3 Best Muscle Building Workouts for Bodybuilding Success 

This is the most Complete Bodybuilding Workouts Guide with Sample Workout Routines, Tips to Design an Awesome Workout and nutrition strategies for effective Muscle Building workouts. 

Best exercises are only one of the 6 keys to effective workouts. Find 5 more workout keys here

You have joined the best gym, bought coolest gym wear, and even know the best muscle building exercises. You can hardly wait to blast those muscles. But do not rush.

Finish your most important muscle task first... design an effective muscle building workout.

A two hour long marathon workout where you just go through the motions will be a big waste of your time and effort. Get the right training frequency, reps, sets and rest intervals for maximum muscle gains.

I have also included my 6 keys to design a personalized muscle building workout routine to help you avoid some stupid workout mistakes I did.

By the end of this article you will have

  • created an awesome muscle building workout you can do in 45 to 60 minutes, only three days a week
  • used all program design variables into one effective workout
  • made use of best nutrition strategies for peak performance workouts

Article Overview:

Your 6 Months Workout Plan and first 6 Week Muscle Action Plan

The first key to designing your muscle building workout is to decide the workout program duration.

It will take 4 to 6 months of solid training and sound nutrition to transform your body from skinny to muscular. So plan ahead.

I have covered why and how to set a 6 month goal here.

Once you decide your 6 months goal, break it down to cycles of 4-6 week each. This will ensure that you will take maximum advantage of the 6 week muscle building effect principle.

Let me give you an example.

Your Goal: To gain 25 - 30 pounds of muscle mass in 4 to 6 months.

Training cycles = 3 - 4

Each cycle = 6 weeks

Goal: Gain 6 to 9 pounds each cycle. It averages to 1-1.5 lb muscle gain every week.

Here is where it gets interesting...

Your only goal will be to focus on the first 6 weeks, train with high intensity and consistency, build maximum muscle and then move on the second cycle.

Think just one cycle at a time.

Got it? Cool. But before planning your workout its time to ask this key question...

What is the Ultimate Purpose of THIS Workout

Use the Kaizen Principle of Constant and Never Ending Improvement for all your workouts.

The next key is to determine Why are you doing this workout? What do you want to get out of this workout?

You should be absolutely clear what you want to achieve in every workout.

Don't confuse activity with real work. Don't confuse training volume with training effectiveness.

Remember the ultimate reason you hit the gym is to stimulate your muscles! And therefore every single thing you do should be aligned to that goal. 


How can you ensure best muscle activation?

You can stimulate muscles more by any of the four methods:

  • rep progression - increase loads/reps
  • set progression - increase number of sets
  • increase time under tension - perform reps slowly
  • rest progression - reduce rest intervals

Use these methods one at a time and you will see progression on the weight scale.

So the ultimate goal of your workout is to increase load/reps/sets every single time you hit the gym or else consider the workout failed to stimulate your muscles.

So ask yourself these key questions in every workout:

  1. Have I improved from the last workout? 
  2. Did I add more load to the bar?
  3. Did I add more reps to the exercises?

These 3 questions should be recalled every single muscle building workout or Else!

Ok so you have decided on a 6 month workout plan, written your first 6 week goal, and are ready to make each workout effective. but where do you begin? Just start with...

The 3 Workout Planning Essentials

I will answer 3 questions most bodybuilders have.

  1. What are the best days to workout?
  2. What time of the day is best for weight training?
  3. Should you do combine cardio with muscle training?

1. What are the best days to workout?

Should you train 6 days a week or 2 are enough?

My opinion: I have found that 3-day per week and and 4 day workout routines are best for building muscle mass as they allow sufficient time for recovery.

I prefer 3 day workouts done on alternate days for beginners as they are perfect for complete muscle and nervous system recovery.

4 day and 5 day per week workout plans are great for intermediate and advanced muscle builders as they can recover faster, especially if they take supplements like creatine.

Here's an example:

3 Day workout : You train on alternate days Mon, Wed and Fri with rest on tue/thurs/sat and sunday. Perfect for beginners or any level busy bodybuilders.

4 Day Workout : You train on Mon, Tue, Thu and Fri with rest on wed, sat and sunday. Excellent for intermediate and advanced bodybuilders.

5 Day workout : You train from onday to Friday and rest on Saturday and Sunday. Perfect for advanced bodybuilders with excellent recovery capabilities.

One caveat though: Regardless of the number of days you train with weights, twice a week high intensity interval training is a must, so keep cardio in mind when planning.

Which is best strategy for maximum muscle gains?

3 day and 4 day routines are best for natural trainers. If you recover faster, then try the 5 day plan. But if you are natural trainer then I doubt adequate recovery every 24 hours.

Bodybuilders on steroids recover very quickly and hence train 6 days a week, with two sessions on few occasions. 

Natural muscle builders like us should rest at least 24 hours, preferably 48 hours for repair and growth of muscles.

2. What time of the day is best for weight training?

The best time of the day is the time you can follow consistently. It can be morning or evening.

For weight training, I find the best time to be usually late afternoon or evening as the anabolic hormones peak at this time and allows 30-60 mins after a good pre workout shake.

Since workout nutrition is the key for maximal gains, select a time which allows pre-workout shakes as they are excellent for performance. 

Its best to train the same time each day {morning or evening} as your recovery cycle remains stable. 

Bottomline: It doesn’t matter when you hit the gym, just make sure you hit regularly at a time when you need not rush.

3. Should you combine cardio with weight training?

Most bodybuilders suggest you skip cardio on your mass gaining phases.

I suggest 15 mins cardio interval training with 1:4 work rest ratio twice a week for best cardio fitness.

Being thin, with only ribs to showoff, I neglected cardio for long. But once I realised their importance, I added cardio and ab training to my workouts. Now I recommend to all my clients, even hardgainer ectomorphs to do cardio because there is more to cardio than just weight loss.

If you need to catch up breathe every time you perform heavy weights, its time to add cardio to your weekly workouts.

Want to keep your fat burning enzymes active? Then add cardio. It will help you stay lean all year round.

The cardio for bodybuilders article gives you a roadmap here.

RELATED ARTICLE: How to do a SWOT analysis of your workout

Anatomy of the Perfect Workout
6 keys to have effective every time you workout

What makes one workout super-effective and another one average? It is intensity? Is it the exercises? Actually there are 6 things you need in every workout to make it work.

For best workouts, ensure that you follow all the following 6 keys into every single workout. 

1. Visit the gym with a definite Plan of Action

Fail to plan and you plan to fail. Make simple, realistic and yet challenging goals for every workout. You should go to the gym as if it were a battle ground, and you have come to knock off your reps and sets one by one.

This makes record keeping mandatory. So keep a workout journal. How can you improve add reps/loads if you don’t know your previous best?

Once you know your loads and reps, plan each exercise rep, set and rest intervals to perfection.

This one simple act of writing your workout mini-goals and doing exactly as planned is the workout discipline that will separate you from the rest of muscle wannabees.

2. Train with Perfect Form, High Intensity and Planned Progression

Train with perfect form using 70-85% of your One rep-max training intensity.

This means doing at least 6 reps and not more than 12 reps for 90% of your sets.

Perfect form along with full range of movement is the fastest, safest way to build muscle mass. Spend few weeks learning perfect form. 

This ensures you reap maximum benefits from the exercise, stay injury free and learn to feel the muscles and not lift loads.

This brings me to intensity again.

For muscle building, train with at least 70% to 85% of your one rep max. This corresponds to 6 to 12 reps per set and if you remember the repetition continuum, this is the best rep range for muscle growth and hypertrophy.

And make progress!

I have covered progressive resistance training concept here, but suffice it to say, you need to progress on reps/sets/rest intervals to build more muscle.

3. Select the most effective exercises and perform them in the right order

Select the best exercises for each muscle group for faster results.

Not all exercises are created equal. Your job is to select the best exercises which stimulates maximum muscle mass.

The muscle building exercises section covers the best exercises for each muscle group and how to perform them with perfect form.

Exercise order dictates that you perform exercises that target biggest muscle groups first. Not only you have best energy early into your workouts, they also result in maximum anabolic hormone release. The brain also its up with heavy lifts and this carries over to assistance exercises for small muscles. 

And there is the intensity factory. Intensity is inversely proportional to training duration. You are freshest in early sets and can carry heavy loads.

Extra Tip: Perform warm up sets for each muscle group, not each exercise. if you select 3 exercises to train your shoulders, you should perform warm ups only for the first exercise, your shoulders will be warmed up enough for the rest of the workout. Save time!

4. Select the optimal reps, sets and rest intervals

The short of it:

  • Best rep range for muscle building - 6 to 12 reps
  • Sets: at least 4, as multiple sets increases anabolic hormone output and create metabolic stress
  • Rest Intervals - 60s to 180 s. Use variety every 6 weeks. High loads {5-8} reps need more rest {120-180s}

Related detailed articles: Perfect Muscle Building Reps and Time Under Tension Principle

5. Keep workouts short and intense - 45 to 60 mins are best

For two reasons - Long workouts means Loss of intensity and anabolic shutdown

The longer the workout, the lower your training intensity. 45 mins to 60 mins is the perfect sweet spot in which you can magian to train with high intensity and intensity is critical to muscle building.

Also research proves that testosterone levels begins to fall after 45 minutes of heavy training {exclude warm up sets} and the cortisol:testosterone ratio falls drastically after one hour. Cortisol starts to break down muscle proteins. All this means more protein breakdown and less protein synthesis, exact opposite of what we want!

So keep workouts short and intense. I like Ben Pakulski’s advice when he says to remind yourself that you only 40 minutes to train. Imagine how productive you will be if you have to get the job done in 3-4 sets per exercise? You will train the hell out of them coz you only got 4 sets! Make the best use of your time.

P.S. The 2 hour workouts and twice a day training has been perpetuated by bodybuilders on steroids. Steroids help them recover very fast. Such advice does not apply to us natural trainers. So one hour training sessions are optimal. 

6. Maximise workout nutrition for best workouts

When you train:

  • you lose water
  • you lose electrolytes
  • you break down glycogen from muscles and liver
  • you break down proteins from muscles

Now tell me, will drinking only water during workouts/around replenish these? No!

So add the following to your around-workout nutrition. Add them one by one. Maybe a postwrokout first, then after few weeks if you can stretch your budget, add a pre-workout shake. And last add intra-workout shake.

Remember those Tour De France cyclists? If they drank only water during those backbreaking rides, there would be no winners.

Here’s the simplest way I recommend:

  • Have a 30g protein and 15g carb shake 30 minutes prior to workout.
  • Have a 15g carb and 5g protein shake during workouts, with creatine if you can afford
  • Have a 30g protein and 60g carb shake 30 minutes after workout. Consider this as your last exercise. 

These are general guidelines but an excellent starting point. For personalised nutrition plan, check out my muscle building nutrition and post-workout nutrition sections.

I recommend the 80/20 rule in muscle building nutrition. 80% of your success will come from diet, diet, diet. So use the above only if your diet is perfect, or else concentrate on making your diet work best.

Sample Muscle Building Workout Routines

Ready for the most effective muscle building workouts?

Then choose from the following and follow them 6 weeks straight. I promise you will have the best muscle gains of your life.

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