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The Bodybuilding Training & Nutrition Playbook: Advanced Concepts & Philosophy

Bodybuilding is a sport where competitors spend years crafting the perfect balance of muscle symmetry to create their ideal physique.

13 min readNovember 2nd, 2023

Once you've mastered the basics of consistent training and diet adherence and put on some muscle, you can start to play around with more advanced training tools.

I'll introduce some of the most popular advanced bodybuilding training and dieting concepts to take your gains to the next level.

What Makes Bodybuilding Advanced?

If you're new to the bodybuilding world, check out our detailed introduction guide to learn the basics of the sport. If you've been around the block a few times, this article is for you.

Before we dive into the details of training definitions, it's important to take a moment to discuss training status in bodybuilding. Chiefly, what makes a bodybuilder advanced, anyway?

Your knowledge of exercise form is essential. If you're not performing the lifts correctly, you won't achieve maximum muscle growth after all. The amount of muscle you have, and body fat percentage is another critical consideration in teasing out your training status.

Experienced bodybuilders have completed many successful muscle gain and fat loss cycles to sculpt their bodies and master the principles of physique change. But I believe the most important factor in determining your bodybuilding training status is a proven track record of training, dedication to diet, and seeing results.

Experienced bodybuilders–whether they choose to compete or not–have entirely committed to the sport's lifestyle, and they've strung together hundreds of workouts and perfectly planned meals.

Experienced bodybuilders know what works for their body, and they've proven their dedication and commitment over years of training.

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Bodybuilding and Autoregulation

Experienced bodybuilders are experts on their own bodies. They've tried many different workout splits and exercises, and they know what elicits the best response.

If you spend enough time training with them, you'll see some pretty counterintuitive and non-traditional methods. While a few are questionable, these athletes usually know when to follow conventional wisdom and when to step off that path and let their body be their guide.

Bodybuilders are scientists, and their data points are their pump, muscle growth, fatigue, joint soreness, etc. Autoregulation is the idea that human beings are not machines. Our abilities vary significantly from day to day, and our training must reflect that.

Experienced bodybuilders listen to their bodies and stop or change the program when they get feedback telling them something is off. They do not blindly stick with the program.

How Do I Know I'm Ready for Bodybuilding Competitions?

If you've been training long enough, you may have heard, "Do you compete?" or "You should definitely compete!" While this is a great compliment, simply having a muscular physique is not a reason to compete in bodybuilding.

The training and dieting required to prepare for a bodybuilding show are obsessive. The body fat percentage you aim to achieve is unhealthy and cannot be sustained for more than a few days. Because of this, you should not compete in a bodybuilding competition unless:

  • You have a burning, nagging desire to
  • Your training & nutrition are nearly perfect
  • You wouldn't think of missing a workout
  • You have no problem food prepping 100% of your meals
  • You can afford coaching
  • You are mentally in a good place
  • You have a strong support network

There are exceptions to every rule, of course. Still, bodybuilding is an extreme sport, and people who jump into meet prep without a strong foundation (mentally and physically) often get in trouble.

Advanced Bodybuilding Techniques

Now you understand the differences in mentality and adherence that bodybuilding competition and advanced training require, let's talk about the training tools you can play with.

A few training styles on this list are not reserved for advanced lifters only, but their use becomes far more commonplace in advanced bodybuilding training.

Higher Training Volume or Intensity

No matter which training philosophy you subscribe to, you need to train harder or more to continue to see muscle growth. This is especially true for people who have trained for many years and already put on a lot of muscle.

Most experienced bodybuilders believe that higher intensity is the key to continued muscle growth and prefer to lift until failure or close to it. Others believe hammering each muscle with volume will create the best muscle growth and benefit the supporting tissues such as ligaments, tendons, and cartilage.

No matter which type of training style you choose, advanced bodybuilding training follows these rules:

  • Uses perfect form
  • Trains hard
  • Trains 5-6 days per week
  • Follows a strict diet
  • Uses cardio as needed

You can use high-volume or high-intensity training for any type of strength training exercise.

Higher Training Volume & Intensity Benefits

The benefits of high-volume and high-intensity training are tremendous, and research supports both as effective means for building muscle, work capacity, and health.

How to Add Training Volume/Intensity to Your Program

You can start working to high-volume training by building your work capacity, training 4-5 days per week for at least 6 months, and ensuring you're eating enough and recovering enough.

If you want to start using high-intensity training to build muscle, familiarize yourself with reps in reserve and the ratings of the perceived exertion scale. You can use either to judge exercise difficulty and guide your programming via autoregulation.


A traditional superset is when two exercises that work antagonist muscles–muscles that oppose each other– are paired. Think about the bench press paired with a row variation or tricep push-downs with a bicep curl. You can also do compound supersets, where the two exercises work the same muscle group.

Supersets Benefits

Supersets are highly efficient and a favorite training tool for serious strength athletes with long workouts with loads of volume. They cut down on your time in the gym and provide an amazing pump.

How to Add Supersets to Your Program

There are many ways to program supersets to save time and help you build muscle. Try the following pairings and see what works for you.

You can pair antagonist multi-joint exercises, such as lunges and hip thrusts.

You can also pair two exercises that work the same muscle group, and this is called a compound set (different than a compound exercise, aka a multi-joint exercise, confusing, I know!)

In that case, you could pair two isolation exercises that work the same muscles or one isolation and one multi-joint exercise. The possibilities are endless!

Drop Sets

Drop sets are a training tool lifters of all experience levels can use to build bigger muscles and get a phenomenal pump.

A drop set requires you to do multiple sets of an exercise in rapid succession, dropping the weight from set to set, and they're another way to shake up your program and feel the burn.

Drop sets are fantastic for isolation exercises on cables and machines with quick pin pull weight change.

Drop sets are not great for compound moves or free weights due to the practical limitations of changing weights or finding the next dumbbell set. Drop sets require minimal to no rest between sets, so those exercises would take too long.

Drop Sets Benefits

Drop sets are great for building muscle and feeling that high metabolite burn on isolation exercises.

How to Add Drop Sets to Your Program

Drop sets are best included at the end of your workout to completely fatigue the muscle being worked. Add one drop set to one workout and see how your body reacts.

If your fatigue isn't prohibitive, use one set as a muscle burner at the end of each workout for the muscle group you want to grow the most.

Tempo Training

Tempo training is all about manipulating your time under tension. Time under tension relates to how fast or slow you move the weight.

We know that most muscle tears happen in the lift's eccentric phase (the down), so this phase is most important for muscle gain. Because of that, many people prefer to spend more time in the lowering phase of the exercise, pausing for one second, then having a faster, explosive but controlled concentric (up) phase.

Wars have been fought (at least on the internet) over the 'perfect' tempo for maximum muscle gain. But what's clear is that your body adapts to tempo like any other training variable. So, most people need to change up their lifting tempo at some point to keep seeing progress.

Tempo Training Benefits

Research supports that varying the tempo of your lifts can result in better muscle growth and strength gains, though there is no agreement on which tempo is best.

Tempo training is especially helpful if you've hit a plateau and must change your training stimulus to restart progress.

How to Add Tempo Training to Your Program

Tempo training is communicated in four numbers, representing a lift's eccentric, pause, concentric, and pause components, i.e., 3-1-2-1. Think about the squat. This tempo programming would mean:

3 seconds = for the eccentric, or down phase of the lift

1 second = for the pause at the bottom

2 second = for the concentric, or up phase of the lift

1 second = for the pause at the top

Different exercises will have you naturally start the lift at various points, but the tempo will always be presented as E, P, C, P.

Other common tempo setups for muscle gain include:

  • 3-2-0-1
  • 3-1-0-1
  • 4-1-0-1

Blood Flow Restriction

Now we are getting into some of the more hardcore bodybuilding concepts, and the first one up is blood flow restriction training (BFR), also known as Kaatsu training.

In BFR, you tie a tourniquet or tight wrap around your upper arm or thigh during exercise. This creates a killer pump due to the blood pooling in the limb, which allows you to get the same hypertrophy benefits of much heavier loads with only 20-30% of your one rep max.

Obviously, this training style is limited to arm and leg exercises, as you cannot tie a tourniquet on your torso.

Blood Flow Restriction Benefits

While this training style is painful, it's highly effective for people who are recovering from injuries, traveling, or don't have access to a traditional gym. BFR can help build muscle effectively when they cannot lift heavy weights.

While BFR is not more effective than traditional hypertrophy strength training methods, it is highly effective in helping to build or maintain muscle at much lighter weights.

How to Add Blood Flow Restriction to Your Program

If you want to try BFR, make sure you do your research on the best practices and understand the risks. While the practice may sound extreme, thus far, the research has shown it to be safe and effective.

The Mind-muscle Connection

This last advanced bodybuilding concept is less of a specific training tool and more of a skill that any serious lifter must develop, and that's the mind-muscle connection (MMC).

Now, there are people out there who will call this concept Broscience. However, evidence continues to mount across medicine and human performance that our minds play a huge role in our physical health, such that stress can even alter our immune response.

At its core, the mind-muscle connection describes a deep focus on the muscle contracted during lifting, particularly the feeling of significant tension or burn in the muscle.

It's not something new lifters must worry about, as they must first learn how to perform the exercises correctly and safely and build strength and size. The MMC becomes much more critical for advanced lifters whose gains have slowed.

Mind-muscle Connection Benefits

A strong mind-muscle connection will help you achieve your bodybuilding goals by allowing more controlled form and better muscle activation, leading to higher-quality reps and more muscular gains. It also helps prevent injury for the same reasons.

How to Add Mind-muscle Connection to Your Program

You can start developing your MMC today by lifting without music and focusing intensely on the sensations of your body during your lift. Take note of your natural tempo and carefully consider your form.

Over time, that mind-muscle connection will grow stronger and run in the background even when you are listening to something.

Advanced Bodybuilding Requires Next-Level Nutrition

Nutrition is absolutely crucial for bodybuilders. Doubly so for advanced bodybuilders due to our body's tendency to fight for homeostasis.

When we have excess body fat, the body is much more willing to part with it because it doesn't view the loss as a threat to the system.

However, losing body fat becomes much more challenging when you're already lean, especially for women of childbearing age.

As you lose weight, your metabolism becomes thriftier and thriftier, and you have to increase the fat loss stimulus by dropping calories, increasing activity, or both.

Exact Measurements

Bodybuilders track their food with an almost religious devotion. I'm talking every bite, side of dressing, ounce of coffee creamer, and gummy worm. Because a single serving of gummy worms can be the difference between reaching your body fat percentage goal in competition prep or not.

Nutrient Timing

Many physique and weight class athletes follow these general nutrient timing guidelines that maximize their performance in their gym, muscle gain, and fat loss, as well as improve their digestion and steady their blood glucose levels.

  • Eating every 4 hours or so
  • 30% of daily carbs 2 hours-ish before training
  • 40 of daily carbs 2 hours-ish after training
  • Eating protein at every meal
  • Minimize fats before training

2 Life Lessons I Took from Competitive Bodybuilders

I have been lifting seriously since I was 19 years old. In those 11 years, I've trained with strength and physique athletes of all stripes in gyms nationwide.

In that time, I've learned a few vital life lessons observing the bodybuilders around me, and here are the most important ones.

Health Doesn't Have a Look

While the tides are changing slowly, many people still equate your physical appearance as a direct, 1:1 representation of a lot of things.

  • Your health
  • Your self-respect
  • Your discipline

The list goes on. After 10 years as a fitness professional and a nursing career later, I've learned that oversimplification isn't always accurate, and it's also damaging.

Someone heavier and with serious medical issues can have phenomenal health habits.

While many of the bodybuilders I've known throughout the years may have beautiful bodies. Still, they have severe mental illnesses that have gone untreated because the world looks at them and sees health personified.

There Is Freedom in Discipline

I used to think self-care was a bottle of wine and takeout after a tough day at work. I now know that self-care is meeting my own needs as though I was a child.

I don't always want to work out. In fact, I went years without moving at all.

I absolutely don't want to eat my veggies all the time, get my steps in, or take my meds. But I do these things because I know that's what my body and mind need. And when I consistently do these things, my mental and physical health is much better.

Short-term discipline often yields long-term freedom. I learned that by investing in my health, I have more freedom to live and move how I want to, and that tradeoff is absolutely worth it.

The Bodybuilding Lifestyle

Bodybuilding is an extreme sport in terms of how much it demands mentally and physically. Advanced bodybuilders engineer their lives around their workouts and diets, and it's not uncommon for bodybuilders prepping for a show to altogether avoid restaurants, alcohol, and off-plan foods.

Remember that bodybuilding careers are measured in years, and these athletes alternate between the on-season and off-season, just like many other sports.

During the off-season, most bodybuilders enter a bulk or a maintenance phase where their diet is less restricted, and they get a break from grueling two-a-day workouts and the endless cardio needed for show-level leanness.

Remember that you never have to compete in a show to proudly call yourself a bodybuilder. It's possible to chase muscle and sculpt your body while finding a healthy balance between what makes you happy and dedication to your training and physique.

Bottom Line

To compete in bodybuilding, you must demonstrate significant dedication to your training and diet, and that grind is not for everyone. But if you've fallen in love with muscle pumps and gains, you can bring your physique to the next level with these advanced bodybuilding training tools.

High-volume or high-intensity work should be the base of your program. You can then add fun options like drop sets, tempo training, and blood flow restriction when you want a challenge.

If you're considering a bodybuilding competition, ensure your training and diet adherence are high, you have a burning desire to step on stage, you are mentally in a good place, and you have a supportive family/community.

Advanced Bodybuilding FAQs

How do I know I'm ready for competitive bodybuilding?

Advanced or competitive bodybuilding requires obsessive dedication to your diet and training that is demanding mentally and physically.

Because of this, you probably should not compete in a bodybuilding competition unless:

  • You have a burning, nagging desire to
  • Your training & nutrition are nearly perfect
  • You wouldn't think of missing a workout
  • You have no problem food prepping 100% of your meals
  • You can afford coaching
  • You are mentally in a good place
  • You have a strong support network

How can I incorporate advanced bodybuilding techniques into my current workout routine?

You can incorporate programming options such as drop sets and supersets into your training to build muscle and maximize efficiency regardless of your training status.

Can you provide examples of advanced nutrition strategies specifically tailored for advanced bodybuilders?

Some of the more advanced nutrition strategies and habits that competitive bodybuilders develop are measuring and tracking their food intake, employing nutrient timing strategies and carb cycling, and using high-quality, evidence-based supplements to round out their diet and support their training.

More Strength Training Advice from GymBird Experts


NASM. Reps in Reserve (RIR): What You Need to Know.

NASM. The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale Explained.

Sports Medicine. The Influence of Movement Tempo During Resistance Training on Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy Responses: A Review.

Social Work in Health Care. The mind-body connection: not just a theory anymore.