I am not going to lie to you. Building muscle is NOT easy. It takes dedication, determination, discipline and A LOT of time. Many people attempt to build muscle for a couple weeks, see no results and quit shortly after.
Although building muscle may seem intimidating, beginners do have one significant advantage over those who have been working out for 10 years. That advantage is what I like to call “newbie gains”. Someone who is just beginning to workout has the potential to gain up to 25 pounds of muscle in one year. That is INSANE growth! To put this into perspective, people who have been going to the gym for 5 years only have the potential to gain around 2-4 pounds of muscle in one year.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can just show up to the gym and expect to pack on muscle like you just finished your first cycle of steroids. To capitalize on this potential growth, you need to have the proper nutrition, mindset and training.
Throughout this article, I will be sharing some of my favorite muscle building exercises for beginners to help you take advantage of your “newbie gains”. I will also be sharing some nutrition and mindset tips to further increase your chances of success.
How You Need to Eat
If you want to put on some weight, specifically lean muscle mass, you are going to have to start tracking your calories and macronutrients. The amount of calories you must consume depends on your current weight. If you are 180 pounds, you are going to have to at least eat 2,700 calories a day. This is your maintenance calorie intake. If you want to build lean muscle, while limiting fat gain, eating at maintenance or a little under maintenance will be sufficient. If you don’t care about gaining fat and want to build muscle as fast as possible, eating over 2,700 calories a day is ideal.
Now, just because you eat a certain amount of calories won’t mean you will see results in the gym. You have to make these calories count by eating nutritious food. Let me ask you a question, what food do you think would offer more nutritional value, a chicken breast that is 250 calories or a chocolate bar that is 250 calories? If you picked the chocolate bar, you might need more help than I am able to offer.
The chicken breast would obviously provide far more nutritional value than the chocolate bar, which brings me to my next topic, macronutrients.
Macronutrients are absolutely CRUCIAL to muscle gain. There are three macronutrients you need to track, protein, carbohydrates and fats.
Protein is the building block for your muscles. If your goal is to gain muscle as fast as possible, you will need to be consuming at LEAST 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Most experts recommend 0.8-1.2 grams per pound of body weight but if you can only get 0.8 grams, that should be sufficient.
Carbohydrates provide energy for your body and, most importantly, your muscles. Carbohydrates also help to replenish glycogen levels in your muscles causing them to look fuller and grow faster. The key is to consume carbohydrates with every meal and to eat as many carbs, if not more, as you do protein. This will ensure that you have plenty of energy for every gym session.
Fats provide the body with essential fatty acids that your body can’t produce on its own. Fatty acids play a key role in hormone production and regulation in our bodies. As you may know, testosterone is a vital hormone for muscle growth and not having enough could slow down muscle production significantly. I recommend eating a little less fat than you do carbohydrates and protein.
Overall, you should be consuming around 35% of your calories in protein, 35-40% in carbohydrates and 25-30% in fats.
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The Mental Part of Muscle
As I’ve said countless times, muscle growth is not easy and sadly, it is not linear either. You will never have continuous muscle and strength gains month after month. Although beginners will see more muscle and strength gains than most, even they will run into a wall at some point.
Plateauing or not being where you think you should be in the gym can be very frustrating and it WILL happen. All you can do is grind through it. It is absolutely crucial that you keep a positive mindset and don’t get too discouraged when you go for a new PR and fail miserably.
I’ve had weeks in the gym where I would be breaking my previous PR’s like nothing followed by weeks where I literally feel like I lost strength and can’t even get my normal weight up. It happens.
Besides a positive mindset, a good tip for breaking out of plateaus is to switch up your workouts. For example, if you do a lot of flat barbell bench press and you’ve hit a point where you just can’t seem to increase the weight anymore, try switching to a dumbbell bench press variation. This will effectively hit the same muscle groups while allowing your muscles to experience new stimuli. Muscles respond best when they are constantly worked in different ways.
Beginner Exercises That Will Help You Capitalize on “Newbie Gains”
Now for what you’ve been waiting for, the workouts.
Incline Bench Press is one of the best exercises to work the pectoral muscles. The chest is split up into three parts, the upper, the middle, and the lower. The incline press effectively targets all of them with emphasis on the upper portion. Growing the upper part of your chest, which is the largest, will allow your chest to appear more full and Greek god-like.
As well as hitting your chest, the incline press will also effectively give your shoulders and triceps a great workout. It is considered to be much healthier for your shoulders than the flat bench press because of the slight upwards angle.
You will notice as you go through this section that most of the best muscle building exercises target more than one major muscle group.
Chin-Ups are an amazing exercise that effectively target your back and bicep muscles. They are great because you can perform them in different variations to target certain muscles, for instance, wide grip, close grip, and weighted. Chin-ups are similar to pull ups but instead of your hands facing away from you, you turn your hands toward you and grip the bar underhanded. This allows you to get all the benefits of a pull-up with an added emphasis on your biceps.
Barbell Back Squats are probably the most universally known leg exercise on earth and for good reason. Barbell back squats (normal squats) are very good at working every muscle in your legs including the hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps. It is an easy movement, especially for beginners, to master.
Definitely start light and get the form down before you start adding heavy weight to make sure you don’t injure yourself.
Squats are also great because they force the abdominal muscles (abs) to flex every rep. Once again, another great exercise that targets more than one muscle group.
Standing Barbell Press is another great exercise for your shoulders and upper chest. The standing variation is great for forcing your abs to contract and hold you steady as you perform each rep. If you are just starting out and brand new to lifting, you may want to perform the sitting barbell press instead until you feel comfortable to stand.
Shoulders are a very important muscle group to focus on because they are the largest muscle group in the upper body. Big shoulders equate to a more muscular looking physique.
Incline Dumbbell Curls are great for growing the biceps. The slight incline creates a larger range of motion for each rep, effectively stretching the bicep more than a normal curl. Make sure to use a weight that is easy enough to do without having to lift your back off the bench.
Putting it All Together
After learning about the best exercises, I am sure you are wondering what to do with them. Well let me show you.
For beginners, I suggest performing a 4-day split and working out for 45-60 minutes per workout. That’s about 3-4 exercises per workout.
The first and third day of the split will be a push day, meaning you will be working the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Exercises for this day could include either the incline bench press or the barbell shoulder press mixed with various accessory exercises like tricep push downs, dips and lateral raises.
I suggest to never hit incline bench press and barbell shoulder press on the same day because they target the same muscles. Performing them on the same day would decrease your strength potential on whichever one you did second.
If you choose to perform the incline bench press on Monday, then perform the barbell shoulder press on Thursday in its place and vice versa. You can do the same accessory workouts for both days but after a couple of weeks, you should be switching them up.
The second and fourth days of the split will be pull days. Exercises on the pull day will include chin-ups, incline dumbbell curls and squats mixed with various accessory workouts like rows, hammer curls and calf raises.
Since you are a beginner and most beginners hate leg day, I included leg day on the pull day so that you are not forced to only hit legs. It will make you much more inclined to show up, trust me. Also, just performing squats for about 4-6 sets will be plenty of work for your legs. As you become more advanced, you can start to add more exercises like Romanian deadlifts and split squats.
Perform each of the main muscle building exercises first in your workouts for 4 sets of 5,8,10, and 12 reps. Start with the heaviest weight and go down as you move up in reps. This is called reverse pyramid training and it will allow you to have the most energy for your heaviest sets.
In conclusion, if you are brand new to weight lifting and want to put on some serious muscle in under a year, you have all the power to do so. “Newbie gains” are a real thing but most people who are new to weight lifting do not know how to take full advantage of this potential.
By consuming the correct amount of calories and macronutrients, maintaining the right mindset and performing the proper exercises you can capitalize on your muscle growing capabilities and pack on muscle faster than the meatheads on steroids at your local gym.
So, what are you waiting for, start your 4-day split today and completely transform your body in under a year. I believe in you!
If you found this article helpful or would like to share your thoughts on the best beginner exercises, please feel free to leave a comment below!