So you’ve realized that you are a skinny, weak, pathetic lump of carbon and water (with a nice fedora though) and you’ve decided you don’t like that and want to do something about it.
You feel like that if you go about building some muscle through hard work you’ll feel better, look better, be healthier and attract more (or at least 1 if we’re not that ambitious) of the opposite sex.
Where to Start on you Bodybuilding Journey
Well, congratulations, you’ve made the first mental step on an amazing journey, one that epitomizes the saying “it’s not about the destination but the path you take“.
This is a constant you must remember to be successful with bodybuilding, that you must embrace the physical pain, the discipline, the hard work of the PROCESS of building muscle if you are to achieve a great physique.
If you can’t embrace the process you will fail. So decide now. If you’re a pussy bitch stop reading and close this tab. If not, read this whole post.
But enough being a big fat negative Nancy (sorry, we do that sometimes). You already know it’s hard work and you’re ready to take it all on, that’s why you’ve Googled “bodybuilding for beginners” or something to this effect.
There’s an over abundance of information on the topic and you’re looking to cut through the clutter to learn everything you need to start from square one. That’s smart. To reward you, we’re providing you all the answers you need in this guide.
How to Start Bodybuilding
1. Commit to Yourself, Both Mentally & Physically
First make a commitment to yourself that you will put 100% into this endeavor.
Unlike playing HALO in your mum’s basement, you’ve got to stick with this, you can’t set it down and return 2 weeks later and expect to go anywhere.
You will fight through adversity, whether it be rain, snow, lazy friends, temptations of party’s and booze, driving etc.
The simple concept of building muscle is channeling mental power into physical power which results in physical growth, or growth of the body.
As Kai Greene is always saying, it’s the process of thoughts becoming things, that is what bodybuilding and muscle growth is all about.
While there are many jacked gurus preaching the benefits of at home calisthenics it’s our opinion that you need iron to really make serious gains. Free weights are extremely useful tools.
Sure you can get ripped with just pull-ups, sit-ups and push-ups, but if you want to go beyond, which you will soon enough as your body weight won’t be enough of a challenge after just a month or so, you’ll need free weights.
Get in your school gym, check out Snap fitness, talk to your parents and see if they’ll sign you up on a family plan, get a newspaper route if need be, just get access to some iron.
3. Find a Good Teacher
This is critical for learning proper form for exercises. A good teacher not only shows you exactly how to extract the most benefit from movements, but also teaches you the correct form to prevent injury and amplify your gains as you progress on your bodybuilding journey.
Talk to your school powerlifting coach or whoever is in charge of the gym. These guys can be fountains of knowledge. If you have an older more experienced friend they can help too.
Some preach the practice of self-taught bodybuilding, and while we agree it’s possible, it’s usually much harder.
Sure, there is a Youtube video explaining how to do pretty much everything, however there’s just as many explaining how to do everything wrong.
Form is huge and worth getting right. Always accept criticism and always focus first on form, then on weight. This requires a sacrifice we talk about in step 4.
4. Check Your Ego (yeah all of it) At the Door
Picking up the hobby of bodybuilding is an extremely humbling experience. Unlike chess or soccer or fishing, you are visibly recognizable as a noob when you enter the gym.
You just don’t have the muscle badges of honor yet. Putting on way too much weight, more than you can handle and control, is called “ego lifting” and it’s disgusting.
Sure, there will always be guys bigger than you, however, this shouldn’t deter you, it should in fact only fuel your fiery passion to grow, not crash and burn by trying to out-do people in a pissing contest.
Go into the gym knowing exactly where you stand and vow to improve. You can’t compete with experienced lifters, so there is no point brining your ego into the weight room with you.
Be polite, be patient, work hard, put in more hours than anyone else and there will be a day when you can bring a little ego with you, but that only comes with time.
Every gym has it’s share of assholes, but there are usually even more super awesome people that if respected can eventually become great friends. Don’t be afraid to ask for a spot if you’re doing a heavy lift, likewise offer to return the favor to people who help you.
Offering to spot someone in the gym is like holding the door for someone, it’s a small but much appreciated courtesy. Of course, make sure you learn how to spot correctly.
5. Learn & Perfect the Basics
Squats, Deadlifts and Bench Press. Two of these you are probably not going to like hearing and one you’ll love.
While benching is a blast, it’s actually the least comprehensive of these three. Squats are hated for a reason: they make you work. (This is a common theme in the gym: if you hate it it’s probably great for you.)
Deadlifts aren’t hated as much but still usually don’t fall in anyone’s “top 3 favorite movements” for the same reason, they require full-effort.
Only bench press can be half-assed. (Not that it should be, benching correctly builds out a bigger chest, which builds confidence and thus leads to bigger gains)
Learning to bodybuilding in my high school gym my trainer (a real certified trainer, not some fat ass named Chad who coached football but never played a day in his life) taught a simple 5 day program where 1 day could be substituted with cardio and 4 days were lifting days and each day incorporated one of the above core movements (squat, deadlift or bench).
These core movements were surrounded by supplementary exercises. This combination of compound movements and isolation work turned me from an ectomorph/hard gainer skinny kid into a decently built teenager.
Becoming a serious lifter isn’t just about you though.
Sure, lifting is an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport when you have a spotter and a group activity when everyone in the gym knows you and supports you in your goals.
Learn the fundamentals of spotting to be a member of the tribe, be courteous, put your weights away etc. and you’ll earn respect while building gains, which is a double win.
Don’t forsake perfecting your core lift form in pursuit of other flashy exercises.
Learning proper squat/deadlift/bench form and technique is like learning to ride a bike, swim, or handle a gun; it’ll be valuable to you for life.
6. Channel Your Inner Hulk
You muscle don’t come easily. You can’t be a “passive Peter” and just go through the motions and expect results. No. You have to go in and lift with your whole heart as often as possible.
Get yourself psyched up, drink a cup of strong coffee, have a Red Bull or even a pre-workout before you go in the gym so you hit is 110% and no less.
Music is a great way to get pumped up which in turn makes for a more productive workout and in turn makes for greater gains.
Before you invest in any sort of stimulant supplements, make sure you got a good pair of gym headphones because that will be a major key to being able to “lift furiously” which is something all the big dogs do and you should do too.
Have your friends with you, at least one solid training partner, that will push you.
When you want to do 10 reps he/she will push you to do 12 or if they’re a real pal, 15 reps. They will learn your limit and push you beyond it all the time.
“What about over training?” you may be asking yourself. Don’t worry about over-training. If you are new to lifting and under the age of 25 you already have insane amounts of testosterone and other hormones running through your blood that will help you grow at rates much faster than those of us who are your “elders”.
7. Emulate Heroes Regardless of Semantics
Having an idol isn’t a bad thing, especially in a sport like bodybuilding where idols have to achieve their status through the shedding of endless hours of blood, sweat, and tears.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most popular idols for beginning lifters and for good reason, he’s considered by many to be the best bodybuilder of all time, combining a classic physique with a magnetic personality and personal style.
Arnold is a great idol because there is just so much material published on him. He’s been in movies like Pumping Iron, he’s done countless interviews and published all sorts of training advice.
Furthermore, he wasn’t blessed with a muscle-bound frame.
In fact, young Arnold looked like many young teenage lifters around the world, he was taller (6’2) thin and angsty (jk). In essence, he had a typical ectomorph body type and he went on to become the greatest bodybuilder of all time (debatable of course). What better idol could you have?
Well there are many! If you like Arnold you should check out a pro lifter named Calum Von Moger. He is often compared to Arnold although he has a very different style and is building a physique unique to himself.
If you’re into giants, check out Kai Greene, he’s published dozens of inspirational and instructional bodybuilding videos.
If you’re more into “aesthetics” which is, you never intend to look “scary big” you just want to looked jacked and feel good doing it then check out the likes of Jeff Seid, Angelov Lazar and the infamous Zyzz himself.
Skinny Yoked has researched and published the workout and diet habits of all three of these lifters.
- Click for Jeff Seid’s Workout and Diet Guide
- Click for Angelov Lazar’s Workout and Diet Guide
- Click for Zyzz’s Workout and Diet Guide
Sure, many if not everyone mentioned above is using some type of performance enhancing drug but who cares, they still put in the work and are masters of their trade and thus are perfect idols to emulate in the gym.
8. Invest Only What You Can & In Essentials Only
In every sport there’s that kid who’s mommy buys him all the super expensive and unnecessary shit but actually the kid sucks at whatever sport he/she’s trying at.
You know the kid with the $200 basketball shoes or the $2,000 bicycle or the $200 powerlifting shoes.. The big joke here is on those kids because you don’t need any of that stuff to be great.
When you are starting bodybuilding focus on 3 simple things and you will achieve great things. These are:
- Lift regularly, lift strong and strive for perfection in form.
- Eat regularly, eat healthy and strive to achieve sufficient macro-nutrient levels.
- Rest regularly, sleep well and long enough so your body can do it’s thang and fucking grow.
All the super expensive supplements are not necessary, that is a fact.
Some simple and affordable supplements can make your life a lot easier, like creatine, caffeine and protein powder, but if you’re eating big meals throughout the day packed with greens and protein even those aren’t necessary.
The fact is, when you start working out your body has a huge reserve of untapped potential to draw from (and probably some excess fat) to transform itself.
It’s smarter to make your first gains (also known as the amazing virgin gains because they’re so big/quick and come so fast) before you look into additional supplementation.
The same goes for equipment. You don’t NEED those expensive bodybuilding shoes, any solid flat bottomed footwear will do. Hell, we’ve spoke highly about the $60 Adidas Superstars as being a perfect gym shoe.
Get some cheap flat shoes, get some protein powder if you’re not big into cooking chicken every day, a solid shaker bottle and you’re ready to go.
That’s it. You can try pre-workouts if you want, get special workout clothes but they’re not “must haves”, they’re simply luxuries.
9. Focus on the Present to Construct a Great Future
Bodybuilding is a sport that is all about the journey, not the destination. The sport is more about the practice than the actual show, unlike many other team sports.
It’s also an individual sport so it requires mental focus like no other. Don’t get upset when you don’t see immediate results; bodybuilding is about the journey than the destination.
Forget about the small things. Have a bad day? Go to the gym. Breaking out with mad pimples? Go to the gym. Just KEEP GOING TO THE GYM. enjoy the process and you will reap the rewards.
You are the artist, the hammer, the chisel AND the marble.. what you carve out is completely up to you, as long as you have a vision and stick to it.
10. Just Fucking Do It.
It’s tough, you’re going to be sore, your friends will want to get you to play video games or smoke weed or waste time doing nothing.
You’ll want to eat crappy food all the time and play on your phone in the gym. Sometimes you just won’t want to go.
This is what separates the successful from the failures. Resolutely forsake these things for the gym and the gym will repay you in kind. The gym doesn’t lie.
For every ounce of effort put into the iron the iron pays you back. The only thing you need to do is to just go and get it done you dirty gym rat!
*Speaking of dirty gym rats, gyms are dirty. Remember to always wash your hands when you leave and not to touch your face because every day spent with the flu and not in the gym is a day of lost gains.
Also, we’ve written a bit on hygiene and fighting acne too.
If you’re really young, want to lift and also happen to have acne, check out this complete guide to body acne we whipped up. It covers both chest acne and bacne.
We also have a guide on taking care of your face while working out and after, as peaking levels of test will leave you pimply but that’s not good.
Yeah, these thing are a necessary evil of hardcore workout and high levels of hormones. Thankfully though they can be mitigated.
This is the only guide like this I’ve been able to find. I’m 15 and in high school and am just starting out.
Glad to help out! You’re beginning a journey that will reward you for a lifetime!
I keep seeing “swole” and “ripped”. What is the difference between swole and ripped? Not sure which I should be pursuing..help?
Being swole is generally referring to being “big”.. big full muscle bodies, stretched shirts etc… this is what creatine helps achieve. Ripped on the other hand is lean and athletic.. it isn’t about size but the definition of the muscles themselves. This is a summer look and revolves largely around intense cardio and diet control.
How do I start bodybuilding at 40 years old?
The same way as if you were 14: slowly and gradually, increasing volume and weight over time as your body adapts.
Great post. My son just started going to the gym and I admit as a mother I was a bit concerned, but after reading this and doing some of my own motherly research I’m more excited than ever for my little herculese!
Great write up man, nobody covers the beginning stage in bodybuilding which is the most important imho
I just started 1.4 years ago. At what point should I look at gear to go beyond my natty potential?
Man, you are still a noob lifter.. don’t even consider gear until at LEAST 5-6 years in because it takes that long to max out your natural potential, and that’s with a PERFECTLY optimized workout routine and diet.. could be even longer if things are sub-optimal.
Why don’t you cover steroids here?
Because beginner bodybuilders don’t need steroids.
Where can I find resources for learning proper form on all the lifts as you recommend?
If you have a budget, hire a trainer. First hand learning is the most efficient. If you don’t have a budget Youtube has all the info you need, you just need to be careful you are following/copying perfectly to avoid injury. It’s worth asking bigger more experienced lifters in your gym for pointers too!
Yes, this ^ is the best advice by far.. every time I have a young guy ask me for some tips I’m grateful to meet another new young blood in the sport and always share some pointers. Some things you just can’t learn in online courses!
Great write up.. glad I discovered this blog. Peace!
I read on Reddit that you shouldn’t use supplements when just starting. Is that true?
It depends. If you have a solid diet and are getting around your bodyweight in protein then you don’t need any supplements no. If your diet is not optimized or your schedule is busy then adding some protein powder may be a good idea. Adding creatine is also recommended after the first 6 months once you learn the movements and get your form down as it can help accelerate your gains. I have a whole guide to selecting the best creatine here: https://skinnyyoked.com/bodybuilding-supplements/creatine-types/
What about cardio?
what about it? do it if you want to be lean/cut. Don’t do it if you don’t care.
Thanks for the guidance, nobody emphasizes form and old school lifting anymore!
What kind of budget would you recommend for a beginner lifter (for supplements, shoes, workout clothes etc)
All you need is food, so if you have that covered you don’t need a budget for anything. Fancy shoes and clothes are not necessary. If lifting heavy the one accessory I would invest in would be a quality squat belt.
Hello! I am 17 years old and have just started lifting at my high school gym. What would an ideal beginner bodybuilding diet look like? I’m on a budget too if you can recommend affordable options. Thank you!
Hey man welcome to the community! Good to be thinking about diet as that’s where so many people mess up. Most important thing at your age is to be getting enough carbs pre-workout to fuel the intensity, and then enough protein throughout the day to rebuild. Shoot for 80-90% of your bodyweight (pounds) in grams of protein.
Who spends their time leaving these kind of comments? Just lift!
Who reads a beginners guide before they start lifting? Just lift!
Is beginning bodybuilding different for women compared to men?
I don’t see why it would be. Of course weights lifted, target bodyweight and physique shape might differ but the fundamentals of diet and hard work are the same regardless of sex.
I’m 39 years old and have been a long time reader of your blog. Is it too late for me to get into the sport?
Hell no! It doesn’t matter if you are 30, 40, or even 50. Go get your gym membership today, buy a bunch of protein and go chase your goals!