30+ Best Programs for Bodybuilding (With Spreadsheets, Strength and Bodyweight Programs)

By Nader Qudimat ·
Updated May 13, 2021

You're here to gain muscle.

Or to get stronger. 

Whether you have access to a gym, or not, you will find you're starting / continuing point here. 

We’ve designed this page to be a resource for FAQ's, programs, and more. 

Here’s what you'll learn:

  • Diet (basically eat above TDEE)
  • Program (follow a pre made program)
  • Meals (meal ideas)
  • Supplements (protein powders, creatine, what to take)
Here's the table of contents:

Content

Diet

Without food, you won't have fuel for muscle building. 

And with the correct food, you’ll have the best food to help fuel your workouts.

How Much Should I Be Eating?

Here you'll figure out how much you need to eat with the help of a calculator below. 

First you need to find your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) or energy balance to see how much calories you burn each day (don't worry this is easy), including physical activity and your base metabolic rate BMR.

Finding your TDEE with this calculator below:

Total Daily Energy Expenditure

No calculator will give you the same exact result, this will differ as each of them use some slight variation of the calculator.

This is why you need to adjust based on the results you get in the real world.

If you want to bulk, then you need to eat 500 calories on top of your TDEE.

To lose weight, you need to eat 500 calories below your TDEE.

To maintain you need to eat at TDEE. Generally, you want to eat 3000 calories daily for bulking if you are male, or 2500 for women.

For bulking, you should be gaining 1lbs per week, but this should be checked at the same time every week . 

If you're an advanced lifter, this rate might be slower.

What should I be eating?

All foods have their own ratio of macros, calories and benefits.

Foods differ by macros and micros.

Macronutrients are protein (amino acids), fats (saturated, unsaturated, omega 3, and more), carbs (starches, sugars, alcohol).

Micro are micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) and they are needed for physiological processes.

A well-designed diet should be enough to supply you with vitamins and nutrients but multivitamin can ensure it.

At the very least, I recommend getting zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B from supplements.

Exercise can deplete these nutrients and if you live in a country without much sun, you should be getting vitamin D (D3 being the best form) from supplements.

Macro ratio isn't too important, but around 0.68 per 1lb bodyweight, you can eat more than 30g in one sitting. Fill the rest of the diet with carbs and fats).

Aim to consume whole foods like oats, chicken, whole milk, beans, legumes, nuts, vegetables, peanut butter and whole grain bread.

What About Supplements?

Supplements are supplements for diet, and can help fill in gaps.

A great example of this is protein powder.

It's challenging to get enough protein from diet, whether it's due to time or caloric restrictions, or helping you consume more calories than normal.

Protein powders:

Getting enough from diet is challenging, this is where protein powder comes in. 

Although it's not needed if you already achieve protein requirements, you may find it easier to remain in a caloric surplus if you have protein shakes.

Weight gainer:

These are high calorie shakes, with adds carbs and sometimes micronutrients as well.

Protein powders made with different foods like oatmeal, olive or MCT oil, nuts and fruits can turn into a homemade weight gainer.

Creatine Monohydrate:

This supplement is easily one of the best that's worth taking.

Can be read more on examine.com or through our creatine guide.

It's cheap, safe, healthy, works.

Use at 5g a day, there's absolutely no logical sense for fearing it.

Monohydrate is the most studied and proven form of creatine.

Meal Ideas

These are meal ideas that you can make and eat to help gain muscle:

Gallon of Milk A Day (GOMAD)

Skinny guys are skinny because they don't eat enough.

But this is the challenge, eating more can be quite hard for someone who struggles to consume enough to keep up with their caloric surplus.

The GOMAD diet helps add in calories by drinking half a gallon of milk of day. 

This won't work for people who are lactose intolerant

This diet can lead to fat gain if you're not careful because of the calorie intake and overdoing it.

I have a high metabolism – can't gain weight 

While this case is rare, even high metabolism, you'll only burn 200 calories more than the average person. 

Track everything for a week, adjust accordingly and  as needed

I want to gain, but I have trouble keeping up with food

You might be tempted to try to change everything overnight.

This will lead to failure.

Start with drinking more water, eat more frequently, increase workout intensity, increase calories slowly so the body can adjust.

May be tough when you first change your diet and you may struggle but you can get through it and you can eat more than before eventually. 

How do I track calories?

Most food has a breakdown of calories inside, but can be googled or by using MyFitnessPal.

Either track the calories through the app, a journal (digital or paper).

Tracking calories for a week or two will give you some idea of how much to eat without actually tracking all the time.

When and how often to eat:

It doesn’t matter when you eat.

Eating whenever is convenient is the best way to go.

Increasing frequency doesn't influence metabolic rate but eating more meals throughout the day helps increase calorie intake.

And the post workout window is overblown, as there’s no firm conclusions on eating (see page 11).

So there’s no need to stress about protein / food after workout.

Cheat Meals

Sure, you're allowed to eat cheat meals, but on occasion (cookies, beer, cake, etc) but make sure they are treated as treats, not staples of diet.

I'm on a budget

Cheap foods is possible while bulking, relatively cheap.

Here's some of my favorite sources:

How To Pick A Program

After diet, comes programming because diet will help the body build muscle rather than store fat and a proper program will help propel you on the right path. 

Selecting a Workout Routine

Pre-made routine made by a professional has been tried and tested through hundreds of people.

They work.

Avoid making your own which can lead to issues and imbalances.

Avoid making these mistakes:

  • Too much volume, too many exercises
  • No compound lifts
  • Too many isolation exercises
  • Bad form and heavy weights
  • Not enough back exercises
  • Neglecting leg exercises

Anything will work, for about a month or so. But that is a problem because it's not made for the long term.

There are people who have dedicate their lives to exercise and you need to accept this

Some things to ask yourself:

  • What level fitness are you
  • What are your goals (strength, muscle or general fitness?)
  • Is there enough rest or tempo in your program
  • Do you have any weaknesses or imbalances? (ie crouched back)

Current Strength Levels Should Be Assessed 

For a general assessment on what your level of strength is, try using this:

Symmetric Strength 

What Routines Suit You Best 

Below you'll find a list of programs organized by level of fitness: 

Introductory

The programs below are made for people starting out.

They're focused on building the foundation of strength, with ICF5x5 and AllPros being the best for hypertrophy.

Beginners

 If you have some lifting experience, at least 3-6 months with a solid foundation of strength, then these programs below are great.

Intermediate – Aesthetics

The programs below are made for building muscle and a complete physique.

Best Overall For Bodybuilding

Best Overall For Strength

If strength is your goal then check these out:

Tips for Maximizing Gains

Form: 

How you set up your exercises matters for the long term.

For example, if you row with a hunched over form, then you'll continue having this issue and your rows will be a waste of time and effort.

And you'll be demotivated and derailed by the lack of progress.

Squat, bench, deadlifts, these are complex movements that need to be studied.

Pendlay rows is a good example of a compound movement. 

Either record yourself or watch the mirror for the form.

You can also practice the form without the weight, as you should be lifting without weight.

The problem with asking people around you in the gym, they may not know the correct form, or may not have time to fully critique your from.

It is hard to correct the form after it's been implemented for so long.

Compound lifts:

To get the most out of your time, you need to do compound lifts. 

The smaller muscles around them will be worked, this means you'll be able to get bigger overall with compound lifts.

Majority of transformations are with compound lifts, you'll never find anyone who is fully developed by using only isolation / machine exercises

Recovery:

One exercise, like heavy squats, can drain your entire body.

This happens because your immune system, central nervous system and hormonal system are all affected with heavy lifting and they need time to recover.

Deloading or taking a full week off from exercise is required if you want to maximize your development, for both muscle and strength gains.

Journal your progress:

Tracking back your workouts and seeing how far you've come can be a great source for motivation.

There's a few ways to do this, either through digital or offline, like an app, spreadsheet, or through a journal.

Listen to your body:

If you feel a cold is coming on, you feel pain near or directly on your joints, or an exercise feels uncomfortable, then hold it off until you find out why.

A lot of injuries happen because we're ignoring the signs.

It's better to recover than to push yourself beyond the pain as you may find yourself taking more time off than if you originally just have had a week off.

Don't stress over small things:

Seeing weight stalling or not seeing progress is common. 

Stressing over this will not help and will do the opposite.

Fitness FAQ

Your most frequently asked questions will be answered here. 

No gym access, what do I do?

Now because of Covid-19, you may find your gyms in your area to be locked down.

However, if they are not locked down, try to find a gym that has a power rack where you can do squats in.

If a gym isn't an option, then you can buy some equipment and train at home.

If you don't have equipment at all, then bodyweight fitness will be your source of exercises.

All you need is one or two dumbbells for a complete routine.

There are a few variations of squats you can do if you don't have a power rack, like zercher or hack squats.

Can I do cardio?

Cardio is good for you but we recommend not doing cardio the day before squats or you may be setting yourself up for injuries and it may hinder how much weight yo can squat.

Cardio can help enhance recovery, improve endurance and improve heart health.

If you plan to do cardio on the same day as lifting, then do it after.

How long can I rest for?

Depending on the exercise and techniques used, rest periods can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.

Most exercises can pass with a general recommendation of 1-3 minutes.

High reps and light weight means you can rest quickly, around 30-45 seconds.

For compound exercises, you'll want to rest anywhere from 2-5 minutes.

If you're training for strength, then it's not uncommon to have a rest period of closer to 5 minutes.

Most programs will have suggested rest periods, if you're following one, try to follow those.

Will I lose gains if I take a week off?

No it's the oppsoite. 

Taking a week off will allow you to come back stronger and sometimes even bigger than before. 

Try to look for the recommended rest.

If you feel rundown, depressed, or have pain either in the joints or in muscles, then it's probably time for a break.

Posture

Building a solid foundation for posture can be a determining factor for your form. 

Good posture can prevent potential problems and injuries.

Posture can happen even with the most experienceed
athletes/ bodybuilders.

Common issues with posture 

Kyphosis

Sitting at a desk can lead to rounded shoulders and back, this can lead to a rounded back as they lengthen. With age, this can get worse. 

A hunchback posture can also decrease height.

Lordosis

Inward curvature of lumbar and cervical vertebral column. 

Hyperlordosis can lead to lower back pain and can get worse with age, making exercises like deadlifts or squats very hard. 

Many injuries can be prevented by fixing hyperlordosis. 

Anterior pelvic tilt is a common cause of lordosis.

Anterior Pelvis Tilt

Pelvis tips forward making abdomen and buttocks to protrude, cause by sitting for most of your day.

When you sit, hip flexors (psoas) are shortened, abs glutes and hamstrings are lengthened.

Prolonged periods of this posture can make hip flexors fuse into this position, abs glutes, hamstrings become weaker, like kyphosis.

How to fix posture? 

Most posture issues come from tight muscles, place emphasis on strength or volume on the lengthened agonist muscles

For example, doing more back than chest exercises, more glutes and hamstrings than quads, and so on.

You definitely don't want to do crunches, do reverse crunches and planks instead.

Foam rolling and antagonist muscle stretching is essential, do these everyday:

Focus on joint health and mobility. Mobility WOD is going to help with instabilities. 

More resources on posture and mobility:

General FAQ

I'm New, Where Do I Start?

Everything you need is in this FAQ.

You should follow everything listed in this guide. 

Or you can check out this 7 step course.

How Much Rest Do I Need? 

Your muscles need as much rest as workout days. 

Your muscles grow and recover when you're resting. 

Maintain stress, a consistent sleep schedule, and pay attention to the signs of over training

I'm Sick, Can I Train?

Being sick can be a sign of overtraining because your immune system is compromised after training. 

It is as drained as your muscles. 

It's better to rest and recover

When To Weigh Myself?

Same time in the morning, after your pee, since your body has the least waste and water. 

Be consistent with when and how you weigh yourself, weekly is ideal.

My Weight Went Up 6lbs From This Morning, What's Going On?

It's normal to see your weight go up, it depends on what you eat, drank, etc. 

That's why you should only weigh yourself once a week, at the same time everytime. 

My Weight Was Going Up Consistently, Now I'm Not Gaining As Fast, What Gives?

When you're first starting out, you're probably going to have much more food and you're going to be carrying much more waste and water, hence why your weight seems to have blasted up after a few weeks and then slowed down.

What's More Important For Bulking: Calories, Macros or Exercise?

Each of these are important. In ordder to gain weifght, you need to eat more than you burn, eat above your TDEE. 

Macros are needed for normal body functions and it gives the energy your body needs.

My Weight Hasn't Gone Up? 

There a few reasons why this may be happening:

First track your calories for a week or two to see if you're actually eating enough. 

Commonly enough, people overestimate their calories.

You're not eating enough. 

Even if you've done your TDEE calculations, this is just an estimation. 

Your TDEE might be higher than estimated.

Not enough time given.

Weight gain needs time to happen, more than a month.

You're not weighing yourself at the same time.

Weigh at the same time, ideally in the morning after you pee.

Your weighing methods may be off, like your scales, either for food or for your body.

Medical issues. Check with a doctor and see if you have any medical issues that may be causing you to not gain weight. If not, then add in 500 calories more to what you've eating.

If you've still not gained anything after 2 months of doing this, then it's probably a good idea to seek medical advice.

Not gaining weight after eating over TDEE isn't normal.

Don't self diagnose, see a doctor.

I'm Too Ashamed To Go To The Gym

The last thing anyone wants to do at the gym is give away their attention from the one time that they can do makes them feel good, which is their workout.

No one cares about anyone else in the gym, but themselves.

All the big and hard working bodybuilders know the struggle of being skinny or overweight or out of shape.

What's The Difference Between Clean vs Dirty Bulk?

A dirty bulk means there's more junk food than clean.

Junk foods mean prepackaged foods, fast food, chips, basically calories that have no real nutritional value.

The downside is that more of the food is likely to be stored as fat.

I'm A Woman, FAQ Applies? 

The difference between a man and a woman is their body and hormonal system.

To build muscle like a male, a woman would need to take steroids and testosterones.

The principles for men who want to gain muscle and aesthetics remain the same for women.

I'm A Hardgainer / Ectomorph, I can't Gain Weight

There's no metabolism that more than 200-300 calories in difference from the average person.

The only time this is an exception is for medical conditions.

Even if you have a super fast metabolism, you would just need to eat a few hundred extra calories to gain weight.

There's no such thing as a hardgainer nor is being an ectomorph a disadvantage or any different for gaining weight.

If you can't gain weight even after eating above your maintenance, then you may need to check with a doctor.

How Can I Bulk As A Broke College Student 

What's My Ideal Weight For My Height?

There's no recommendation for height, it depends on your goal but a general idea includes the stuff here: http://www.reddit.com/r/gainit/comments/1b5911/the_ideal_weight_for_your_height/

I Have To Poop More, What's Going On?

The more you consume, the more you have to poop. 

It may be uncomfortable but after a few weeks, you'll feel normal again.

Eating foods with fiber like tomatoes, cucumbers, oats can help with digestion

Why Does My Stomach Stick Out?

Being really skinny can make this stick out more. 

It's noticeable if you're skinny, but once you start gaining muscle, it'll be less noticeable.

And this may be a postural issue, sitting a lot, in cars, desks, etc, can lead to a protruding stomach..

Refer to the posture section.

I'm a Exception To The FAQ? 

Eating Disorder

Seek professional advice from doctor o nutritionist.

You may need help counting calories because counting calories can be a trigger.

Allow a medical professional to wok with you to help create a diet.

Super Underweight

If you're in the 15-16 BMI region, then check with a doctor for any issues like heart issues, bone damage, before lifting.

You should get a DEXA bone scan and get approval before lifting weight.

A doctor may recommend light cardio and eating to gain weight before lifting weights.

Depression

Since we're not doctors or licensed to give you advice, we recommend that you first consult with a counsellor or therapist and see a doctor. 

Medications can help you beat this. 

There's been a number of studies that show exercise can improve mental state

See also exercise out of depression on Reddit. .

Other Medical Issues

Seek approval and advice from medical professional before starting any program. 

More Resources

Now It's Your Turn

Seek approval and advice from medical professional before starting any program. rr

More Workouts

8 thoughts on “30+ Best Programs for Bodybuilding (With Spreadsheets, Strength and Bodyweight Programs)”

  1. Hi Nader, Man Im really loving this article, Ive found all kinds of information. I really like how to go from skinny to muscular in 7 steps as diet really play a big part in building muscle. I have a question though, What do you think about elderly and body weight exercises? I get asked this a lot from my on readers at ( healthy kinfolk.com ) and wanted to know what you thought about it.

    Reply
    • Hi Jay,

      Welcome man, thanks for the comment.

      Elderly should exercise with what they are capable of. What they can do depends on many factors, with the first one being what their doctors have advised them.

      Assuming they are perfectly healthy, they should start with what they know. I’m no expert in elderly exercise, but I’m a firm believer in improving what you can do.

      So if they can squat their own bodyweight 15-20 times, then they can easily make it more difficult by adding more weight.

      But again your question was general, don’t know what exactly you’re looking for though.

      So hopefully I gave you some direction here..

      Reply
  2. Thx a lot Nader, thats exactly what i was looking for and squats are one of my main exercises I love them. Im going to post something along the lines of elderly workouts and would probably incorporate a few low impact exercises or something similar. What you think would be the best 3 for them?

    Thx, Jay

    Reply
  3. Hi Nader, I really enjoyed the list and I most definitely agree with your no bullshit mantra! On section 37 ‘Muscle Building Workouts For Various Levels’ you mention a Jason Ferruggia article on bodyweight training which is great.

    I myself have written a really extensive article that goes into a bit more depth than the one you linked to http://www.mindtomusclefitness.com/muscle-building/best-bodyweight-exercises-for-mass/ It might be worth linking on here for the readers benefit!

    Keep up the good writing Nader 🙂

    Marcus

    Reply

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