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How to Build the Perfect Bodybuilding Routine to Gain Muscle

Updated on February 26, 2018
Arnold Schwarzenegger: The King of Bodybuilding
Arnold Schwarzenegger: The King of Bodybuilding

So, You Want to Train Like a Bodybuilder?

It isn’t always easy to drag yourself off the sofa and get to the gym on a regular basis. Whether you have work, school, or a busy home life, there are many other aspects of one’s day that require time and attention. It’s easy to let your workout regiment slip, and that’s perfectly normal! We aren’t all professional athletes, and some weeks just won’t have the best workouts of all time.

But on the days when you do have time to get to the gym for a workout, make sure you’re getting the most out of your efforts. There’s nothing worse than putting in the time and sweat in the gym only to realize you haven’t been getting any bang for your buck due to poor programming and routine planning. Effort and work are key components of bodybuilding, but one should strive to work smarter, not just harder.

Let’s get started on crafting the perfect bodybuilding routine! Keep in mind these will be routines that focus on bodybuilding, not strength training. Strength training will also be covered in this Hub, but it will not be the sole focus.

Step 1: Determine How Many Days You Will Train

This is the most important decision you will make when creating your bodybuilding routine. How much time you have for the gym will determine what kind of workout plan you can follow. It’s like laying the foundation for a building plan. Bodybuilding routines should be thought of in terms of weekly workouts, not individual gym sessions, which is why you should always begin with sorting out your weekly calendar.

Be honest with yourself. Don’t set expectations too high or too low. You need to put in a solid amount of effort in the gym and have enough time to hit your various muscle groups, but recovery time, rest days, and your other responsibilities should be taken into consideration.

So, let’s look at some bodybuilding workout programs that work best for athletes who spend various amount of days per week hitting the gym!

The squat is an excellent compound movement that will build size and strength for your quads, glutes, and hamstrings!
The squat is an excellent compound movement that will build size and strength for your quads, glutes, and hamstrings!

2 Workouts a Week

Maybe you’re busy with work and can only work out on the weekend, or perhaps your weekends are fully booked and you can only hit the gym twice during the week. That’s still plenty of time to get in two quality workouts! There are two different workout plans I would recommend for this sort of time frame:

Upper Body/Lower Body:

This workout plan is really as simple as it gets. One workout session will focus solely on the lower body, and one will focus entirely on the upper body. A typical outline for this workout program might look like this:

Lower Body:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Lunges
  • Leg Curls
  • Calf Raises

Upper Body:

  • Pull-ups
  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Bicep Curls
  • Tricep Extensions
  • Dips

2 Total Body Workouts

Alternatively, you could merge aspects of upper/lower workouts to create two total body workout days!

Total Body Workout Day 1:

  • Squats
  • Barbell shoulder press
  • Lunges
  • Bench Press
  • Leg Extensions
  • Bicep Curls
  • Leg Curls
  • Tricep Extensions

Total Body Workout Day 2:

  • Deadlifts
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Leg Press
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Calf Raises (Seated or Standing)
  • Hammer Curls
  • Bulgarian Split Squats
  • Dips

The advantage of having 2 full body workouts is that you can hit your muscle groups twice per week instead of only once. However, this increase in volume will be more taxing and may take some getting used to.

Now, you might be wondering why I didn’t include the rep ranges or set numbers. I’ll get into rep ranges and sets more in depth later on in this Hub, but for the most part, I think it is up to you to ultimately decide how much volume you can handle or need. If I set the numbers for you, chances are they wouldn’t fit quite right.

3 Workouts a Week

So, you can put in a bit more time during the week, and now you’re hitting the gym 3 times. There’s one workout plan I can definitely recommend for gym goers who work out 3 times per week


This workout is comprised of three days that focus on three different forms of movements. Your Push days will focus on chest and shoulder pushing movements. Pull days are primarily back and bicep focused. Legs are….legs are legs. Fairly simple!

Your individual workouts may look like this:


  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Barbell Incline Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Chest Flyes
  • Lateral Dumbbell Raise
  • Tricep Rope Pulldown


  • Pull-ups
  • Bent Over Row
  • Lat Pulldowns
  • Chest Supported Row
  • Bicep Curls
  • Hammer Curls


  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Leg Extensions
  • Leg Curls
  • Calf Raises
  • Box Jumps or Box Step-ups

Push/Pull/Leg workouts really do work!
Push/Pull/Leg workouts really do work!

4 to 5 Workouts a Week

If you’re becoming more serious with your training and upping the volume of your bodybuilding routine, there are 2 workout plans I highly recommend:

P.H.U.L – Power/Hypertrophy/ Upper/Lower:

The PHUL workout plan offers a great mix for intermediate athletes. There are 2 upper body days, one focusing one power and one focusing on volume/hypertrophy, and legs follow the same idea. This workout program is good for bodybuilders who also want to incorporate some degree of strength training into their regiment but don’t want to switch entirely to strength training.

P.H.U.L Split:

Day 1: Upper Power

Day 2: Lower Power

Day 3: Rest

Day 4: Upper Hypertrophy

Day 5: Lower Hypertrophy

Day 6/7: Rest

Overall this split is versatile, adaptable, and it even gives you the weekend off! I won’t layout the specific movements for each workout, but a superb article that does from muscle and strength can be found here.

Remember: Bodybuilding is all about striving for personal improvement!
Remember: Bodybuilding is all about striving for personal improvement!

P.H.A.T – Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training

The PHAT workout split is truly one of the toughest bodybuilding splits around, but it is also extremely rewarding. For gym goers committed to 5 days of intense, high volume training, this is the workout split for you:

P.H.A.T Split:

Day 1: Upper Body Power
Day 2: Lower Body Power
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Back and Shoulders Hypertrophy
Day 5: Lower Body Hypertrophy
Day 6: Chest and Arms Hypertrophy
Day 7: Rest

The PHAT workout split is very similar to the PHUL workout split, though the extra day helps add in some extra detail work and volume for different muscle groups. An in-depth article that includes the movements for each workout can be found here.

The Gym: A Beautiful Sight
The Gym: A Beautiful Sight

Step 2: Determine Your Weak Points

This is another critical component of creating the right bodybuilding program. This is also why I didn’t include rep ranges for any of the workouts listed above. If you’re like me and struggle with adding muscle mass to the lower body, perhaps workouts that have a lot of overall volume aren’t for you and you should focus on workouts with lower body focus. If certain muscle groups are lagging behind, consider throwing in an extra day to hit them with even more volume!

Additionally, if you find that your body responds well to high amounts of volume, it doesn’t make sense for a trainer to set pre-determined rep or set numbers. Or maybe you have knee pain and can only squat once a week. Or perhaps volume is what you need and instead of 4 sets of Deadlifts you need to hit 6. Learn what your body responds best to and plan accordingly.

In any case, here is a general rule of thumb you can follow when deciding repetition ranges:

General Repetition Range Purposes:

  • Reps in the 1-5 range: These reps should be done with heavy weight and have an emphasis on building muscular strength.
  • Reps in the 6-12 range: This is the middle ground. Use moderately heavy weights for a mix of strength and hypertrophy training.
  • Reps in the 12+ range: This number of reps helps build muscular endurance and pack on some size through increased hypertrophy. This is great for minor muscle groups like biceps or triceps as you can completely burn out and earn a massive pump.

Step 3: Make Your Plan Consistent

There’s more to a bodybuilding plan than just hitting the gym. You need to ensure that other areas of your life are in balance before committing to a taxing workout schedule.

  • Get enough sleep: You won’t get anywhere with your training unless you get enough sleep. Your window of sleep is critical for allowing your torn muscles to rest, recover, and ultimately grow. By cutting back on sleep you’re only cutting back on your progress in the gym.
  • Eat to fuel your body: I have another hub “how to improve the health of your breakfast," and “how to mealplan like a bodybuilder," that get into the specifics of the importance of nutrition on your training and performance. Bodybuilding truly begins in the kitchen and with your meal planning. Until your nutrition is in check, your workouts will not be optimal and certain programs may be too taxing for your system.
  • Workout with a partner or friend: There’s nothing that helps quite like the motivation a partner or friend can provide when it comes to getting through a grueling workout. Working out with others makes you accountable for showing up and getting the job done, so don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend to become a workout partner. Just make sure you’re of a similar skill level and have the same goals.

Tracking your progress in the gym is critical to progression!
Tracking your progress in the gym is critical to progression!

Step 4: Don’t Neglect the Details

I’ve gone over the fundamentals of building your perfect bodybuilding workout plan, but there are still many finer details that can make or break your training:

  • Always stretch before and after a workout: It can be 5-10 minutes on the treadmill or bike, some jumping jacks, or a few good stretching movements. Just warm up! Warming up drastically reduces the chance of injury in the gym and improves your flexibility and performance in the long run.
  • Plan your recovery: Working out for prolonged periods of times puts a strain on your body. This is fine, so long as your recovery can compensate for the strain. Make sure you’re eating well, taking days off from the gym, and occasionally deloading to really get in some recovery time.
  • Write everything down: There’s only one way to truly track your progress in the gym and that’s by writing it down. Track your lifting numbers and your weight, and see if they correspond to your goals over the weeks. Are you gaining strength or losing it, and how does that relate to your change in body mass?

Final Thoughts

I hope you have found this Hub to be informative! Crafting the right bodybuilding program doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. Additionally, don’t be afraid to read more on what other programs are out there or what has worked for other lifters! Never be afraid of change, and remember, no program will last forever. Our bodies are machines that adapt to change, and after several weeks or months of a program you should always consider switching up training style, reps, weights, and overall programming to stay one step ahead of your body.

Happy training! Thanks for reading, and be sure to share this Hub with a friend who is thinking about hitting the gym!

How Many Times a Week do You Train?

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    • Tanja Markovic profile image


      3 months ago from Jagodina

      Nice read. I encourage you to read my first two on natural bodybuilding here. Thanks.


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