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Ripped arms and chiseled abs take hard work and dedication. Bodybuilders are among some of the most dedicated athletes, with every facet of their lives playing a role in the way their bodies look on competition day. No doubt, the sport isn’t for the weak of heart — but if you’ve got the desire and determination to begin bodybuilding, it can be very rewarding. As with all things, one of the biggest factors in bodybuilding success is a well-crafted and executed plan.

Step 1

Define your goals. Most bodybuilders train for specific competitions and begin their diet and training program 12 to 16 weeks in advance. Depending on your physique and genetics, you may need more time. Be realistic and select a show that is in line with your level of competition and body type. If you’re not looking to compete, come up with some concrete goals that define your desired body fat percentage, weight and measurements — and then give yourself a deadline for achieving them.

Step 2

Evaluate your current state. Look in the mirror and be honest about where you’re at. You may only need some slight tweaking, or you might be starting from square one. Either is fine, but it’s important to understand your starting point.

Step 3

Consult a coach or trainer, if possible. Fitness professionals aren’t in everyone’s budget, but their guidance can be extremely helpful in achieving bodybuilding goals. If you have the resources, enlist professional help to craft your diet and training program. If you can’t afford a coach, find other bodybuilders who are willing to share tips and advice with you.

Step 4

Create your training split. Bodybuilding requires quite a bit of time in the gym. You can’t expect to sculpt a body like Arnold’s if you’re only training twice a week. Be prepared to train at least four to five days a week. Once you’ve determine how often you’ll train, create a training split that coincides with your schedule. For example, if you’re planning to work out five days a week, your weekly split may be divided up like this: chest, arms, back, rest, legs, shoulders, rest.

Step 5

Write out your diet. Your eating plan will shift as your body changes. If you’re training for a competition, the final few weeks of your diet will likely be calorie-restricted and very low in carbohydrates. It’s important to provide your muscles with the building blocks they need to grow when you’re trying to add mass, so many bodybuilders eat high-calorie, high-protein and moderate- to high-carbohydrate diets during their bulking phases. However, your genetics will largely determine what your needs are — fine-tuning your diet may take a bit of trial and error because there is no one-size-fits-all diet guaranteed to provide you the results you’re looking for.

Step 6

Perform cardio as necessary. Cardio can be a tricky component for bodybuilders, as it can break down hard-earned muscle in the dieting phase. Once your body fat is relatively low, use cardio sparingly to shed the final percentage points.

Tips & Warnings

  • Regularly evaluate your progress and make changes as needed. Use tools such as circumference measurements and body fat percentages that will let you know if you’re moving in the right direction. If you aren’t, it’s time to consider where your diet and training program may need to be adjusted. Also, remember to keep your expectations reasonable. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are impressive physiques. Stay focused on your goals, enjoy your successes and learn from your mistakes.
  • Consult your physician before beginning a new exercise regimen. Always use a spotter, and follow proper form for all exercises.

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