8 Tips Every Bodybuilder Should Know: Part 1

The world of bodybuilding can be a confusing place, especially for beginners. Even seasoned athletes fall prey to the plethora of hyped-up claims and exercise fads.

Many bodybuilders feel frustrated because they aren’t gaining mass at the desired rate. This could be caused by a number of factors, but usually it comes down to a lack of knowledge and guidance. Understanding certain fitness concepts before entering the gym greatly enhances workouts, allowing athletes to achieve faster results.

Here are a few basic tips every bodybuilder should know before hitting the gym. Following these tips maximizes results and reduces the chance of injury.

1. Failure Is Not an Option

One of the biggest misconceptions in bodybuilding is the concept of working muscles to point of failure. Many trainers and coaches say muscles need to be worked to the point of failure before benefit is achieved. The theory behind training to failure is based on motor unit (the nerve and muscle fibers of one nerve) recruitment. It is believed motor unit recruitment is maximized with more stress on the muscle, thus increasing muscle strength. [1]

However, one study disproves this theory: “Going to complete failure during lateral raise is not necessary to recruit the entire motor unit pool.” [2] In fact, working muscles to the point of failure damages hormone secretion over time.

In one study, subjects who rested before reaching the point of failure had a reduction in resting cortisol levels and a significant boost in serum testosterone. [3] On the other hand, continuously training to exhaustion decreases growth-promoting hormones such as testosterone and human growth hormone, thus limiting maximum body mass potential. [1]

Experts suggest stopping exercise one or two reps before reaching the point of failure. This way, the workout is still pushing your comfort zone but doesn’t inflict damage.

2. Lift More to Get More

Every bodybuilder understands adding more weight to the bar increases muscle gain. However, many athletes forget the importance of consistently adding more weight over time. Bodybuilders commonly settle into a comfort zone and continue to lift the same weight for a long time before deciding to challenge themselves. This discourages growth because muscles aren’t primed for an increased workload. [4]

Additionally, one study shows a steady increase of resistance maximizes secretion of growth-promoting hormones such as testosterone and human growth hormone. These hormones spike significantly within 15-30 minutes after intense resistance training. This study suggests stressing a large muscle mass, followed by short rest intervals, is the best way to increase growth hormones, but only if the body has undergone enough stress to trigger this response. [5]

Some suggest increasing the weight at least every one to two weeks until you get “stuck” and can’t handle lifting more. This is the time to start tinkering with your workout program and looking for other strategies, such as adding more supersets, doing more push-ups, etc. Continue this new training program for several weeks until you are able to bump up the weight again.

3. Don’t Waste Time on One Muscle

There are two types of exercise: compound and isolated. Isolated exercise triggers one muscle or muscle group, whereas compound exercise targets multiple muscle groups. While isolated exercise has its place, many experts advise bodybuilders to use compound exercises at least 80 percent of the time. [4]

Using compound exercises maximizes gym visits and increases muscle building before the body reaches exhaustion. W.J. Kraemer of the American College of Sports Medicine led a study to observe different types of exercise routines. Results show exercise which targets multiple areas is more efficient for reaching fitness goals. Kraemer recommends “emphasis be placed on multiple-joint exercises, especially those involving the total body.” [6]

Some examples of compound exercises include flat bench, squat, clean and press, and deadlifts. Adding any of these exercises to your routine optimizes muscle growth and body mass.

4. Outsmart Your Exercise Plateau

The term “exercise plateau” refers to the point during any athlete’s progression where results seem to dramatically slow down. Beginner bodybuilders almost always gain mass faster than a seasoned bodybuilder. This is because the body is not acclimated to the exercise at first, but then adapts to the new stressor. [7]

The best way to stay one step ahead of your exercise plateau is adding variety to workouts. This prevents the body from adapting to one specific exercise. It also prevents boredom and keeps motivation levels high. You might decide to change a few exercises, change resting intervals, or switch exercise order. [4]

Never go longer than two weeks before introducing a change. Don’t be afraid to completely revamp exercise routines every few weeks.



[1] Len Kravitz, Ph.D. “Training To Failure.” The University of New Mexico. Available from: http://www.unm.edu/

[2] Sundstrup E, Jakobsen MD, Andersen CH, Zebis MK, Mortensen OS, Andersen LL. “Muscle Activation Strategies During Strength Training with Heavy Loading Vs. Repetitions to Failure.” Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21986694

[3] Mikel Izquierdo, Javier Ibanez, Juan Jose Gonzalez-Badillo, Keijo Hakkinen, Nicholas A. Ratamess, William J. Kraemer, Duncan N. French, Jesus Eslava, Aritz Altadill, Xabier Asiain, Esteban M. Gorostiaga. “Differential Effects of Strength Training Leading to Failure versus Not To Failure on Hormonal Responses, Strength, and Muscle Power Gains.” Journal of Applied Physiology. May 2006, vol. 100 no. 5 pages 1647-1656. Available from: http://www.jappl.org/content/100/5/1647.short

[4] Clark, Shannon. “6 Quick BodyBuilding Tips.” BodyBuilding.com. Available from: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/6-bodybuilding-tips-faster-results.htm

[5] Prof. William J. Kraemer and Nicholas A. Ratamess. “Hormonal Responses and Adaptions to Resistance Exercise and Training.” Sports Medicine. April 2006, Vol. 35, Issue 4, pages 339-361. Available from: http://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200535040-00004#page-1

[6] Kraemer WJ, Adams K, Cafarelli E, Dudley GA, Dooly C, Feigenbaum MS, Fleck SJ, Franklin B, Fry AC, Hoffman JR, Newton RU, Potteiger J, Stone MH, Ratamess NA, Triplett-McBride T. “American College of Sports Medicine position and stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults.” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Feb; 34(2): 364-80. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11828249

[7]  Monte, Vince Del. “BodyBuilding Tips.” AskMen.com. Available from: http://www.askmen.com/sports/bodybuilding_1000/1046_bodybuilding-tips.html

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