How to Train Like a Bodybuilder

Want to add more muscle to your body and look like one of those magazine cover models? Then check out Get-Fit Guy’s 5 tips to train like a bodybuilder.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #112

How to Train Like a Bodybuilder

Have you ever picked up a magazine from the newsstand and wondered “How can I get the muscular, ripped look of a fitness cover model?” or “Could I ever add enough muscle to my body to the point where I could actually flex on stage?”

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It may not be the look for everybody, but training like a bodybuilder can transform your body in amazing ways. As an ex-bodybuilder, I have firsthand experience of how to achieve that look. So if you’ve ever been curious about how a bodybuilder trains, then this episode is for you!

Why Bodybuilder Training Is Different

In the episode How to Build Muscle, you learn that when you require your muscles to produce a force, such as lifting a weight, the tension from the weight stretches the muscle fibers and causes tiny tears in them. When the cells in your muscle fibers sense this trauma, they begin to rally the muscle-building troops from your body to repair the tears.

These muscle-building troops include hormones, growth factors, and white blood cells. Working together, all these components not only repair the muscle fibers, but they also increase the size of those fibers and the strength of the nerves that activate them, so that next time you lift a weight, you are better able to do so. As those fibers increase in size, so do your muscles.

As you can probably guess, the goal is bodybuilding is to simply tear as many muscle fibers as possible by putting the muscle into a situation in which it is repeatedly stressed from as many different angles as possible with a variety of different forces. When adequate recovery is allowed for the fibers to rebuild…voila! A bodybuilder grows new muscle.

So what are some techniques that can be used for maximum muscle growth?  Here are your 5 Quick and Dirty Tips to train like a bodybuilder:

Tip #1: Isolate Body Parts

By isolating body parts, you can stress a specific set of muscle fibers over and over again, resulting in maximum muscle “damage,” and subsequent repair, recovery and growth. So rather than doing a full body workout a few times a week, a bodybuilding-style routine would involve you isolating specific muscle groups just one to two times per week. This is called a “body part split.”

For example, a six-day bodybuilding “body part split” routine would be:

Monday: Chest, Shoulders, and Abs

Tuesday: Biceps and Triceps

Wednesday: Legs

Thursday: Off

Friday: Chest, Shoulder,s and Abs

Saturday: Biceps and Triceps

Sunday: Legs

Tip #2: Do Several Exercises For Each Body Part

Rather than simply performing one exercise for each body part, as you might do during a traditional weight training circuit, when you’re training like a bodybuilder, you need to stress a specific muscle group from a variety of angles, which means that you may end up performing anywhere from 2-5 different exercises for a single body part during a workout.

For example, on an “arms” day for the biceps muscle group, you might do:

Standing dumbbell biceps curls

Standing cable curls

Single arm concentration curls

And for the triceps muscle group, you might do:

Cable pushdowns

Overhead dumbbell extensions


Tip #3: Do a High Number of Sets

While simply one or two sets can be sufficient for building strength, building muscle like a bodybuilder usually requires working a muscle to complete exhaustion. This can often involve three or more sets, and some bodybuilders will perform up to 20 sets for a single exercise!

An example of a multi-set portion of a bodybuilding workout might involve a “stripping” workout. And no, it’s not what you think. There are no poles involved here. As you’ll see in the episode How to Get Better Results From Weightlifting, stripping is a style of weightlifting that involves starting with a heavy weight, and then stripping the weight down as you progress through multiple sets. Keep reading for an example of stripping (again, not the seedy kind).

Tip #4: Vary Your Repetitions

As you just learned, your multiple sets do not need to each have the same number of repetitions. For optimal muscle growth, it is ideal to expose a muscle to a variety of loads.

For example, during a chest workout, you might do 2-3 warm-up sets of bench press, and then 1 heavy set of 4 reps, a lighter set of 6 reps, a lighter set of 8 reps, a lighter set of 10 reps, and your lightest set of 12 reps. For a more advanced chest routine, you might even “ladder” back down to 4 reps. This type of repetition variance allows the muscle to be exposed to a variety of loads in a single workout.

Tip #5: Train Hard, Recover Long

There is a significant amount of muscle damage that occurs in a bodybuilding style routine, so it’s important not to work the same muscles on consecutive days. In most cases, a muscle needs at least 72 hours (and sometimes up to a week!) in order to properly recover for optimum growth.

Generally, if a muscle is still sore, you shouldn’t come back and work it again in a workout. At the same time, you should be doing all you can to recover as quickly as possible, which will help minimize the soreness and allow you to get faster results. For more on how to do that, check out my episode How to Recover After a Workout.

If you enjoyed this episode, you may also want to check out 10 Tips to Build Muscle Fast. And remember – the ultimate goal of bodybuilder-style training is to gain muscle size, and not necessarily muscle strength, so this type of routine may not be ideal if you’re looking for strength (or power, or speed!). But if your single goal is to build muscle and get the magazine cover look, then training like a bodybuilder is just the thing for you.

If you have more questions about how to train like a bodybuilder, then join the conversation at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!

Body Builder, Man Lifting Weights and Woman with Dumbbells images from Shutterstock

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.