Intermediate Programs for Body Building

Intermediate Program for Bodybuilding

Intermediate Body Building Competition

By the time you reach the intermediate level of bodybuilding, you should already have a strong familiarity with most aspects of this competitive sport.

More specifically, you should have a sound understanding of the primary muscle groups of the human body, the importance of using the correct form, how to “listen” to your body and monitor its progress, and how to adhere to a rigorous and demanding strength training schedule that would overwhelm most beginning weight trainers.

As you progress in your bodybuilding career, you’ll want to develop an even stronger understanding of these concepts and how they apply to your specific body.

All bodybuilders are unique, and a piece of advice that works for 80% of the bodybuilding population may not apply to you.

For this reason, it’s important to realize by the intermediate level that bodybuilding is a highly personal endeavor, one in which you have the final say regarding all decisions.

At the intermediate level, you should understand and employ the correct form for a wide variety of exercises. At the same time, you’ll want to continually work new exercises into your routine while swapping out old ones. In addition to more advanced weight training techniques such as supersetting and pyramiding, this will keep your body constantly challenged, forcing it to compensate by growing rapidly in muscular size, strength, density and symmetry.

The intermediate level of bodybuilding is also when aspects such as nutrition and supplementation become too important to ignore. Without the proper diet and an appropriate, carefully constructed supplement regime, you’ll be unable to make the desired gains as quickly and to the largest extent possible. Knowing which supplements to use and when to use them will be a crucial component of your bodybuilding knowledge as you progress from the intermediate to the advanced levels of bodybuilding.

The Primary Muscle Groups of the Body

As an intermediate bodybuilder, you should have a solid understanding of the body’s various major muscle groups, as well as how they work in different combinations to move the body in certain ways. Keep in mind that these muscle groups contain several individual muscles which can be specifically targeted using various exercises, in addition to targeting the muscle group in general.

A brief description of each major muscle group is listed below:

    major muscle groups

  • Abdominals: The muscles that make up the front of your mid-section.

  • Biceps: The muscles located on the front of your arm between your shoulder and elbow.

  • Calves: The muscles that make up the lower portion of the back of your leg below your knee.

  • Deltoids: The muscles that make up a large portion of the curve of your shoulder.

  • Forearms: The muscles located on the lower arm between the elbow and wrist.

  • Gluteals: The muscles of your posterior.

  • Hamstrings: The muscles located on the back of your leg between your gluteals and knee.

  • Latissimus Dorsi: The muscles located on the sides of your upper back under the arm pit.

  • Pectorals: The muscles of your chest.

  • Obliques: The muscles on the sides of your mid-section.

  • Quadriceps: The muscles located on the front of your leg between your hip and knee.

  • Trapezius: The muscles located on the sides of your neck.

  • Triceps: The muscles located on the back of your arm between your shoulder and elbow.

Nutritional Requirements for Intermediate Bodybuilders

Once you move from the beginning bodybuilding program to the intermediate one, your nutritional requirements will naturally increase and you’ll need to consume more calories per day than you did at the start of your strength training career. There are several reasons for this:

  • Your body mass will be greater overall, requiring more calories in general.

  • Your muscles will be larger and denser, requiring more calories (especially in the form of protein) as well.

  • Your workouts may become longer and more intense, requiring more energy to be performed correctly.

  • Some of your body fat will be replaced by muscle tissue, which requires more energy in comparison to fat in order to be sustained.

In order to maximize your gains as a bodybuilder, however, you can’t just eat more calories – instead, you have to eat more calories strategically. This involves allocating the right types of calories in the appropriate amounts to your daily meals, as well as ensuring ideal ratios of fat, protein and carbohydrates.

Pre-Workout and Post-Workout Meals

Although successful bodybuilders pay careful attention to what they eat during all meals, special consideration should be placed on the meals eaten directly before and after a strength training workout.

In terms of a pre-workout meals, it’s best to eat a snack or meal with a low glycemic index. A food’s glycemic index is a measure of how quickly your body will turn that food into energy (sugar). By eating a low-glycemic food such as an apple, peach, orange or whole grain spaghetti or fettucine, you’ll have the long-lasting energy needed to perform your workout with intensity. Alternatively, eating a high-glycemic meal prior to a workout would create a short-lived blood sugar spike and minimize the fat-burning potential of your workout.

For a post-workout meal, it’s best to consume a meal or snack with a high glycemic index. This is because your body’s energy stores will be drained from the workout, and eating a snack that quickly converts to energy will replace these energy stores. If you fail to feed your body shortly after your workout, it may turn to your existing muscle tissue as a source of energy, defeating the purpose of the strength training workout. Examples of high-glycemic foods include enriched white flour products (white bread, certain cereals, etc.), macaroni and cheese, white rice, fruit and fruit juice.

It’s also important to include plenty of protein in your post-workout meal. Your body will use this protein to repair and rebuild stronger, denser larger muscles than were broken down during the strength training exercise. Various studies have shown that protein synthesis doubles in the 24-hour window following a strength training session. However, your body won’t have any protein to synthesize into muscle tissue if you fail to feed it to your body.

Your overall caloric requirements are also at their greatest in the immediate aftermath of a strength training workout. Accomodate this by consuming roughly twice as many calories in your post-workout meal as you do in your other daily meals.

Ideal Ratios for Protein, Carbs and Fat

Protein is arguably the single most important nutrient for bodybuilders, but that certainly doesn’t mean that carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals can be ignored. In fact, these other nutrients play crucial supporting roles in the development of stronger, denser, more massive muscles.

The following are the ideal ratios of dietary fat, carbs and protein for bodybuilders seeking to add muscle mass:

  • Protein: 30% to 40%
  • Carbohydrates: 40% to 50%
  • Fat: 20% to 30%

These are the ratios to which you should adhere during the bodybuilding off-season, when your goal is to make the largest possible gains in muscular mass, strength and density. As a bodybuilding competition approaches, however, your goals will change from adding bulk to toning and sculpting the muscles while burning excess fat.

The following are the ideal ratios of dietary protein, carbs and fat for bodybuilders seeking to tone and sculpt muscles while cutting fat:

  • Protein: 20% to 25%
  • Carbohydrates: 55% to 60%
  • Fat: 15% to 20%

How Much Protein is Enough?

Depending on activity and metabolic levels, bodybuilders should consume between 0.8 and 1.4 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 200-pound strength trainer would need to consume between 160 and 240 grams of protein daily.

Some bodybuilders find it difficult to consume this much protein through traditional food sources alone. If this is the case, you can use nutritional supplements such as whey protein to meet your daily needs.

The Importance of Intensity and Effort in Bodybuilding

Ensuring a high level of effort and intensity in both strength training and cardiovascular workouts is of utmost importance to bodybuilders of all skill levels, including those at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. In order to maximize the intensity of your workout, you’ll need to pay careful attention to the types of exercises you include in each workout, as well as the number of sets and reps you devote to each exercise, and finally the amount of weight you lift during each individual repetition.

Some strength trainers assume that the only way to get an intense workout is to use large amounts of weight and small amounts of repetitions. While this can certainly result in a highly intense workout, it’s just as easy to get a high-intensity workout while using smaller amounts of weight and larger amounts of repetitions. The only difference is that the former strategy is designed primarily for gains in muscular strength, mass and density, while the latter strategy is better suited to gains in muscular definition and toning, along with reductions in excess body fat.

Exercising to Failure

In both of the previously discussed cases, one of the best ways to ensure an intense workout that thoroughly fatigues and tears down the muscle tissue is to exercise to failure, or the point at which it becomes physically impossible to perform another repetition unassisted.

However, bodybuilders continue to disagree as to whether exercising to failure is optimal for muscle growth. It certainly isn’t necessary, since you can easily look at examples of individuals in physical professions (such as carpentry and brick laying) who build massive amounts of muscle during their jobs without ever working to the point that they’re physically unable to lay another brick or hammer another nail. Exercising to failure is certainly still an attractive option, though it may be unwise to do it for every exercise of every session since you’ll increase your risk of incurring an injury and/or overtraining yourself, which could reduce the productivity of future workouts.

At the same time, there is one benefit of exercising to failure that all bodybuilders should seek, and that’s the ability to determine the ideal amount of weight lifted in a given exercise. For example, let’s say you perform three sets of an exercise, lifting 200 pounds for 15 reps in the first two sets. In the third set, you comfortably lift 25 reps before reaching failure. The next time you perform the exercise, you’ll know to start with more than 200 pounds in order to get closer to failure by the end of the final set.

Enhancing Bodybuilding Progress with the Help of a Spotter

Body Building Exercise Spotter

Utilizing the assistance of a spotter is absolutely essential to bodybuilding. A spotter is defined as an individual who will provide assistance with specific strength training exercises when you need it. When performing his or her job correctly, a spotter will not make a workout easier, but rather increase the overall intensity of the workout.

First and foremost, the primary responsibility of a spotter is to prevent you from injuring yourself as you’re performing a weight training exercise. The spotter will accomplish this by sitting or standing in a position adjacent to you, ready to offer a measured level of assistance at a moment’s notice. For example, if you were to reach the point of failure earlier than expected during a set, your spotter would help to keep the weight in its desired range of motion instead of falling to the floor or onto your body.

Secondly, once you reach failure on a specific exercise, a spotter will be able assist you in performing additional repetitions.

Using a Spotter to Perform Forced Reps

Aside from injury prevention, one of the most common tasks a spotter performs is to assist with forced repetitions. A forced rep is defined as a repetition of a given exercise that you perform after reaching the point of failure. The goal of performing forced reps is to more thoroughly exhaust and tear down your muscle tissue, maximizing the effectiveness of your workout.

Ideally, the spotter will provide just enough assistance as to allow you to perform two to four forced reps beyond failure. If the spotter provides too little assistance, you may be unable to complete the forced rep, or you may even drop the weight. If the spotter provides too much assistance, the reps will be too easy and it will defeat the purpose of performing the forced reps in the first place.

Using a Spotter to Perform Negatives

While the focus of a forced rep is on the positive portion of the rep, or the portion in which the weight is traveling against gravity, the emphasis of a negative rep is on the negative portion of the movement, or the portion in which weight is traveling with gravity.

Performing negative reps starts with performing a given exercise to the point of failure, just as with forced reps. From here, your spotter will need to provide assistance during the positive portion of the rep. Your job is to perform the negative portion of the rep unassisted, which you should do over the course of three to five seconds. The spotter will then help you to lift through the positive portion of the rep, repeating the process until you complete roughly three negative reps.

Exercises involving a large amount of weight and fewer than 10 reps are especially conducive to negative reps, since the negatives will be significantly challenging in comparison to if you used smaller amounts of weight. For rhythmic, high-rep exercises, negative reps are less effective since it’s relatively easy to slowly lower a lighter amount of weight.

Achieving and Maintaining Muscular Symmetry

When you enter into a bodybuilding competition, you’ll be judged on aspects of your body such as muscular mass, density, strength and definition. In addition, you’ll be judged on your body’s muscular symmetry. However, symmetry encompasses more than just the balance between the left and right sides of your body, and more than the balance between your upper and lower halves. Achieving true muscular symmetry is about symmetry among the muscle groups, as well as symmetry among the individual muscles within a group.

Upper and Lower Body Symmetry

When people think of a bodybuilder with poor muscular symmetry, the first image that comes to mind is an individual with a massively built upper body and tiny, underdeveloped legs. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t always due to a severe lack of lower body training on the part of the bodybuilder. Instead, it often stems from the fact that the muscles of the lower body (such as the calves, hamstrings and quadriceps) have already been extensively conditioned through walking, standing and other physical motions common among all able-bodied humans.

Since the lower body muscles are already conditioned in this way, it takes more effort to stimulate them to grow. In order to build stronger, denser, larger muscles in the lower body, you must progressively overload them with increasingly large amounts of weight. It’s also important to utilize a wide variety of lower body exercises, allowing you to work these muscles from various angles and in various ways. This will cause all of your lower body muscles to grow more rapidly and uniformly, giving you even more power to complete the next lower body workout.

Right and Left Symmetry

A lack of right-to-left symmetry will be even more apparent to bodybuilding judges than a lack of upper and lower body symmetry. Fortunately, right-to-left symmetry is something that you’ll probably achieve shortly after beginning a strength training program.

If you’re brand new to strength training, you may find that your right side (if you’re right-handed) is stronger than your left. This is because you naturally perform more tasks on a daily basis using your dominant hand. In the absence of regular strength training, it’s easy for the non-dominant side of your body to fall behind in measures of strength, mass and density.

Detecting a difference in left-to-right symmetry is as easy as performing an exercise that has you holding independent dumbbell weights in each hand, such as single arm preacher curls or the flat bench dumbbell press. If you’re using the same amount of weight in each hand and you find one side of your body tiring before the other, you’ll know that it’s time to develop your left-to-right symmetry.

Symmetry Among Muscle Groups

As mentioned, the body is composed of several different major muscle groups, all of which work in various combinations to produce the movements of the body. As a bodybuilder, your goal is to develop all of these muscle groups uniformly. In other words, your biceps and triceps should be as similar in strength, mass, density and definition as possible, and the same could be said about the symmetry between your biceps and your obliques or your triceps and your calves.

As with the other forms of symmetry, this is something you’ll need to monitor as your bodybuilding program continues. The best way to ensure muscular symmetry is to exercise all major muscle groups before beginning the cycle again. In other words, if you work your pectoral muscles one day, you should not work them again until you’ve worked all other major muscle groups.

Symmetry Among Individual Muscles in a Muscle Group

It’s important to remember that all of the major muscle groups contain smaller individual muscles making up the overall group. In a bodybuilding competition, you’ll be judged on the symmetry among these individual muscles.

For example, the biceps and triceps muscle groups consist of two and three individual muscles, respectively (this corresponds to the “bi-” in biceps and the “tri-” in triceps). In order to achieve total muscular symmetry, you must develop all of these individual muscles at the same rate. You can accomplish this by working a wide variety of biceps and triceps exercises into your routine, rotating some in and some out as your bodybuilding program continues. The purpose of this is to work your muscles in various ways and from several different angles. This concept obviously applies to all of your muscle groups and not just your biceps and triceps.

The Importance of Proper Exercise Form to Bodybuilding

There are two primary reasons to focus on utilizing the proper form when performing any weight training exercise: injury prevention and achieving the appropriate results from a strength training exercise.

How Proper Form Prevents Injury

front squarts

The goal of any bodybuilding exercise is to work the muscles. When you perform exercises with the improper form, some of this “work” is transferred away from the muscles and to the joints and bones, locations where you don’t want to place an undue level of stress. In some cases, using the improper form will transfer so much stress to these locations that an injury occurs.

Injuries are extremely detrimental to bodybuilders because they force the individual to modify or discontinue their routine, usually temporarily but sometimes even permanently. An injury during the bodybuilding off-season could spell the cancellation of scheduled competitions.

As such, it’s important that you thoroughly understand the proper form for an exercise, including the intended range of motion and other factors, before you implement that exercise in the weight room. Using a lighter amount of weight initially will help you to practice using the proper form while minimizing the risk of injury. If you’re unsure of the proper form for any given strength training exercise, you can find a detailed description of it in our Exercises section.

It’s very important that you listen to your body during any given strength training exercise to determine whether the sensation you’re feeling represents “good pain” or “bad pain.” If you’re experiencing bad pain, which usually presents itself as a sharp, acute pain in the joints as opposed to a slow, dull burn in the muscles, chances are good that you’re employing the wrong form in this particular exercise.

How Improper Form Yields Unexpected Results

Another reason why using the proper form is so essential is that it’s the only way to realize the bodybuilding results you’re expecting from a given exercise. For example, if you incorrectly perform a bench press exercise intended to work your pectoral muscles, you may end up working the muscles of your biceps, triceps and back instead. While these muscle groups are indeed involved in a correctly performed bench press exercise, they should not be performing the brunt of the work.

As such, if you continually perform an exercise with the wrong form, you won’t achieve the level of progress you’re expecting in the particular muscle group you’re targeting. This is hugely detrimental to your bodybuilding routine – after all, why design a bodybuilding program around exercises that target specific muscle groups when the exercises you actually perform in the weight room target different muscle groups entirely?

This concept applies to specific muscles within each muscle group as well. For example, if you perform an exercise designed to target the posterior deltoids with the improper form, you may end up working the anterior or lateral deltoids instead. Using the proper form is especially important for bodybuilders seeking to improve their muscular symmetry and definition.

Push Muscle Groups and Pull Muscle Groups

Each muscle in the body is capable of either contracting or extending in order to produce movement. When a muscle contracts, it shortens in length, and when it extends, it increases in length.

The portion of a given exercise in which the muscles contracts is known as the concentric (difficult) portion of the exercise. Meanwhile, the portion in which the muscle extends is known as the eccentric portion of the exercise. For example, the biceps muscles contract when the barbell is lifted during standing barbell curls, and extend when the barbell is lowered.

In the context of bodybuilding, the terms push and pull are used to denote the action that is required to create the concentric (difficult) portion of the exercise in a given muscle group. For example, the calves can be considered a push muscle groups because they contract when weight is pushed away from the body. The biceps, meanwhile, are considered a pull muscle group because they contract when weight is pulled toward the body.

Pull Muscle Groups:

  • Abdominals
  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Hamstrings
  • Obliques
  • Trapezius

Push Muscle Groups:

  • Calves
  • Deltoids
  • Gluteals
  • Pectorals
  • Quadriceps
  • Triceps

These muscle groups can be worked in various combinations in order to form push/pull, push/push and pull/pull strength training routines.

Push/Pull Routines

In order to perform a push/pull routine, you’ll need to combine exercises that work both push and pull muscle groups into a single weight training session. For example, a strength training session that focuses on the abdominals, hamstrings, quadriceps and triceps could be considered a push/pull bodybuilding routine.

Push/pull routines are far more common than push/push and pull/pull routines because they allow for additional flexibility in choosing the exercises you’ll perform in a given session. They also tend to place less stress on the joints, thanks in part to this variety. Intermediate bodybuilders should think of push/pull routines as the type of routine that will virtually always be included in a strength training program, no matter the goal.

Push/Push Routines

In order to perform a push/push routine, you must perform a strength training session working only push muscle groups. For example, a weight training session that only works the triceps, pectorals, calves and quadriceps is considered a push/push routine.

Push/push routines are typically more difficult than push/pull routines, and are therefore only intended for intermediate and advanced bodybuilders. This is because push/push routines place a greater level of stress on the joints and soft tissues of the body, since the same types of muscles are used continually throughout the session. Performing a push/push routine before you’re ready could result in injury.

The main advantage of a push/push routine is that it allows you to break through a strength plateau for a given targeted muscle group. For example, in a push/push routine involving the pectorals and triceps, the triceps (secondary muscle group) will be used to support the pectorals (primary muscle group) in performing exercises such as the flat barbell bench press. When it comes time to perform an exercise that specifically targets the triceps, such as lying dumbbell extensions, the triceps muscles will be pre-fatigued. Your triceps will therefore be forced to work harder and make greater gains in strength, mass and density in order to rise to the task.

Pull/Pull Routines

In order to perform a pull/pull strength training routine, you must include only exercises that work pull muscle groups in a single weight lifting routine. For example, a session involving only the biceps, obliques and latissimus dorsi muscle groups would be considered a pull/pull routine.

As with push/push routines, pull/pull routines are more difficult than push/pull routines because they place a larger amount of stress on the same joints and muscles. They also share the same advantages with push/push routines, in that pull/pull routines are excellent for surpassing strength plateaus involving pull muscle groups. In fact, pull/pull and push/push routines both offer the same risks and rewards, and should be treated similarly in a bodybuilding program. The only difference is that push/push routines focus exclusively on push muscle groups, while pull/pull routines focus exclusively on pull muscle groups.

Exercises for Building Strength and Mass Vs. Definition

As a bodybuilder, your goal is to achieve continual gains in muscular strength, mass, density and definition. However, some exercises are better suited to building strength and mass, while others are more focused on building definition, sculpting and toning. As such, you must design a routine that incorporates both types of exercises, and learn to choose specific exercises that match your current bodybuilding goals.

Explosive Exercises for Mass and Strength

If your current goal involves realizing the largest possible gains in mass and strength, it’s best to focus on explosive exercises that have you moving a large amount of weight quickly. Examples of explosive exercises include barbell squats and the flat barbell bench press.

Explosive exercises are typically marked by a large amount of weight and a relatively smaller number of reps. Pyramid routines, which involve increasingly large amounts of weight and increasingly smaller number of reps, are ideal for explosive exercises.

Since the goal of explosive exercises is to move a massive amount of weight largely through brute force instead of finesse, maintaing absolutely perfect form isn’t as crucial as it is to performing rhythmic exercises. Explosive exercises are rarely used to target specific muscles within muscle groups, so all of the muscles in the targeted group are typically worked approximately equally.

Rhythmic Exercises for Definition and Toning

Chest Dumbbell Flyes

If your goal is to make progress in muscle definition, it’s best to focus on rhythmic exercises that involve smaller amounts of weight and higher numbers of reps. In a rhythmic exercise, you’ll typically perform between 10 and 15 reps per set. Stretched out across five sets, it’s easy to see how this would be difficult if you were lifting an amount of weight approaching your maximum for that specific exercise. Examples of rhythmic exercises include concentration curls and preacher curls.

Using the proper form is more crucial with rhythmic exercises since they typically target specific muscles, and since they’re intended to carefully sculpt your muscles in very specific ways.

Performing a rhythmic exercise with even small failures in form could result in not properly working the muscle(s) you’re intending to target.

Understanding Your Unique Body and Applying the Guidelines of Bodybuilding

All bodybuilders are unique, and a piece of strength training or dietary wisdom that proves highly effective for one individual may be just as ineffective for another. This may depend on a number of factors, including your genetics, family history, metabolism and even bone structure. For this reason, it’s important to develop an extremely close and carefully-monitored relationship with your own body as your bodybuilding program continues. By doing so, you’ll be able to make the right decisions when it comes to aspects of bodybuilding such as specific training techniques, resting in between workouts, when to schedule workouts, supplementation, daily nutrition and cardiovascular exercise. All of these aspects are discussed below:

How Cardio Fits Into a Bodybuilding Program

Many beginning bodybuilders tend to ignore cardiovascular exercise, instead choosing to devote all of their scheduled workout time to weight lifting. By the time you reach the intermediate stage of bodybuilding, however, you’ll begin to see why cardio is such an important and necessary component of serious bodybuilding. This holds especially true for individuals preparing for a bodybuilding competition.

The primary purpose of cardiovascular activity in the context of a bodybuilding program is that it’s an excellent way to reduce excess body fat, subsequently revealing the muscles you’ve worked so hard to increase in size, strength and density and giving them a more toned, sculpted and “cut” appearance. In fact, many bodybuilders focus heavily on cardio exercise in the 12 to 14 weeks leading up to a bodybuilding competition in order to reduce fat and give the muscles a sharper, harder appearance, and they often refer to this process as cutting into fat.

Cardio is important to bodybuilders even during the “off-season,” or the time of year when bodybuilding competitions are not traditionally held. During this time, your primary goal is to make the largest possible gains in muscular mass, density, symmetry and strength, which is achieved primarily through intense weight lifting and a diet rich in protein, complex carbs and fat. Unfortunately, these gains in lean muscle tissue are very difficult to achieve without making additional unwanted gains in fat. As such, cardio is a way to continually burn off these gains in non-lean body tissue as you emphasize the strength training component of your bodybuilding program.

As a rule of thumb, you might try performing roughly 30 to 60 minutes of medium-intensity cardio each day during the off-season. As competition season approaches, you can increase your daily cardio regimen to between 60 and 120 minutes of cardio per day.

It’s a wise idea to vary your cardio routine by using different forms of aerobic activity to continually challenge your body in new ways. Some examples of cardio that integrate easily into a bodybuilding program include:

  • Elliptical machine

  • Stairclimber machine

  • Jogging

  • Running

  • High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT, which means alternating between high-intensity and low-intensity exercise continually during a workout)

  • Dance aerobics

  • Rowing

  • Cycling

Knowing the Difference Between “Bad” Pain and “Good” Pain

As mentioned earlier in this article, it’s crucially important that you use the proper form during all physical exercises, particularly those involving strength training, in order to prevent injury. In addition to striving for the proper form at all times, it’s important that you listen to your body while keeping in mind the difference between “good” pain and “bad” pain.

“Good” pain occurs in the muscle tissue, and typically accumulates in the muscles you’ve targeted with resistance exercise after a strength training session has concluded. It usually feels slow, dull and more generalized as opposed to “bad” pain, which typically occurs more suddenly in the joints. Unlike good pain, bad pain usually feels acute and sharp, and feels more like a traditional pain signal letting you know that something is wrong.

If you’re experiencing what seems to be “bad” pain, it’s important to stop performing the exercise and reassess your technique and form. If you’re sure that you’re using the proper form, bad pain may be a sign that you’ve overtrained the specific muscle group you’re currently targeting. Bad pain can also present itself if you work a given muscle group again without allowing it a sufficient rest period after your previous workout.

Listening to your body also comes in handy when making other decisions pertaining to bodybuilding, such as:

  • When to modify your diet

  • When to add or remove exercises from your strength training routine

  • When to modify your nutritional supplement routine

  • When to stop working a muscle group for the day

The Importance of Regular, Consistent Strength Training and Cardio

cardio training

As a bodybuilder, it’s extremely important that you create a consistent, regular exercise routine and stick to that routine as closely as possible. This will assist you in keeping your motivation levels high and increase your probability of achieving your personal body building goals within your specified timeframe.

Many individuals make the mistake of saying that they will begin a strength training routine to become a bodybuilder at some point in the future, and thereafter, simply dabble in weight training whenever they feel like it.

It’s very difficult to achieve actual bodybuilding results in this way because of the lack of a defined, consistent schedule makes it too easy to say “I’ll just work out tomorrow instead.” In reality, consistency is the key to making continual gains in muscle strength, mass, density and symmetry.

One of your primary objectives is to create a consistent workout schedule that will fit into your lifestyle. Obligations like work, family and school can often make this difficult. It’s also important to ensure that the blocks of time you devote to working out coincide with when you’re motivated and capable of intense physical activity.

For example, you may want to avoid late-evening workouts if they cause you to have trouble falling asleep. It’s important to write down your schedule so you can visually see it and mark off the workouts you complete, especially when you’re just beginning.

If the regularity of your bodybuilding program and its included strength training and cardio workouts begins to diminish, you can expect your desired bodybuilding results to diminish as well. Remember that the basis of bodybuilding is the fact that the body responds and adapts to whatever you throw at it. If you present your body with a lack of physical activity, it will respond by making reductions in muscular density, strength and mass – the exact attributes that are required for intense weight training.

Nutritional Requirements

As a rule of thumb, bodybuilders should try to include as many whole, natural, nutritious foods in their diets as possible. This means avoiding processed, packaged foods such as snack cakes, soda and candy bars, and prioritizing foods such as vegetables, fruits, lean meat, poultry, whole grains, nuts, beans and seeds.

The main goal is to avoid empty calories whenever possible. In other words, the calories you consume should feed your body with valuable nutrients such as protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, not simple sugars and saturated fats. Eating a large quantity of calories per day is expected and necessary for intermediate and advanced bodybuilders, so long as those calories are actually providing valuable nutrition.

It’s also important that you listen to your body when creating a sound dietary regimen. If a particular food disagrees with your digestion, or if you simply hate eating it, it’s important to find an alternative instead of forcing yourself to eat it just because it’s traditionally considered useful for bodybuilding.

For an extensively detailed looked at nutritional requirements for bodybuilding, please visit our Nutritional Requirements section.

Supplement Requirements

Although nutritional supplements such as whey protein and creatine are not technically necessary for bodybuilding, many strength trainers use them to make faster, more progressive gains in muscular mass, density and strength. Supplements become especially important and useful at the intermediate and advanced bodybuilding levels, when the competition is stronger and the judges expect more from the participants.

In addition to creatine and whey protein, some of the most common supplements used in bodybuilding include natural testosterone boosters, nitric oxide, HMB and glutamine. These supplements can be found in a wide variety of forms, including bars, drinks, powders, puddings, pills and more. In many cases, you’ll find a single supplement product that includes several different nutritional supplements for bodybuilding. In other cases, you’ll find a manufacturer offering a range of supplements designed to be taken together as a supplement system.

Multivitamin and mineral supplements are also very important to bodybuilding. Vitamins and minerals facilitate all bodily processes, ranging from transferring oxygen through the bloodstream to regulating body temperature and blood sugar levels. If you suspect that you’re not receiving enough vitamins and minerals through dietary sources, it’s important to take a multivitamin supplement.

For a far more detailed overview of the various nutritional supplements and their specific purposes, as well as information regarding side effects and dosages, please view our Supplement Requirements and Nutritional Supplements pages.

Keeping the Muscles Confused and in a State of Growth

As an intermediate bodybuilder, you may have already noticed that some of the exercises you performed in the beginning stages of your strength training career no longer provide your body with the same level of challenge they did previously. This is a natural result of the fact that the body responds to a given challenge by adapting to it, after which point it becomes far less difficult.

As such, you’ll need to constantly vary your bodybuilding routine in order to continually challenge your body and achieve greater and greater gains in muscle mass, density, size and definition. Although you might assume that adding more weight to each exercise is the only way to do this, that’s far from the truth. Doing so would create continual gains in certain muscles and even particular aspects of certain muscles, while other muscles would be neglected and fall behind in size, mass and density. This in turn would create overall reductions in muscular symmetry.

In addition to adding more weight to exercises, you must vary your routine. You can accomplish this by rotating exercises in and out of your strength training routine every three to eight weeks. You’ll obviously continue to work all major muscle groups, but you’ll work particular muscles from different angles, and certain muscles more thoroughly than you did previously. For example, you might switch from a deltoids muscle group exercise that primarily worked the lateral deltoids to one that primarily works the anterior deltoids.

By constantly varying your routine, you’ll keep your muscles in a state of confusion and they’ll be forced to grow in order to rise to the challenge of these “unexpected” situations. Just as a survivalist develops skills and a set of tools to deal with the unknown, the muscles will develop in size, density and strength in order to deal with unexpected challenges.


One specific method commonly used to add variety and additional challenge to a bodybuilding routine is known as pyramiding. In order to perform a pyramid routine, you’ll need to increase the weight and decrease the number of reps with each subsequent set. This is an excellent way to keep your muscles guessing as to what’s coming next, and break through strength plateaus for particular muscle groups.


Supersetting is another bodybuilding technique perfect for adding variety and additional challenge to an intermediate or advanced bodybuilding routine. In order to perform a super set, you’ll need to choose two or more exercises and alternate between performing a set of each. As with a pyramid routine, a super set can focus on a single muscle group (isolation exercise) or multiple muscle groups (compound exercise). Supet sets are great for breaking through strength plateaus and adding more challenge and variety to a bodybuilding program.

Appropriate Rest Times Between Strength Training Sessions

Studies have shown that the vast majority of muscle growth occurs during sleep. For this reason, it’s imperative that you allow yourself approximately 8 hours of sleep per night, particularly when your goal is to realize the biggest possible gains in muscular size, strength and density. As such, it’s never a good idea to sacrifice sleep just so you can spend more time in the weight room. Doing so would defeat the purpose of performing the strength training exercises, which would have a severely reduced effect in the absence of proper sleep.

Giving individual muscle groups the appropriate amount of rest time between strength training sessions is of equal importance. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t work a given muscle group again if it’s still sore from a previous session. This soreness, which is a prime example of “good” pain, is a sign that the muscles in that particular muscle group are still recovering from a previous session.

As a general rule allow between 24 to 48 hours to pass before working the same muscle group again. As an intermediate bodybuilder, you should expect your rest requirements to fall on the lower end of this spectrum. As your strength training career progresses, you can expect the necessary recovery period to become even shorter, however, you will always want to allow a minimum of 24 hours of rest before exercising the same muscle group again.

Weighted Bench Dips

As an intermediate bodybuilder, it’s important to realize that there’s a whole lot more to bodybuilding than just strength training. If you want to succeed, you’ll need to pay attention to aspects such as muscle recovery, sleep, cardio, nutrition, supplementation, exercise variety, listening to your body and monitoring your progress.

Only then will you be equipped with the required knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that you are progressing in your body building efforts and that you are achieving the largest possible gains in muscular strength, mass, density, definition and symmetry.

As an intermediate bodybuilder, you’ll want to continue to focus on avoiding an injury while looking forward to bodybuilding competitions. This can be a difficult balance to achieve, since over-training will cause an injury and prevent you from competing, while under-training may leave you ill-prepared for the competition itself.

Additional information regarding preparing for bodybuilding competitions can be found in our Advanced Programs for Bodybuilding section.

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