You've reached the breaking point, time for a change and decided 'this is what i'm going to do'. Bodybuilding is a daunting endevour as well as a life changing experience. The blokes in the mags are huge, Ripped to the bone and lift weights that you couldnt imagine lifting. Even some of the common vocabulary throws you into a completed daze: creatine, 21's, Negatives, SS, burn out, occlussion, Pyramid training, unilateral training (well ok maybe not all of them)
Well here is something to think about. That bloke you were reading about in the magazine (you know the one with 22" arms and a figure model on his arm). He did all this as well, He would of had to come into a gym and ask how to do things are lift, for all you know he may of started off 20lb lighter than you 5 years older.
So you've decided to do this seriously? Maybe add 20+ muscle? Lose the gut? Improve the arms? Or, like many others, you want to improve your fitness and enjoy life in a healthy way. First, Write down some realistic goals (both long term and short term). By realistic they have to be specific and perceived as attainable (by you). For example 1) add 10lb to my bench press in 3 months, 2) cut 4% BF in 14 weeks. None of this Mr Olympia by Xmas last year sort of thing.
Here is bodybuilding's No 1 secret, Ready? ok....... There is no perfect routine. Yep you read it correctly there is no 'best routine' out there, sure there are hundreds of ideas but everyone is different; Arnold did very high volume training and won 7 Mr Olympias, Dorian Yates used low volume and attained 6 titles. Everyone is different. Those interested in competing have different demands, goals than say.. the clerk attendant wanting to lose his stomach for the yearly holidays.
Genetics are the main factor in how your body responds to different training methods and dieting techniques. Oh yes, it applies to diet too as well. You most likely have a skinny friend or two who eats mars bars and 10 cans of red bull daily without putting on a pound. On the other hand you probably also have a friend who can't lose a single pound and eats less than a rabbit. Thats genetics for you, now that may be slightly dishearting but stick with YOUR plan and you will reach the goals you have set out for yourself.
A few pointers...
1. If new to lifting (particularly older generations) get checked over by a physician, the last thing you need is a bad first day putting you out for a week.
2. Assess your current condition and plan solid goals accordingly, - This happens all too often.. Attempting the marathan when you can't even do the jog yet. Space out the goals 3 months, 6 months, etc with attainable targets, reaching these targets will help you to keep improving.
3. Assess yourself every few months; photos are a great tool, review training methods (what has worked what hasn't), diet, etc. Look for areas of improvement and (when needed) what to change.
"You can't build a castle without first laying down the foundation."
Straight out of the gate as a beginner your main focus should be to build a solid foundation. This means no messing round with bicep curls supersetted with 50 sets etc but to make sure. Every major muscle group should be developed to prevent muscle imbalance and to reduce the risk of injury. The major muscle groups are legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes), chest, shoulders, back (Trapezius, lats, erectors), abdominals and arms (biceps, triceps).
There are literally thousands of different types of exercises available to you. However, as a novice, you'll see better results sticking with compound movements instead of isolation movements. Compound movements are exercises that involve more than one muscle group (squats, deadlifts, etc). Isolation movements are, just like the name suggests, isolated to one muscle group. Compound movements recruit the largest amount of muscles possible. This means you'll see more/better gains from utilizing them. Advanced lifters use isolation movements to target week areas. Here's a list of compound movements for major muscle groups, they should be the bulk of your program for now:
Legs (quads/hamstrings): Barbell squats, walking lunges
Back: Deadlifts, bent over rows, pullups
Biceps: Barbell curls
Chest: Incline Bench press, Dips
Triceps: Close Grip Bench Press, Dips
Shoulders: Push Press, Military press
Abdominals/Core: Crunch, leg raise
Calves: Calf Raises
These basic exercises can be done numbers of ways. For example, the bench press can be done laying flat, on a decline, or on a incline. Also, you can use a barbbell or a dumbbell. You can also use a machine however this would be more of an isolation-type movement as it does not utilize as many stabilizer muscles.
Further... Two similar exercises can target a muscle differently. For example, the bench press is a good at working most of the chest, but the incline press (bench press done on an incline bench) works the upper pectorals to a higher degree. When different exercises are put together to form a routine, you'll want to include movements that hit the same muscle in different ways. This challenges the muscle in different ways, resulting in more growth and better gains. As a novice, I recommend you normally include 2-3 different exercises when you work each bodypart.
Weights, Reps & Sets
During the first couple of training sessions, you'll want to go pretty light just to get a feel for how to do the movement correctly. After you feel comfortable with the form, begin adding weight untill the point where 8-10 reps is difficult but no bodyswinging is needed.
Once you find a challenging weight, stick with it. So you'll become stronger and be able to increase the number of reps. Once you can do 12, it's time to increase your training poundage by about 10%. At this heavier weight, you won't be able to do 12 reps, but with time you'll once again be able to. Keep working in this fashion.
Keeping a training log with weight used, sets, reps etc will help you to progress
Remember the aim is to to build the body not lift more weight so only increase weight when form is still good (you should never give yourself back ache from something like barbell curls).
The number of Sets for a beginner i would recommend 1-2 light warm up sets followed by 1-3 heavy sets to give total set numbers of between 2-5 sets
Lifting pace & Range Of Movement (ROM)
Many people seem to struggle with this, it is not a race your not trying to throw the barbell through the gym roof nice smooth reps are the best way to avoid injury and ensure the muscle is worked fully
Use a full range of motion in your exercise movements. You want to work each target muscle through its natural range of motion for complete development and to prevent injury
For some reason when lifting many people forget how to breath you see it on squats, deadlifts and bench press, purple faces and people hold their breath through the lift, This is not good for you at all not only does it increase blood pressure but it cuts of oxygen to the muscles essential you could be making yourself weaker
Start each set with a deep inhalation and exhale as you push through the most difficult part of the lift
Resting Between Sets
To be honest rest aslong as you need, that normally ranges from 45-90 seconds. Larger muscle groups take a bit longer to recover; Do not sit around for ten mins on the phone or chatting to buddies the aim here is drink so fluid and rest 30 secs or how ever long needed to get the PH levels in the muscle down again and hit the weight hard again
Frequency & Time
You may read magazines saying do x amount of exercises x times a week to total 100 hours in the gym etc on monday mornings, evenings and weekends etc, but those workouts are no good for you, those bodybuilders are advanced to say the least many have lifted for 15 years or more.
For beginners 2-3 times a week focusing on compound movements should be enough and to be honest if you can train all the compounds more than 3 times a week your not lifting right.
How long should a workout last? 1 hour? 2 hour? how about arnolds 3 hour austrian blitz? Nope The bodies testosterone will start to reduce after 45-48 minutes so training should be an hour of less.
One last Thing
Quality muscle is not built by spending 5 hours a day in the gym, its built by getting in working as hard as humanly possible then leaving, A good workout should be intense and relatively fast. Now get to the Gym