Zero to Hero – 5 Steps to a Bodybuilder’s Physique

By Adam Sinicki
With permission from
All over the internet there are hundreds of bodybuilding articles that tell you how to add an inch to your arms or chest and there are hundreds of crazy new training systems that promise awesome results, but there aren’t so many articles that tell you how to get to a decent size to start with. How does Joe Blogs get himself to a stage where he’s ready to try out this crazy shit? How does he go from having the body of a normal fella to having the beginnings of a body worthy of a bodybuilder? How does our average Joe go from ‘zero’ to ‘hero’?
I don’t know. I’ve always been awesome, that was just a rhetorical question.
Nah not really! That would make a very short article otherwise! I do know how and infact I’ve outlined how in, as the title suggests, 5 easy steps. Why five? Well I like five okay? These 5 stages will set you on your way in the world of bodybuilding and assuming you’re currently in average shape you should be able to achieve the body of an amateur bodybuilder in 6 months to a year, although you’ll start seeing results way before then (unless you’re blind or a vampire (the reflection thing)).
The training zero: Step 1 – Full body routine of bodyweight training
Step 1 sounds like a good plce to start and it’s just the ticket for getting yourself into a decent shape. At the moment you may be unused to training so you want to start off gently. Your supporting muscles are all fairly weak so you don’t want to injure yourself with heavy weights and as a beginner you may have no equipment. The solution? A full body routine focussing on calisthenics (bodyweight training) 4 times a week. For each session you will attempt to hit the whole body and the key part of your workout will be press ups and variations of them. You will also use the sit-up, the dip (using the edge of a bed or a chair), the pull up (purchase a ?5 bar for your door frame), the chin up, leg raises (from the pull up bar), the squat-thrust, the lunge, the calf raise (one legged on the edge of a step) and the horse stance (standing as though you are sitting in a chair and holding the position).
Each workout should be approximately 45 minutes and should use any combination of 5 exercises from the list above (and variations) that hits the whole body. You should train 4 days a week, having your resting days whenever is convenient but not two in a row. Every exercise should be performed in sets of three and as you progress you should increase your repetitions.
You should also begin to cut down the carbs and fats in your diet and begin eating generally healthy. If you manage to stick to this routine for a month or two you should begin to see improvements in your strength and in your endurance. This means you are ready my son.
The okay-but-a-bit-pants bloke: Step 2 – Resistance machines and dumbells
This step is fairly self explanatory. You should continue with your routine but introduce resistance machines and/or dumbells into the mix. The resistance machines will be found at a gym, or if you’re loaded you can buy yourself a multi-gym (I’d like one too if you’re stuck for christmas ideas for me).
This will greatly increase the number of exercise moves available to you for training and you can start hitting your muscles from new angles. With the dumbells you can now do shoulder presses, weighted lunges, curls, tricep kick backs, bent over rows and much more. With the machines you can start using the pec dec, chest press, lat pull down, hamstring curls and anything on offer which will target very specifically certain muscles (usually indicated on the machine itself). Don’t forget those bodyweight exercises though, they brought you this far and should stay with you until you quit the iron.
You should now begin to increase the amount of protein you eat. Don’t go over board, but once you start seeing the muscles you should strive to add a little more tuna and egg to your diet. As you begin to improve you can up the weights on your dumbells and machines and maybe train 5 days instead of 4. Still not enough? Then move onto the next step.
The athlete: Step 3 – Free weights and the big three
Free weights just means weights not supported by a machine. You’ve already done some of that with the dumbells but now it’s time to go hardcore. By the big three I mean the benchpress, the deadlift and the squat. These are ‘compound’ movements that hit a lot of muscles and improve overall power like no other exercises. You’ve had practice on the resistance machines but this is the real thing. Simply by adding these to your workout you will begin to see massive improvements. You can use the barbell for other movements too – upward rows or barbell curls for instance.
You will find that with all these movements that you are finding it difficult to fit them all into a workout, and that you feel tired and lethargic the next day. For this reason you should break down your training a bit, probably across two days to begin with. One way of doing this is to do your lower body, legs and abs on one day, and the upper body, arms and torso, on the next. Alternatively you can do ‘pull’ days and ‘push’ days.
By now you will be training hard enough to warrant the usage of a protein shake. Go easy to start with and up the dosage as you begin to see results. Again though you’ll begin to see dimminishing returns before eventually your workout fails to offer you a challenge. Move on my friend. Move on.
The iron warrior: Step 4 – Splits and high intensity
When you started this gig you probably found it difficult to find moves easy enough to sustain for a decent set of reps. These days you’re probably looking at quite the opposite problem and are struggling to find new ways to challenge yourself and shock your body into action. Fear not! Bodybuilders bigger and stronger than you have faced this problem and come up with many varied and interesting solutions.
There are lots of ways to increase the intensity of your workouts. You should now be hitting each muscle group with as many as 10 sets of either the same exercise or different movements using supersets (alternating between sets of two different movements), dropsets (lowering the weight each time you can do no more then continuing without a rest), pyramid sets (going up in weight then down again), and other techniques to squeaze every last drop of effort out of your muscles. Each set as well should be performed to failiure using forced reps, cheats (engaging other muscles to help in the exercise), half reps and more to really feel the burn. By now you should instinctively be able to feel whether you’ve done enough on a certain muscle group.
Obviously doing 10 sets of every muscle group in one workout would take ages and is impractical. It would also be very ill advised to work out a single muscle group on such high-intensity for more than one day in a row. Therefore you need to split your workout across even more days using a ‘split’ (clever name huh?). Basically you will now dedicate each workout to just one or two muscle groups, allowing them to rest while you train the others. Depending on your seriousness and available time you might want to train 6 or 7 days of the week.
You’ll probably find that you want to up your protein intake even more by now, and may want to try using other supplements like creatine to give yourself more energy in the gym.
The training hero: Step 5 – Experiment
There are many, many more techniques out there. Hundreds of advanced and strange and experimental ways to go the extra mile to get that competition-winning physique. As I said, there are many articles out there that will guide give you all sorts of crazy advice. But more importantly you now know yourself the basics of training. You know what works for your body and what doesn’t and you have the strength and experience to follow the good advice and reject the bad.
You’re finally strong enough and experienced enough to start using those articles and even better, trying new things out yourself. The difference between an average bodybuilder and the outstanding bodybuilder is the willingness to experiment, to break the rules and to be creative. It’s time to start inventing some of your own routines, diets and constantly keep the body guessing. Do the research, put the time in down the gym and the sky is literally the limit (mostly true of planes and birds).
So there you are, you’re a hero now, just like Hercules. You’ve got the moxy, brains and spunk, from zero to hero – a major hunk (from the song… never mind). To follow the above correctly I recommend 6 weeks on each stage and 1 week between each to give your body a break. That means in total it should take roughly 35 weeks until you’ve reached heroic level, although this will vary greatly from individual to individual and only you will know when you’re ready to progress. Unless you tell someone and then they will also know.
This is a very simple guide and doesn’t provide anywhere near enough information on its own, but with a little adaptation and research it should provide a safe and efficient framework to get anyone to the top of the sport. So go and become a hero!