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How to Start Bodybuilding the Right Way

Starting Bodybuilding

By Milos Sarcev IFBB Professional Bodybuilder

If you are thinking about starting bodybuilding, you need to read this article on how to start bodybuilding the way so you can avoid all the typical beginner mistakes and make the fastest progress starting from day one.

Q: I was wondering if you could help me design my diet and training program. I am just starting and I would like to do things right. I've read somewhere that you had no results in the first few months of your training and I would certainly like to avoid the same. Your input would be much appreciated. I am 22 years old, 5'10" and fairly lean -175 pounds. Thanks! Roger

A: Hey Roger, you remind me of my early training frustrations and I would be more than happy to share my experiences with you - so you wouldn't make the same mistakes I did.

I remember the day I started my bodybuilding career on September the 18th, 1981. I was 17 years old and already involved in numerous sports - judo, basketball, soccer, swimming, chasing women (only in my dreams)...etc. I was fairly lean and muscular, but I weighed exactly 64 kilos (140 pounds) at 179 cm (about your height).

That year after summer vacation, I noticed one of my schoolmates (Agoc Robert) had become incredibly massive, looking like a man among us boys! I just had to approach him and ask his secret. He told me that there was no secret - it's bodybuilding and if I was interested, he was looking for a training partner as he had a home gym in his garage with improvised concrete weights and couple of benches.

The first day (09/18/81) I attempted my heaviest lifts in bench press, dead lift and standing biceps curls. Agoc took pictures of me (first posing photos), and my measurements, so that we would have a reference to monitor my progress. I was so excited to start training I could hardly wait every day for my school to be over so I could go to his house and lift weights! I assumed if I wanted fast results, I just needed to work as hard and as long as I can - my parents used to always tell me that hard work always paid off.

I trained about 4 hours a day with undying enthusiasm. A day off was not an option, there was nothing that could stop me from training! However, my results were mediocre in the first two months and catastrophic by the end of my third month, I actually lost both - size and weight! What the hell? I was devastated and confused, three months of growling workouts and I got smaller? Obviously, I was doing something wrong (I was overtraining and I didn't have adequate rest or appropriate nutritional support). Similiar to most beginners, I thought that training is the most important factor in muscle building. I acquired the "more is better" attitude and I believed if one set was good, then two was even better! I performed 10 sets of each exercise and God only knows how many exercises per muscle group. Each muscle I trained three times a week and I remember feeling guilty, because I didn't think it was enough...

Needless to say, by the end of December 1981, I was contemplating quitting altogether. I was so discouraged because of the lack of results, feeling exhausted, weak and small. Fortunately, one day, I overheard my father (who is a psychiatrist) talking on the phone say, " Inspect what you expect! You can't be doing the same things over and over again and expect different results. If you are not getting what you want, you first need to realize that what you are doing doesn't work! Change it and follow the progress. Inspect it periodically to see if you are going in right direction!" These words shook my inner core, I had to step back and analyze the problem! I started reading and researching as much as humanly possible about every aspect of training and soon realized that rest and proper nutrition are just as valuable (if not more) than the actual weightlifting training.

I then redesigned my program and had mandatory weekly "inspections". I wrote down everything (my food intake, training, hours slept, supplements I took, my body weight and measurements.) At the end of the week I re-evaluated my progress. Photos were taken once a week, and even though at first I absolutely hated it, I soon realized how valuable it was. I continued to write daily until the end of 1999 (my best IFBB pro season). I cannot emphasize the value of these journals. The bottom line was - I could not lie to myself. I would eat and train a certain way and by the end of the week, I would clearly see if I was making progress or not. I realized that consistency if I had a good day and than good week, month or year - my results were noticeable. When I had a bad day, week or month - I could definitely tell the difference. My goal was to become a professional bodybuilder, I could not afford to have bad days. If I reflect, I could hardly find a bad week in almost two decades!

I hope you are getting my point. First and foremost, you need to start to write everything down and inspect yourself on a weekly (or monthly) basis. If you start today (there is never a better day to start than NOW) choose one or two body parts that you want to train. I recommend that you do each muscle group only once a week. You can decide if it may be more convenient for you to train only one body part per day (program A) or two (program B) as I've illustrated below.

In first case, you will need to train 6 days/week and in second - only three. If you can't make it to the gym every day - 3 days a week is more than enough (Dorian Yates won 6 Olympia titles training this way). An example would be:



In both scenarios, I recommend you use the same amount of sets/reps (volume). After a proper warm up (stretching and couple of lighter sets), choose three exercises per muscle group and perform 2 sets of each. The first set, try to use the weight that you are capable of lifting in no less than 8, and no more than 15 repetitions. You really need to be honest and choose the weight that would make you physically and mentally fail between 8 and 15 reps. On your second and final set of each exercise, you need to increase the weight (load) to make you fail- between 6 and 12 repetitions. In my opinion, this is the most effective set/rep protocol to accomplish overall development, as you are stimulating both fast and slow twitch muscle fibers in every training session.

It's important to choose exercises which will hit muscles from all different angles so that each area of the particular muscle groups will be stimulated. For example, if I choose my chest exercises, I would pick ones which would stimulate the upper (incline), middle (flat) and lower chest (decline bench). I would also be certain to choose an appropriate grip - narrow (for inner portion) or wide for the outer portion of the chest. Consequently, it is the same for all of the other muscle groups including the back (upper, middle, lower lats), quads (medialis/tear drop or lateralis/outer sweep), and different portions of the delts, triceps, bicep, etc. [Note: My training video "True Bodybuilding" focuses on targeting the different parts of the each and every muscle group.]

I am always asked which are the best exercises for certain muscle groups - the best exercises are always the ones that you can feel in your targeting muscle! If you choose bent over rows and you feel your lats - excellent! Just be certain that you also include that exercise in your back training program. If you don't feel the lats and instead your lower back or biceps get most of the work - it is a sign that you should make an adjustment and/or choose a different exercise (perhaps dumbbell rows). You should try and feel the muscle throughout the course of the set, rather than focusing on lifting the weight. Mind-muscle connection is extremely important. I adamantly insist in all of my seminars around the world, that if there is a secret in bodybuilding - it would be - don't lift the weights, instead contract the muscle while lifting!

My top 3 choices of exercises for each muscle group are:

CHEST - flat barbell press, incline dumbbell press or fly's and decline fly's or dips.

BACK - wide grip pull ups (or pull downs), bent over barbell row and dead lift.

DELTS - overhead presses, side lateral dumbbell raises, bent over lateral raises with dumbbells.

TRICEPS - close grip bench press, overhead triceps extensions, high pulley cable push downs.

BICEPS - barbell curls, alternate dumbbell curls and preacher (Scott bench) curls.

FOREARMS - reverse barbell curls, wrist curls - both with under and over grip.

ABS - hanging leg raises, high pulley cable crunches and twists with the stick.

QUADS - squats, hack squats (feet together), leg presses (feet apart).

HAMSTRINGS - stiff legged dead lift, laying leg curl, standing leg curl.

CALVES - standing calf raises, donkey calf raises and seated calf raises.

Consequently, it is always ideal to keep the body guessing so be sure to change things up once in awhile to give all your muscles a good run for the money.

What is important to also realize is that training is an catabolic event! While training, you are tearing down muscle. Don't be fooled with the pump you'll get during the set, as it is only a temporary blood flow to the working muscles. With each rep and every muscle contraction you loose ATP, muscle glycogen and amino acids stored in your muscle. As a result - your muscle will become smaller (which was my experience when I first started in1981.) If you wisely supply your body with an abundance of the right nutrients in timely matter, you will create an anabolic environment - your body will be exposed to a muscle-building opportunity. Don't loose that chance!

You will need constant flow of amino acids (building blocks of protein and necessary building material for our muscle tissue) in your blood stream. I recommend to 6 to 8 smaller protein meals throughout the day.

The only time that you should be specific is immediately after the workout when you should take the fast absorbing protein, (whey protein is the best choice). Other than that, be sure to eat as you wish. The best time to eat your chicken breast, lean steak or a wild source of fish such as salmon or tuna, is when you feel like eating it! With the protein intake, it is also advised to have some energy nutrients such as carbohydrates or/and fats. You should take these "calorie bombs" accordingly depending on your energy expenditure. There is hidden fat in all of your protein sources, so it's not necessary to take any extra fats.

In regards to carbohydrates, you should ingest a combination of complex starchy (potatoes, yam, rice, grains) and fibrous carbs (vegetables) during the day. I recommend starchy ones prior to your physical activities (training) and fibrous during the times with low energy demand (night).

At this point - restricting your calories isn't recommened, as your goal is to initiate building serious muscle. Don't be too concerned about too many carbs. If you happen to notice that your body fat is rapidly increasing, then simply reduce their amount. Be sure to always inspect what you expect, according to your goals. Change the necessary elements of your program if your results fall short of your expectations - Good luck!

About the Author

Milos Sarcev is a Fitness Model, IFBB Professional Bodybuilder and certified fitness trainer. He is currently an International Nutrition, Strength, and Conditioning Consultant, and has assisted many other professional bodybuilders and fitness competitors to achieve their top level of competition. You can contact him at https://www.instagram.com/milossarcev/?hl=en

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