Why do new lifters spin their wheels?
Every man would be lying if he refused to admit that he has never wanted to look like Arnold Swarzenneger in Conan or Brad Pitt in Troy — even if it was just a passing fantasy in his teenage years. All fantasies aside, the good news is that anyone can develop a good physique. The bad news: it takes years of blood, sweat, and tears. In spite of the challenge, developing a Herculean physique takes a pretty simple two-step process: Step one — decide to do it. Step two — eat right and follow a good routine for 5-10 years. However, step two poses a problem. How do you start when there is so much conflicting information? What is the best bodybuilding schedule for beginners?
Two pretty opposite camps claim to monopolize the best bodybuilding schedule for beginners. One side points to the high volume approached popularized by 80s bodybuilders. “Two hour long, six day per week marathon sessions built the best bodies the world has ever seen. If high volume training built humanity’s ultimate Adonises, then high volume training is good enough for you” is the story that the high volume side tells.
It seems like airtight logic. These men looked fantastic, so we should all train just like them, right? Except the other side, popularized by Mark Rippetoe, demands that beginners do low volume total body training sessions three days per week. Rippetoe disciples claim that high volume training is ineffective, maybe even dangerous for beginners! Low volume proponents tell us that 80s style high volume training is a house built on a foundation of lies. They claim that professional bodybuilders’ size comes from their copious use of steroids. Performance enhancing drugs change the game so much that nothing that bodybuilders do is replicable, so the story goes.
Hmmmmmm. Two equally fanatic, yet equally opposite groups claim that their way provides the absolute best bodybuilding schedule for beginners — no room for disagreement.
So, who’s right? Is a low volume, total body workout, or a high volume body part split the right bodybuilding schedule for beginners?
As with all arguments, the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the extremes. Neither a pure high volume nor a pure strength based program is an appropriate bodybuilding schedule for beginners.
Why? Let’s start with what a novice needs from the best bodybuilding schedule for beginners. They typically have little muscle mass and are about to lift for the first time. New guys need a routine that will provide adequate stimulus without injuring them.
Let’s use our common sense here. Can someone with no lifting experience handle the same volume as advanced bodybuilder with years of training and steroid use?
Lucky outliers aside, a beginner is setting himself up for burnout, irritated tendons, or a muscle tear if they jump right into an advanced program.
Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin: Low volume, low frequency 5×5 programs. A good feature about these routines is that they slowly ramp up the intensity level for the lifter. A slow progression ensures that the lifter won’t get hurt. However, the programs are simply too low volume and too unbalanced. 5×5 schemes recommend that lifters perform a grand total of 3 or 4 exercises per session. A typical day will be something like
- Squat: 5 sets of 5 reps
- Bench: 5 sets of 5 reps
- Pull-ups: 3 sets to failure
Now, an unconditioned novice does need to crawl before he can walk. However, the routine above provides nowhere near enough stimulation. A thorough routine needs to hit all body parts: shoulders, chest, back (width and thickness), legs, calves, forearms, biceps, triceps, and shoulders. A low volume total body routine leaves around half of the body untouched.
After the initial 2 or 3-month adaptation phase, 99% of lifters will need more volume. Muscles need a great deal of tension and stress to grow — 25 reps per muscle group won’t cut it. Low reps themselves also don’t build a great deal of muscle or strength either — they are better at DEMONSTRATING strength.
So, let’s put it all together. What is an example of the best bodybuilding schedule for beginners?
Feel free to use a 5×5 routine for three months to get your body acclimated to the stress of lifting. Then, beginners needs to use a routine, that, while not as stressful as an advanced six per week routine, will hit all muscles with a variety of rep ranges to ensure balanced growth.
The routine should provide 2-4 exercises per body part, with rep ranges spanning 5-20. For example:
- Front Squat: 5 x 5-8
- Romanian Deadlift: 4 x 8-12
- Lunges: 4 x 12-15
- Leg curls: 4 x 12-15
- Calves raises: 5 x 15-20
Wednesday: Chest and Shoulders
- Incline Bench: 5 x 5-8
- Dips (or assisted dip machine): 4 x 8-12
- Cable flies: 4 x 12-15
- Straight bar pushdowns: 4 x 8-12
- Overhead rope pull downs: 4 x 15-20
- Rack pulls: 4 x 5-8
- T-bar row: 4 x 8-12
- Lat pull: 4 x 12-15
- Cable row: 4 x 15-20
- V-bar curls: 4 x 8-12
- Alternating db curls: 4 x 12-15
Shoulders and Traps:
- Overhead Press: 5 x 5-8
- Press Machine: 4 x 10-15
- Side Raises: 4 x 15-20
- Rear Delt Machine: 5 x 20-25
- Shrugs: 5 x 15-20
There you have it! You can stop spinning your wheels now that you are armed with the best bodybuilding schedule for beginners!