Are you a beginner and want to get on the right track and build muscle? This article presents the simple keys to muscle building success.

Bad Bench Press FormBeginning lifters tend to grow on just about any program or routine. So, with this in mind, the question becomes…does it really matter what a beginning lifter does, as long as they just do it? The answer is a resounding yes! There are essentials that every beginner should follow. These essentials will help maximize time spent in the gym, packing on the most muscle possible in the shortest time.

Natural Movements

Beginning lifters should focus on using natural movements. Natural movements, generally known as heavy compound lifts, are muscle building exercises that are similar to motions you perform everyday. Simply stated, they are lifts your body was built for. You have a mechanical advantage when performing heavy compound lifts, and because of this you can utilize more weight and maximize muscle growth. These lifts include…

  • The squat. Squatting down to pick something up.
  • The deadlift. Picking up something off the ground.
  • The press. The motion of pushing something away from the body.
  • The row. The action of pulling something towards the body.
  • The overhead press. Lifting an object over your head.

Lifts known as isolation movements are generally unnatural for the body. These lifts include dumbbell flyes or pec dec, cable crossovers, lateral or front raises, and dumbbell pullovers. While the human body is more then capable of mastering these isolation lifts, a beginning lifter should master natural movements first. Build a solid foundation of strength and muscular coordination with compound exercises, and then branch out into isolation exercises.

Keep in mind that some isolation exercises are “natural movements”. The bicep curl is a very natural movement, and an action we perform frequently every day. With that said, the human body was not built to move heavy weight using only a single muscle. Therefore, I recommend that beginners avoid all isolation lifts until they have a basic mastery over heavy compound lifts, and have gained a degree of muscle and tendon strength.

More Weight

If you continue to lift the same amount of weight, your progress will stop. Beginners should have tunnel vision when it comes to weight progression, documenting each workout, and shooting for an increase in either repetitions or weight over their last workout. The body is a muscle building machine during the first year or two of weight training. Adding more weight to the bar will help maximize muscle growth in the shortest period of time possible.

One caveat: if you are a rank beginner and have never performed any dumbbell or barbell movements, take some time and learn the exercises before you start pushing for progression. During this time (4 to 6 weeks), use moderate weight and concentrate on mastering good form.

Good Form

This is often an overlooked factor. You must use good form. Because you are adding more weight to the bar each week, the burden your body endures becomes greater. Poor form will lead to injuries. And obviously, time away from the gym due to injuries will lead to a decrease in muscle mass. Stop swinging your curls and bouncing your bench presses!


There is no need for a beginner to overdo it. Proper rest in between workouts is needed and essential if you want to pack on muscle. Lift every other day, and never two days in a row. Limit your workouts to a single hour per session, and perform only 3 sets per exercise. Research shows that in general, 3 difficult sets of any given exercise is more then enough to stimulate growth.

More is not better in the weight lifting game. This reality has become skewed because of the abuse of steroids and HGH. Workouts over an hour tend to be catabolic for natural lifters. Catabolic means muscle destroying, and not muscle building.

Think of it this way…have you ever seen a muscular marathon runner? No. When you try and turn weight training sessions into tests of endurance, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Bodybuilding Rest


Poor sleeping habits mess with your body’s ability to grow muscle. Get at least 8 hours of quality sleep each night. Cutting corners on rest is like racing a muscle car with limited oil. Sooner or later something will break down. Proper sleep maximizes recovery, muscle gains and helps with proper hormone regulation.

Eat Big

If you push heavy weight in the gym, but munch on salads and chicken breasts out of the gym, you will be limiting your body’s ability to pack on mass. To grow muscle, you need extra calories. Eat three square meals a day, and add in high protein snacks between each meal and before bed. Also, if you are underweight – or a hardgainer - there are simple ways to add extra calories to your diet:

  • Weight Gainers. If you are underweight, one of the best ways to eat more calories is via the use of a quality weight gainer supplement.
  • Whole Milk. Add one very large glass of whole milk in between each meal. Whole milk is very nutritious, and calorie dense.
  • Cheese. Munch on string cheese in between meals, or add cheese to meals. Cheese provides extra muscle building protein, as well as extra calories.
  • Almonds. A handful of almonds in between meals, or before bed, will add quality calories and healthy fats to your diet.
  • Natural Peanut Butter. Who doesn’t like peanut butter. Peanut butter tastes great and is rich in calories. Combine it with dark chocolate for a healthy bulking dessert.

Save Your Money

Don’t throw your hard-earned cash down the toilet buying into crazy fitness programs or equipment, unusual “magic” diet plans, or products that make unbelievable claims. If you follow the eating and training rules provided in this article, you will be well on your way to having the body you want. Just remember: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


Follow the essentials in this article and you will grow like a weed. Work hard for a year, and you will be surprised at your progress. Remember to keep things simple. There is a mountain of muscle building misinformation on the Internet. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that there is some mystical, magical perfect training and diet routine that will unlock your true potential and turn you into Jay Cutler. By working hard on the basics, you will reach your goals, learn your body in the process, and develop a training and diet style that is unique and based around your needs.

Posted on: Wed, 06/17/2020 - 04:08

can boy under 12 attempt to do this muscle building exercise?

Posted on: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 16:57

Thanx this helped a lot!

Posted on: Sat, 05/18/2013 - 04:12

Hi Steve,
First i want you to thanks for great information on this M&S forum. This really help me in starting gym.
I am doing fullbody following workout just want you to know & comment if it is OK.
Seated Barbell Press: 5x12
Bench Press: 5x12
Lat Pull down: 5x12 (I cant do pull ups)
Sqaut: 5x12
Barbell Curl: 3x12
Skullcrusher: 3x12
Seated Dumbbell Press: 4x12
Inclined Dumbbell Bench Press: 4x12
One Arm Dumbbell Row: 4x12
Smith Machine Standing Calf raise: 4x12
Dumbbell Curls: 2x12
Seated Dumbbell Extension: 2x12
Military Press: 5x12
Bench Press: 5x12
Lat Pull down: 5x12 (I cant do pull ups)
Deadlift: 5x10
Barbell Curl: 3x12
Skullcrusher: 3x12

I am male, age 26 y 8m, height 5, 10, weight 152lbs.

Posted on: Sun, 06/26/2011 - 00:48

This is a great article! I am already on a beginner workout from the M&S writers. But out of curiosity, I was wondering if you could recommend or even better show me a sample workout for beginners based off of this article or better. Ive read on heavy compound exercises and I thought that much more was needed this type of exercise.


Posted on: Wed, 05/25/2011 - 16:24

Thanks Steve,

Great article by the way, just the basics.
So for example starting strength from Mark rippetoe, is that a good way to start if i want to get strong and big?

Assuming that i eat a lot of healthy foods.

Keep up the great articles.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 05/27/2011 - 18:50

Starting Strength is a great choice.

Posted on: Wed, 05/25/2011 - 07:01

Hi steve,

The 5 exercises need they all be done in one work out 3 times a week?
And what about the rep range?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 05/25/2011 - 14:15

Hi Seppe,

They do not need to be performed 3x a week. Check out this article for some good workout ideas:

micheal rushlow
Posted on: Sat, 12/18/2010 - 17:19

Hi, I am a bit over weight and wanting to get into shape for the summer and continue to stay in shape but i feel i eat the wrong foods and am not working out the right way when i did go to the gym and the trainers there are a bit pricey. I need help and have alot of questions regarding a workout and a diet plan can you please help me? or point me in the right direction for a diet plan and a work out plan i want to add size in my arms and chest and lower body but loose my gut and get a firm abdomin....thank you

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sat, 12/18/2010 - 18:30

Hi Michael,

I am glad to help. Ask all the questions you want. As far as diet, here is a great article to get you started:

As far as a workout, how long have you been training and do you feel you have a pretty good grasp on form? I would probably recommend starting with this routine, and using it for at least 8-12 weeks.

I would also recommend some form of cardio that you enjoy, 3-4 times per week for 20 to 30 minutes...either after lifting or on off days.

Posted on: Sat, 05/08/2010 - 16:05

Good article, we need to see more articles for the beginning lifter. Thanks

Matt S.
Posted on: Fri, 05/07/2010 - 12:05

Great write up! I myself am a beginner,and very skinny. (6'2",140lbs) all these things make sense,so i decided to try it. i focused on big compound movements and after one month i see a big change. Great advice!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 05/07/2010 - 13:16

Thanks Matt and best of luck!

Posted on: Thu, 05/06/2010 - 15:09

Nice! Things really seem to get over complicated--back to basics!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 05/06/2010 - 16:32

Thanks Kassande!

Posted on: Mon, 05/03/2010 - 17:41

Excellent article!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 05/03/2010 - 19:38

Thanks! Glad you liked it.

Posted on: Mon, 05/03/2010 - 22:44

You're welcome!

Wish more beginners would get to read articles of this sort instead of some articles they randomly pick from health magazines or over the internet. Easy access to information is almost our biggest enemy when we first started.