Sample Bodybuilding Exercise Routine

There is no question this is the most disputed topic in all of bodybuilding: what does the ideal weight training routine look like? How should you break the workout down into different days? How often should you train? How many sets and reps should you use? Which exercises should be first, and which last?

weight lifting routineUnfortunately, I cannot give you any answers with absolute certainty. In fact, anyone who claims to know “for sure” the answers to the above questions is a fraud. That being said, there are certain training principles that seem to be fairly well established. Using these basic principles, you can build a workout plan that will increase your chances of bodybuilding success.

The first thing to consider is how often you should train each muscle group. By “muscle group”, I am referring to a set of muscles: chest, arms, shoulders, thighs, calves, back – these are all muscle groups. Typically, the general rule is that you should train each muscle group once per week. This gives the muscles time to recover and rebuild for the next workout.

Next: How many workouts per week should you do, and how should you break up the muscle groups? A training routine is often called a “split”, referring to how the muscle groups are divided into training days. The most common “split” for beginners, and the one I would recommend using, is the traditional “legs/push/pull” split. This involves training three days a week, and splitting up the muscle groups as follows:

Day 1: Legs, Abs
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Chest, Triceps, Shoulders (“pushing” movements)
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Back, Biceps, Forearms (“pulling” movements)
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest

… and repeat.

Now, the next question that follows is: How long should each workout be, and how many sets should I do? It’s fairly well understood that the human body secretes a muscle-depleting hormone called “cortisone” after about an hour under stress, breaking down muscle tissue for energy. Obviously, you don’t want this. So therefore it is advisable to keep each workout to about one hour (or less, if you can complete all of your sets in less time with full intensity).

In terms of “number of sets per muscle group,” I recommend the following:

Back: 6-9
Chest: 4-6
Abs: 3-4
Shoulders: 3-4
Biceps: 2-4
Triceps: 2-4
Forearms: 1-2
Thighs: 5-6
Calves: 3-4

You’ll notice my recommended number of sets is lower than many people advocate. That being said, I have seen greater personal success with lower numbers of sets. If you are performing all of your sets at a high level of intensity, training to muscular failure (the point at which you can no longer lift the weight), this should be sufficient. Many top bodybuilding experts, including muscle guru Sean Nalewanyj, agree with this analysis.

Number of repetitions per set is a more difficult question. Your high school gym teacher probably told you to perform “3 sets of 12 reps” per exercises. This is utter nonsense if you’re serious about building muscle. The actual number should be significantly lower. Exact rep range is a matter of personal preference, so I suggest you experiment. When beginning, though, you should stick to the following number of reps per set:

Back: 5-8
Chest: 5-8
Abs: 8-12
Shoulders: 5-8
Biceps: 5-8
Triceps: 5-8
Forearms: 8-12
Thighs: Anything under 15 reps
Calves: 8-12

Which exercises you perform is far less about personal preference and much more about science. The exercises listed below are considered by most to be the only exercises worth performing – everything else is a waste of time and simply won’t do the job as well as these exercises.

Back: Deadlifts, Chins, Barbell/Dumbbell Rows, Lat Pulldowns, V-Bar pulldowns, Seated rows, Barbell/Dumbbell shrugs.

Chest: Barbell/Dumbbell bench press, Incline Barbell/Dumbbell bench press, Decline Barbell/Dumbbell bench press, Dips

Abs: Weighted crunches, Weighted leg raises, Cable crunches

Shoulders: Military press, Seated Overhead dumbbell press, Lateral raises

Biceps: Barbell curls, Dumbbell curls

Triceps: Close grip bench press, Skull Crushers, Cable Pushdowns, Overhead EZ-Bar Extensions

Forearms: Barbell Wrist Curls, Dumbbell Wrist Curls, Reverse Barbell Wrist Curls, Reverse Dumbbell Wrist Curls, Static Holds, Farmer's Walks

Thighs: Squats, Leg Presses, Lunges, Stiff-Legged Deadlifts (Hamstrings), Good Mornings (Hamstrings)

Calves: Standing Calf Raises, Seated Calf Raises

Now that you know how often to train, how many sets, how many reps, and which exercises to use, you’re well on your way to creating a solid weightlifting routine. Here is an example routine created by bodybuilding expert Sean Nalewanyj (you can find more quality info and routines in his bodybuilding program).

Monday: Legs/Abs

Squats - 1 x 8-10
Leg Press - 2 x 8-10
SLDL - 2 x 8-10
Standing Calf Raises - 2 x 8-12
Seated Calf Raises - 1 x 8-12
Cable Crunches - 2 x 6-10
Weighted Situps - 1 x 6-10

Wednesday: Chest/Shoulders/Triceps

Incline Dumbbell Press - 2 x 4-7
Dips - 2 x 4-7
Flat Dumbbell Press - 1 x 4-7
Military Press - 2 x 4-7
Lateral Raises - 1 x 4-7
Pushdowns - 2 x 4-7
Skull Crushers - 1 x 4-7

Friday: Back/Biceps/Forearms

Deadlifts - 1 x 8-10
Chins - 2 x 4-7
Barbell Rows - 2 x 4-7
Barbell Shrugs - 2 x 8-10
Barbell Curls - 2 x 4-7
Dumbbell Curls - 1 x 4-7
Barbell Wrist Curls - 1 x 6-10
Static Holds - x 1

Sean’s book also includes a description and video example of most of these exercises, so you can see them properly performed with intensity. Read our review of his program right here.