1 Exercise Selection
Ideally, select exercises you’re already used to doing so you can train hard from the start. But they must be exercises that really work for you: ones you can train hard but safely and that actually work the target muscles.
If you select exercises that you’re not currently conditioned for, take a few weeks to ease into them before you start training them hard. Then start the 10 weeks of hard training.
You must use good exercise form, which means lowering under control and lifting under control – no dropping, bouncing, yanking, heaving, or jerking. You must train your muscles, not just move weights. Lousy form wastes your time and greatly increases your risk of injury. You must avoid injury!
Good form also means pausing for a dead stop at the bottom and the top of every rep of every exercise and using as full a range of motion that’s safe for you. A pause of just one second (count “one thousand and one” each time) improves your form and stimulates your muscles if you train hard enough. The pausing may require you to reduce your poundages depending on the exercise, but those numbers will recover as you adapt and build muscle.
Eat a slight caloric surplus from healthy foods. Consume around a gram of protein per pound of body weight, and divide the rest of your caloric intake roughly 50-50 between carbs and fats. (A low-fat diet will hinder muscle growth.)
Sleep eight or more hours each night. Take it easy between workouts and find ways to manage the stress in your life so that it doesn’t wear you down.
In combination with excellent training, excellent recovery will give you good bodybuilding results. Without recovery, even great workouts won’t yield much progress, if any. Recover fully and you’ll be able to build strength slowly but steadily (unless you’re already very advanced).
5 Load Selection and Strength
Make a written note of each of your work sets – poundage and reps – in a training log. Consult it before every work set. Don’t try to rely on your memory. Before each work set, remind yourself of what you did last time so that you know what you need to do to register a tad of progress in good form.
Advanced lifters should still strive to build additional strength even if it doesn’t actually happen. But all beginning and intermediate bodybuilders are a long way from topping out in their strength. So, continually aim to add a little weight to each exercise when you can… without compromising on your form.
Ideally, use small weight plates: not just the 1.25-kilo or 2.5-pound ones, but also micro plates or large washers so that you can nudge up your weights by just a pound at a time, especially on the lower-poundage exercises.
When do you increase weight on an exercise?
Let’s say you’re an intermediate bodybuilder doing the Romanian deadlift. You’ve done your warm-up sets and then do two hard work sets: 8 reps with 255 pounds and 13 reps with 205. Here’s how progress could go over the next few weeks:
- 260×7 and 210×11
- 260×8 and 210×12
- 265×7 and 215×10
- 265×8 and 215×12
- 270×6 and 220×10
- 270×7 and 220×11
- 270×8 and 220×12
- 275×6 and 225×10
- 275×7 and 225×11
Later on, when your progress slows, use micro plates to nudge up your weights. Your rate of progress depends on the exercise, your training experience and current development, your genetic potential, how well you train and recover, and other factors.
Fully commit to each stage and its programming, inside and outside the gym. Then compare the results and do another round of the stage that worked best for you. Do it right and you’ll benefit from it again.