Body Building Primer

June 14 2010

This primer is not intended to be used by someone who has never stepped foot in a gym before.  It's aimed at someone who has been going to the gym for a couple of months and has decided they want to make serious gain and maximise their time in the gym.  In the first couple of months you can do pretty much anything that stresses the muscles and you're going to make good gains.  I'd recommended not lifting heavy until you've got your form down pat, otherwise you're more than likely going to damage yourself.

Bodybuilding can be broken into three essentially equal constituents: Training, Sleeping, and Eating. Only by paying attention to all three can maximum potential be realised.


Muscles need food to grow. If you don't eat enough food, you won't have enough energy to grow. Energy (Calories) from food has categorically three sources: Fats, Carbohydrates, and Proteins.

(I can see myself waffling on for ever here so I'll make it a little simpler, for brevities sake).

Fats for the main part are not the best place to get energy. They can be broken in to two main parts: Essential and non-essential fats. Omega 3 is an example of an essential fatty acid and can be found in many fish products, such as tuna. It's a good natural lubricant for the joints and a helps keep tendons well oiled.

Carbohydrates come in two main forms, simple and complex (but can get a little more complicated if taking GI into account). Low GI complex carbs are best for body building, and long term (throughout the day) energy. These are gained from foods such as rice (go for brown), wholegrains, sweet potatoes etc. (Simple carbs are found in sugary substances and are discernable by their sweet taste).

Application : Have a serve of low GI complex carbs earlier in the day, for sustained energy. Take high GI complex carbs an hour or so before your workout to ensure you've got plenty of energy on tap for heavy or high rep lifting.

Protein is the most essential source of calories for body building and is the source that muscles (and other cells) use to repair themselves. Protein comes in a numerous varieties, from numerous sources. The current in protein is 'whey' protein, which also comes in two varieties, isolate and concentrate. Isolate is more expensive and more readily absorbed and utilised by the body. An average active (non-body building) person should consume between 0.7 and 1.0g of protein per kg of body weight. A body builder should aim for between 1.5 and 2g per day. Chicken and Tuna are great examples of low fat high protein foods.

Frequency of eating is also important. Eating the same quantity of foods but spread out into more meals is recommended. Why? eating more often keeps the body's metabolism at an elevated rate. If only eating 2 meals a day, the body likes to store energy as fat to make sure it has enough to get through the day. Also, try to eat as few as carbs as possible after your workout. The reason? Your metabolism drops when you sleep and When you eat a large serve of carbs at night, your body stores the excess energy as fat. Eat a salad for dinner.

Try to aim for a Carb:Protein:Fat ratio of 40:40:20. That should give enough energy for muscle building, while maintaining a lean form. Consume your biggest meal for breakfast and gradually reduce the size (and carb content) of your meals as the day progresses.

Drink lots of water. Seeing as we're mainly water, that makes sense. In body building land: water keeps the muscles hydrated, dehydrated muscles equal muscles in catabolic state.

Fat loss rule #1: Eat less calories than you use. forget everything else, this is the only thing you have to know (it goes get more complicated if you're trying to maintain muscle mass though, as too high a calorie deficit will result in catabolism.)


Body building taxes the body. as a result, supplementation is essential for maximum growth. The number one supplement anyone can take is protein supplements. Hard gainers (fast metabolism and skinny) should look at getting "Mass Gainer" type supplements that are more biased toward carbs and have a high calorie count. This ensures that they have enough energy that their protein can be used for muscle repair and growth, not day-to-day mobility.

Creatine is great, but doesn't work for some people. The idea of creatine is that it aids energy transport within the body, giving anaerobic activities a boost. It's ideal for sprinters and body builders and can also do wonders for lean body mass gains (muscle gains).

HMB, something I found out about last weekend but am yet to trial (on myself), is apparently the bees knees. It prevents muscle catabolism (break down) for energy and encourages lean muscle gains, more so than creatine. It is a relatively new supplement and while the scientific evidence essentially supports it's claims to greatness, only time will tell (and me, when I get some on the weekend :D).

L-Glutamine helps water retention, recovery and protein utilisation in muscle synthesis.

There are horde of others, but these are the main ones.

Sample diet for muscle mass gain

05:30 Bowl of porridge with chopped up banana
200g of Diet Yoghurt
6 eggs
300ml of Orange Juice
08:00 Protein Shake in water
10:30 Fruit Salad (200g of random fruit)
13:00 100g brown rice
250g chicken breast
14:30 Banana
16:30 Protien & Carb shake (pre-workout) + supps (Creatine)
19:00 Green Salad (no dressing)
Grilled Fish or Steak (prefer Fish)

My recommended dosage of supps : 2 protein shakes a day (60g of protein - preferably in water.. arggh the taste :(), 5g of creatine (after the loading - better still, use creatine phosphate and don't load), L-Glutamine 5g twice daily. HMB - as on the container.


This one's easy. Your body can't grow while you're in the gym. Too many bodybuilders get frustrated by not enough growth, so they spend more time in the gym. Wrong! While you rest, the body repairs the damage you've done while in the gym. give your body enough time to repair between workouts. Rule of thumb is a body part needs 72 hours between workouts to recuperate.


This is what most people focus on. How you train can greatly affect your results (size you grow). Forget what you read in "Flex" and "Muscle and Fitness", these guys are super-freaks and on 'roids.

Most people overtrain, spending too long in the gym. I'd recommend all noobs to train 3 times a week, spending no longer than 45mins a session lifting weights.

At this point I should also mention that training methodology differs for virtually every person. While the basics are good for everyone starting out, once you get some experience you've really just got trail and error as your only guide.

When it comes to muscle growth, variability is the key. The body is great for adapting to what you are doing. Do the same thing for too long and you'll stop growing. A good period for the same workout is 8 weeks. I like to cycle amongst 4 phases. 1) Nothing 2) Hi rep low weight 3) medium rep medium weight (or what I call my true body builders phase 4) power lifting - low rep, high weight, lots of sets.

Stretching : In between sets I've found it beneficial to stretch the muscle in use. Not only does this help keep flexibility high (who wants to be beefcake if you can't move), but stretching helps encourage growth by tearing fibres.

Rep Phases : There are two main phases in any movement, the Concentric and Eccentric. Concentric phase is when the muscles are shortening, eg the upward movement of a dumbbell in a bicep curl. Eccentric phase is when the muscle is expanding. This is important to know because it's best to slowly (and controlled) move the weight through the eccentric phase and power the weight back up through the concentric phase. Power doesn't mean swing your whole body and go as fast as possible ;) You can lift heavier weights on the eccentric phase (negative). The application of this is that (to use bench as an example) you can really stack the weight on and slowly lower the weight, while getting a training partner to spot you on the concentric phase. This heavier weight obviously increases damage done, thus muscle gained.

Noobs should spend most of their time doing compound exercises. The golden three are Squats, Dead lifts, Bench Press. (compound exercises are multi-joint exercises). When you first start training, concentrate on these three as you don't have the form and haven't trained the muscles to "know" the exercises yet. You'll also pack the most mass on with these babies! :D. Co-incidentally, these are also the main exercises of my power lifting phase.

Examples of the phases (exercises, reps and sets)
1) Nothing
Exactly that. Do nothing for 8 weeks. Sit on the couch/computer. Give your body a chance to rest and your mind a chance to prepare itself for another 12-16 weeks of torture.

2) Endurance
3 sets 20 reps is a good place to start

Day 1 Back & Abs
Day 2 Rest
Day 3 Shoulders, Bi's & fore-arms
Day 4 Rest
Day 5 Legs
Day 6 Chest and Tri's
Day 7 Rest

3) Body Building classic
I follow 10,8,6,6 split (4 sets). see #2 for day break down.

4) Powerlifting
6 sets 6 reps.

Day 1 bench press. behind-head tricep extension (dumbell). preacher curl
Day 2 Rest
Day 3 squats, military press, dumbell bicep curl
Day 4 Rest
Day 5 bench press, behind-head tricep extension (dumbell), foreach curls (reverse preacher)
Day 6 dead lifts, bent over row, lat pull down
Day 7 Rest

If you're trying to tone up (e.g. for summer) - cardio every morning (but day 7) for 60 mins, and after every workout for 30 mins. If you're trying to put on mass eat crap loads of calories (better from carbs and protein).

Sample weekly workout
I'm not listing weights here because that's something you'll need to figure out on your own. Just remember, the key is to keep as much intensity in the movement as possible. For mass building we generate intensity though heavy weights and low reps. This means that if you think you can manage your working sets with 1% more weight, add that 1%. Though be careful not to cross that boundary where form is sacrificed. You don't want an injury and if the weight is too heavy your likely cheating too much (a bit of cheating is ok) and not getting the maximum gain you could be. The following is basically just a reproduction of my current workout.

(format = <Exercise>: <reps per set>[, reps per set]*):
Day 1 - Chest and Tri's

Flat Bench 20, 10, 8, 6, 6
Incline Bench 8, 8, 8, 8
Dips 10, 10, 10, 10
Standing chest flies 10, 8, 8, 8
Upright French Press (ezy bar) 10, 8, 8, 8

Day 3 - Legs

Warm up with 5 mins on treadmill, minimum 8% incline.

Leg Extensions 10, 10, 10, 10
Squats 10, 10, 10, 10
Leg Presses 10, 10, 10, 10
Calf Raises (on Leg Press machine) 25, 25, 25, 25
Dead Lifts 10, 10, 10, 10

Day 5 - Shoulders & Bi's

Dumbbell Mil Press 15, 10, 8, 6, 6
Lat Raises 10, 8, 6, 6
Trap Raises (barbell) 10, 8, 6, 6
Seated alternate bicep curl 10, 8, 6, 6
Preacher Curls (ezy bar) 10, 8, 6, 6

Day 6 - Back & Abs

Yates Upright Row 10, 10, 10, 10
Chin-ups 10, 10, 10
Lat Pull down 10, 8, 6, 6
Seated Row 10, 8, 6, 6
Sit ups 30, 30, 30
Hanging leg raises 10, 10
Mower Starts* 15, 15, 15, 15

* Not sure what to call this. I'm the only person in my gym that does them... Basically you grab one side of a pin weight chest fly setup and stand far enough from it such that your when your arms are fully extended toward it, the rope is tight and the weight is off the stack. Then you twist your torso away from the stack, such that the weights move up. Then turn back toward the weight and repeat. 1 set = both directions. So you after 15 you turn and face the other way and do 15 more to complete the set. Arms don't aid in the movement, it's all about pivoting the torso. Add a "hip flick" if you're a martial artist :D

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