So, you want to pack on some serious mass and carve out those abs? Here’s a step-by-step introduction to the iron game that will get you started on the right foot.

Don’t expect overnight miracles – building a body takes time, focus and consistency. The good news is that the first 6-12 months is the time when you will probably make the most dramatic gains.

However, it is important to learn proper form and basic safety rules now to make sure you don’t injure yourself down the road when you’re pushing heavier weights around.


As a beginner, you can train more frequently than intermediates and advanced trainers. The reason is simple: as you get more experienced, you learn to push your muscles harder and inflict more damage that takes longer to recover from. Beginners, on the other hand, get sore but bounce back quicker since the muscular damage isn’t as severe.

If the word “damage” makes you flinch, don’t worry. It’s a good thing for a bodybuilder to incur limited muscle damage, because it nudges the body to recover and overcompensate (grow) slightly to prepare for future workouts. This is what bodybuilding is all about – a continuous cycle of one-step-back, two-steps-forward, repeated over and over on a weekly basis.

With this in mind it is also easy to see why rest and sleep is extremely important, since this is the time when the body does the two-steps-forward phase.

So, instead of training each muscle group once a week, you can start with a twice a week-schedule and play it by ear from there. Furthermore, we’re going to split the body into two separate days.

We want to learn the basics, so we’ll focus primarily on classic exercises. Once we’ve mastered these simpler exercises we’ll move up to Intermediate territory with a new focus on more complex compound exercises. At this point, it is more important to learn the form and get the right “feel” for each exercise rather than lifting as heavy as possible.

Tips & Tricks

Coming into a new environment is always a challenge. There are concepts and unwritten rules that everyone except you take for granted. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of things in no-time.

When you choose a gym, make sure to pick one that you feel comfortable in. Take your time – walk around, look at the machines, see how packed the place is and what type of people go there. Also check so that it is within reasonable driving distance. If you have to drive 30 minutes each way, chances are you’ll start looking for excuses not to go.

Get the gear you need. A clean, loose T-shirt, knee-length shorts and indoor-only sneakers are a good start for clothing. You also want to bring a padlock, a bottle of water and a small sweat-towel If you intend to shower at the gym, don’t forget a full-size towel, fresh underwear and shampoo. You can also get optional things like gloves and lifting straps or hooks, but you may want to start without to assess what your needs are.

Learn the gym etiquette. Let others use your machine between your sets, wipe off your sweat from machines and pads, unload the plates when you’re done and don’t start yakking with people in the middle of their sets. Leave the pager and cell phone in the locker. And check your personal hygiene – nobody likes the guy who smells like a donkey.

Make sure to get plenty of sleep. You do most of your growing in bed, not in the gym, so don’t rob yourself of growth by skimping on the Z’s. Another obvious advantage of getting sufficient rest is that you’re more energized and can train harder, which in turn improves the result of your workouts. A sleep-deprived person, on the other hand, is worn out even before stepping into the gym. Such a person can even get himself injured because of the lack of mental focus.

If your gym is too crowded, consider a different workout schedule. Since everybody is in the gym at 5 PM on Mondays, perhaps it is better to schedule your workout for 8 PM – or 7 AM, before work. Or better yet, go on Sunday afternoon when the weekend warriors are busy drinking beer and watching sports and make Monday a rest day.

Remember, your body couldn’t care less what day of the week it is, so adjust your schedule to what’s most convenient. One caveat: Try to get your weight lifting in when you’re feeling the most energized. Morning people usually have no problems with early workouts, but night owls probably benefit more from a late evening workout, and vice versa.

The Mental Game

Work, family commitments and plain laziness are parts of life that will tug you away from your scheduled gym session. Don’t get me wrong, your kids’ school play is important, but there’s a big difference between making a rare exception and routinely letting your workouts slip down the priority list.

Focus and persistency are crucial to bodybuilding success, so here are a few tips on how to get your mindset right.

Your first step is to define a long-term goal in as specific terms as possible. “Getting in shape” is not good enough. What exactly are you looking for? Gain weight in the form of quality muscle? Lose fat? How many pounds up or down are we talking about, specifically? Increase your strength? In that case, by how much?

The goal is to establish exactly where you want to go and how you will measure your success. Make a realistic assessment of how long this should take and write down to the target date. Being a beginner this may be hard to estimate, but make your best guess and allow for some wiggle-room if your guess was off target.

Once you have your goal and your timeline defined, establish a number of milestones, say a month apart, that you can use as checkpoints to make sure you’re on track. This helps make the end goal less daunting, since adding 10 lbs to your bench press by next month is within your reach while adding 80 lbscan feel far-fetched and discouraging. As an extra incentive, you can give yourself a little reward when you hit your arget.

As for the detailed workout schedule, it will be mentioned next week in Part II, so don’t worry and be prepared!