There could be many reasons why you may have chosen to take up bodybuilding apart from the obvious one, which is to pack on serious muscle mass - maybe you just want to tone up and lose weight, maybe you want to give yourself more 'presence' when playing another sport, such as football or hockey. Perhaps you are over 40 and want to begin a fitness regime that will keep you healthy and active. Whatever your reasons and whatever your fitness goals, bodybuilding will be able to help you. However, its not a case of signing up to the nearest gym and popping in when you feel like it to lift some weights at random. Taking this approach you are likely to end up demotivated, your efforts won't be getting you anywhere and the likelihood is that you will have wasted quite a few dollars. At the very worst, you could end up injuring yourself.
The 12 tips below are designed to get you thinking about the basics and to build a firm foundation for your exercise plan. They will help you not only start your program effectively, but will also help you to stick at it. It is vital to note that if you are over 40 or suffer any short or long term injury or physical impairment, you must speak to your physician before undertaking an intense regime of exercise.
# 1 Be realistic but positive
Before you start, it is a good idea to write down your goals. Realistically speaking it is going to take at least 3 months before you start seeing differences, both in your body shape and strength levels, so look at it as a longer term plan. You might find it helpful to write down where you want to be in terms of strength and size in 3, 6, 12 and 18 months.
# 2 Consider hiring a personal trainer
If you are completely new to the gym environment, consider hiring a personal trainer, for the first month at least. It will help you feel less daunted and a good trainer will be able to give you all the help you need on the machines, give you a sound basic program to stick to, as well as give you any advice you need on everything from your diet and supplements to the best techniques for individual exercises. You might not even have to spend any extra money - some gyms offer a personal trainer free for a certain amount of sessions after you first join. Shop around your local gyms and see if you can take advantage of any introductory offers.
# 3 Choose a gym close to home or work
Your new exercise regime isn't going to last very long if you have to sit in rush hour traffic every time you want to work out. Most people train best either in the morning or later in the evening, so pick a gym that will suit your requirements - close to home or work for convenience.
# 4 Try to cut out bad habits
You want to see the best results you possibly can, but the hard work doesn't end when you get home from the gym. Cut out smoking and excessive drinking for a start as these are two major factors that will inhibit your ability to train. Fast food and sugary drinks need to be kept to a minimum too - they are definitely not what your body needs while undertaking training.
# 5 Do some research into what sort of diet you need
Bodybuilders eat very differently to other people due to the amount of calories needed for intensive training and the amounts of protein required for building muscle. A day in a typical bodybuilder's diet might look like this:
Meal 1 (7/8am) - 2 egg whites, beaten and 1 cup of oatmeal mixed with water.
Meal 2 (9/10am) - meal replacement supplement - protein and carbohydrate based
Meal 3 (12/1pm) - 1 medium sized baked potato, 2 cups of any vegetable, and 6-8 ounces of lean fish, turkey or chicken.
Meal? 4 (3/4pm) - Another supplement, same as meal 2
Meal 5 (6/7pm) - See meal 3, but replace the potato with? 1 cup of brown rice
Meal 6 (8/9pm) - Same as meal 2/4
# 6 Consume more fruits and vegetables
Your new diet is no doubt high in fats, protein and carbs for the best results so your macronutrients are covered, but your body also requires micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from fruit and veg. Make sure when preparing or cooking them, you are doing all you can to retain their goodness by not overcooking them etc.
# 7 Don't train every day of the week
Any decent personal trainer will tell you that as a beginner, you only need to train 3-4 times a week. You should be leaving 48 hours between workouts to allow your body time to rest and recover.
# 8 Train all your muscle groups at least once a week
As explained in #8, you won't get bigger by spending all your time at the gym but neither will you get bigger by spending too little time there either. Bodybuilders group their exercises by body part - aim to train each muscle group at least once a week. Ensure you train each muscle group equally as well, both to prevent injury and muscle imbalance.
#9 Getting the form right is more important than the amount of weight you are lifting
This is another area where you may find a personal trainer beneficial in the beginning.? Exercises such as lifts need to be performed in a smooth and controlled way with an amount of weight that you are comfortable handling.
Incorrect form means you are not working your muscles effectively, you will not see the desired results and you may be putting yourself at risk of injury.
#10 Find vitamin and meal supplements that are right for you
These sorts of supplements are a billion-dollar global trade and there are an astounding amount on offer. Again, do some research. Find out what would work best for your existing physical makeup and size. It is widely considered though, that two absolute staples for those undertaking any sort of hard physical training are :
. Vitamin C - essential for, amongst other things, the absorption of iron (vital for transporting oxygen in the blood to muscles that need it) and the formulation of collagen (vital for healthy connective tissue between muscle and bones).
. Glutamine - this is vital for an incredible amount of roles in the body and anyone who is undertaking this sort of training cannot produce enough of it naturally. One of the main reasons that you need it as a bodybuilder is because it counteracts the effects of cortisol in your system when training - cortisol breaks muscle tissue down. Those who are depleted in glutamine are also going to find recovery between sessions gets harder and takes longer.
#11 Do not underestimate what free weights can do for you
No doubt your gym is packed full of really shiny complicated looking machines that are great fun to use, once you have figured them out! However, these will just not have the same impact on building up size and lean muscle as barbells and dumbbells. These cannot be beaten for increasing muscle and strength and are especially suited to beginners.?
#12 - Master basic compound movements
Bodybuilding websites and magazines offer a plethora of exercises and you could probably find different ones to try every day. The advice is to master the basics. You need to know the squat, the dead lift and the barbell bench press among others and include them in every workout.
You have now hopefully picked up a few tips to get you started. Remember, everyone's results are going to be different so don't get downhearted if you know someone who seems to be doing better than you after a similar amount of time. The importance of doing your research also cannot be overestimated - there are a lot of good websites and magazines out there, and some of them are excellent free resources.