle and making sure you get that shape and size is called ‘progressive overload’. It’s this idea that you need to keep working out your muscles harder to make them grow.

That’s why you can’t just use the same 5-pound dumbbell you started with, because it doesn’t overload the muscle the same way a 10-pound dumbbell will.

Here are some methods to shock the muscles, and one of the best ways how to train like a bodybuilder:

  • Don’t always workout in the same pattern you normally do.
    • So if you always start with bench press, start with overhead press instead.
  • Start with a different amount of weight on the bar.
    • Do you always start with a warm up then your normal weight that you can do for 12 reps? Don’t do this, switch it up. Your body knows you’re going to start with that, put a lighter weight or heavier weight on and have a spotter help you shock that muscle into confusion.
  • Break the rep pyramid pattern and randomize it.
    • Most of us do the typical: 12 reps, then 10 reps, then 8 reps, then 6 reps, then 4 reps. Arnold suggest starting with 6 reps (with the weight you can do for 6 reps) then randomly going back to 12 reps, then 8 reps, then 10 reps (remember, you’re always changing the weight). He says your muscles will be shaking as it is confused and is not used to this at all.
  • Do the 1-10 Method to grow muscle.
    • This is intense, and you’ll probably need a spotter. You start out by doing a weight you can do for 1 rep, then lowering the weight instantly and doing 2 reps, then lowering the weight instantyl and doign 3 reps…and so on. The idea is- since you have no rest time at all and this goes in reverse of a typical set/rep scheme in the gym your muscels get seriously overloaded. Try it, you won’t regret it!

#2 – Isolate Body Parts and Muscle Groups

Most standard weight lifting programs will have you do bench press and dumbbell bench press to grow your chest.

While these are good at targeting strength, it’s not that good at actually growing your chest for size and shape.

Likewise, it’s the same thing with all muscle groups. Your shoulder and triceps both have three heads- and just doing a standard tricep extension or overhead press won’t make those muscles pop like you want them to.

So, here’s how to train like a bodybuilder by isolating muscle groups and body parts:

  • Add an additional 2-3 ‘accessory’ exercises to target the other muscles of muscle groups you’re targeting.
    • For instance, instead of just doing a bench press, add dumbbell pectoral flyes and cable flyes. Most programs just have one or two exercises targeting a muscle group- and for most strenght programs this is fine. But to get more definition and size, you ened to really OVERLOAD the muscle with multiple exercises.
  • Find exercises that target isolate specific parts of muscle groups.
    • If you do a tricep exercsie, it may not target the tricep long head as well as a skull crusher might. You need to think like a bodybuilder, and think of how to sculpt every single part of your muscles. Doing these isolation exercises can seriously make a difference in your physique.

#3 – Do Exhaustion Sets to Really Overload The Muscles

Want to know how to train like a bodybuilder? Here’s a page stripped from most bodybuilder’s books- the exhaustion sets.

Remember how I always talked about muscle hypertrophy instead of strength? And how you need to ‘overload’ the muscle to get that shape and size?

Well, exhaustion sets are one of the best ways to do this. Take a page from the 20 rep squat program– that program just EXPLODES the shape and size of your legs because it overloads every bit of muscle in there.

Exhaustion sets are designed to make your muscles burn and burn and burn- and at the same, force a ton of nutrients from the blood into the muscle to deal with the incredibly demanding stimulus, and get some serious size.

You will feel SORE after these, and you’ll definitely see size.

It’s the whole concept of Rich Piana’s “feeder workouts”– the method he used to put inches onto his arms in months. In Rich Piana’s instance, he did 100 reps of curls nonstop right before bed. That’s right- 100 reps- no rest.

Your muscles are (hopefully) not used to doing 100 reps of actual weight for reps at once nonstop. Plus, as I cover in the feeder workout above, it forces a ton of nutrients into your bloodstream.

Because this stimulus is so intense, it forces your muscles to grow in a different way. It has to grow different fast-twitch fibers which are normally different than the slow-twitch fibers normally built. This puts on a whole new layer of size and shape to your muscles.

Here’s How To Do It:

Now, if you’re looking for the simplest way to do it, I recommend just checking out Rich Piana’s feeder workout, as he will explain everything.

You can really do this with any amount of reps. But try to save this for the end, and never exceed 100 reps.

If you’re still getting the hang of it, I’d recommend this:

  • Do 20-30 reps of an exercise you normally do (ie: bench press, curls).
    • That will help get you used to it, and you’ll still feel quite a burn.

#4 – Use Mind-Muscle Connection

One of the most important things about bodybuilding is the mind-muscle connection.

At first, this sounds like some Jedi voodoo-type stuff- but it isn’t.

You can literally flex muscles and command muscles in your body using your mind, but it takes quite a bit of practice.

I covered everything about this and how to do it in my article, the mind-muscle connection, click here to read it!

#5 – Squeeze Your Muscles At The End of Reps

Here’s how to train like a bodybuilder- squeeze the targeted muscles at the end of a rep. You can even hold this for 1-2 seconds to maximize it.

So, when you’re doing curls, you want to squeeze your muscle as hard as you can when you curl the weight all the way.

Likewise, when you’re doing pectoral flyes, you can squeeze the pecs together really hard for a few seconds when you bring the dumbbells/machine together.

This does wonders for your muscle. It really does a great job of overloading and activating the entire muscle group, plus- it makes sure that every rep is complete. It stops you from cheating any reps by releasing too early.

#6 – Do Exercises That STRETCH Your Muscles

Do exercises that stretch out your muscles.

One of the best ways to grow your back is by doing cable rows that you do a huge range of motion on.

Similarly, doing incline dumbbell curls increases the range of motion too. Stretching the muscle activates every once of muscle fiber you have, which is usually limited by most machines and typical exercises.

Charles Glass, the Godfather of Bodybuilding explains all of this in his free videos where he trains pro bodybuilders.

#7 – Rest and Recover Well

Bodybuilders always rest and recover well. In fact, most people say it’s 20% training and 80% resting.

The true secret on how to train like a bodybuilder is to sleep like a baby and eat like you’re a king.

Never skip recovery.

Conclusion of How To Train Like a Bodybuilder

So, here’s how to train like a bodybuilder.

Squeeze, stretch, and tear that muscle apart in the gym. Don’t focus on the strength, but focus on making your muscle stay overloaded so it grows and gets that shape.

Leave a Reply