This is my complete guide to a beginner body building workout that is ideal for trans men/FTMs. This post includes my beginner workout, plus video guides to show you how to do the exercises properly. Also, I explain the choice of exercises, so you can see why these exercises will suit your own body building goals. Start transforming your body today. Because the old cliche is actually still true: today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Note: I have been a certified personal trainer for decades, and I have been a trans athlete for almost as long.
Why Do Body Building?
Building up your body is an extremely healthy activity that will help you to look better and age better. For trans guys, it will have the added bonus of helping you to pass. And if you are on testosterone, you will see results much more quickly than ever before. This can make the process of body building for trans men a deeply satisfying experience. That is certainly how I have experienced it myself.
First, check out my beginner workout for trans men below. Then read on for a lot more information that will help you get the most from your resistance training workouts. Please read this entire post before beginning, as I have included important safety tips and information.
What You Need to Do the Best Body Building Workout for Trans Men/FTMs
Note that this workout assumes you have a minimal home gym. It does not include using the equipment found in professional gyms. Not all of us have safe access to those. However, if you do have access, feel free to swap out individual exercises with machine-assisted exercises.
Related Post: How to Set Up Your Own Gym at Home
Beginner Bodybuilding Workout Program for FTMs/Trans Men
This workout is for beginners. Before starting the program, be sure to watch the videos below to make sure you know the correct form.
The Beginner Workout for Trans Men includes four workout days. Space these across the week to suit your schedule. Within the week, you will have three days of rest. As an example, I usually work out on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On rest days, I strongly recommend that you do active recovery, such as hiking, biking, swimming, walking, yoga, or pilates. A good stretching workout will also help you to recover.
Always remember that it is during your recovery that your muscles are actually growing. That is why active rest and nutrition are rest days are vital.
This workout is designed to have the correct number of sets per workout and per week to suit beginner weight lifters. The logic behind the numbers is explained in our post on how to design a body building workout.
Related Post: How to Design Your Own Body Building Workout
The Best Body Building Workout for Trans Men/FTMs
Note that all of these exercises are clearly described in videos below.
|Days 1 and 3: Chest, Shoulders, Arms|
|Warmup: Light cardio for 8 minutes||1|
|Warmup: One set of pushups||Upper body, pecs||1||10|
|Dumbbell Bench Press||Pecs||2||12|
|Dumbbell Decline Bench Press||Lower Pecs||2||12|
|Dumbbell Incline Bench Press||Upper Pecs||1||12|
|Vital warmup: Two sets of gentle rotator cuff exercises - choose from the videos below||1||12|
|Standing Overhead Dumbbell Press||Delts (front, mid and rear)||3||10|
|Dumbbell Lateral Raise||Mid delts||1||12|
|Prone Fly||Rear delts||1||12|
|Close Grip Barbell Press||Triceps||3||10|
|Seated Overhead Triceps Extension||Triceps||2||12|
|Days 2 and 4: Back, Legs, Abs/Core|
|Warmup: Light cardio for 10 minutes||1|
|Deadlifts||Hamstrings, Glutes, Hip flexors, Quads, Core Muscles, Upper and Lower Back Muscles, and Forearms||2||10|
|Barbell Rows||Entire Back, Lats, Lower Back, Scapular Stabilizers, and Hamstrings||2||10|
|Barbell Shrugs||Traps and rhomboids||1||12|
|Squats||Glutes, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Adductors, Calves, Core||3||10|
|Plank||Entire core||2||Hold for 20 to 40 seconds (until you can't continue)|
|Ab wheel roll-outs||Entire core, lats||2||12 (or as many as you can manage, if you cannot get 12)|
|Russian Twists||Entire core, obliques||1||12|
How Hard Should You Work Out?
Resistance training is all about asking your body to do more than usual, so that it responds by building more muscle. Therefore, it is important not to go too easy on yourself. If you never make grunting noises or pull a face, you are not working hard enough! After you have worked out, you should feel tired.
At the same time, don’t push yourself to failure on every single set, otherwise you risk injury. Find a middle ground and be sure to regularly push yourself hard.
How Heavy Should Your Weights Be?
Basically, for most of the sets, aim for a weight that enables you to do between 8 and 12 repetitions. That is a set. By the end of the set, it should be really hard to do the exercise. Or, if you are going to failure, it should be close to impossible by the time you reach 11 or 12 reps.
Once you can lift a given weight 15 or more times, it is time to add a bit more weight onto the bar. Do these increases slowly and carefully. The aim is to make progress without injuring yourself. And the older you are, the more careful you should be.
Note: You will see a lot workouts that talk about using a weight that is X% of your one rep maximum. Don’t worry about that now. That kind of fine-tuning will be useful later, after you have been working out for more than a year.
The Most Important Exercises to Build Your Body – All Included in Your Best Body Building Workout for Trans Men
I have focused on including the most important exercises for building your body and your strength. Almost all experts agree that the best exercises to build a powerful body are compound exercises that recruit multiple muscles simultaneously. These include:
- Bench presses
- Shoulder presses
- Barbell Rows
- Close grip presses
I have included all of these crucial exercises in the program. With these compound exercises, you will see maximum gains in as little time as possible (depending on your starting point and your genetic potential). Try not to waste too much time and energy on exercises that target just one small muscle.
How to Do the Exercises in the Best Body Building Program for Trans Men
I recommend you do a set of push-ups as part of your warmup on chest day. If you cannot yet do a full push-up, just do a knee push-up.
Also, once you progress past this beginner workout, you may introduce variations such as drop sets. For these, push-ups are useful as a final set, in your quest to totally exhaust your pecs.
The Bench Press
The king of all chest exercises is the bench press. Just make sure you do it right. Remember to focus your mind on the contraction and power of your pecs flexing to perform the movement.
By the way, this is one of the few exercises in the world where having shorter arms gives you an advantage!
Video Showing How to Do a Bench Press with Dumbbells Properly
Watch this video to ensure that you do the bench press correctly. The instruction starts at minute 2:00, but it is better to watch the entire video.
Should You Use a Barbell or Dumbbells for the Bench Press?
You can bench press with a barbell or dumbbells. However, dumbbells are safer. Plus, they allow for greater range of movement. Also, dumbbells are better because they allow for more internal rotation of the arms, which is what the pecs are meant to do. Multiple studies show that bench presses with dumbbells engage more of the pec muscles. (Sources: Heinecke et al.; Farias et al.)
Variations on the Bench Press
I have included incline presses to target the upper pecs, and decline presses to target the lower pecs.
Decline presses are especially important for trans guys. The more you can create that distinctive lower line that marks the bottom of the pecs, the more you are going to distract attention from any scars from top surgery.
Video Showing How to Do the Decline Bench Press
This short video will show you how to do a decline dumbbell press. Note that you should start with a much smaller angle of decline, especially if you find it a little intimidating to lower yourself backwards. The first time I did it, all I could think was “How am I getting back up?” My home bench does not have such a big decline available, but even a small decline does the trick.
This variation works the upper chest and will help you to look more impressive in a t-shirt.
Video Showing How to Do the Incline Bench Press
This very short video will help you to perfect your form for the incline bench press.
Shoulder Exercises included in Our Best Body Building Workout for Trans Men
Broad shoulders will give the impression that your waist is narrower than it really is. They will also go a long way towards giving you a more masculine appearance.
The shoulder muscles have three heads: the front, lateral, and rear delts. Most people over-develop the front delts, while neglecting the lateral and rear delts. The key to having huge “boulder shoulders” is to make sure you are targeting all three heads in your workouts.
But before we get into describing the shoulder exercises, let’s take a moment to address an important safety consideration: taking care of your rotator cuff muscles. I strongly recommend that you do one or two sets of rotator cuff exercises, with very light weights or bands, before you do your heavy shoulder exercises.
How to Protect Your Rotator Cuffs
Anyone who starts working out and does not take proactive steps to protect their rotator cuffs will eventually have an injury that stops them from working out for a while. This is guaranteed. So, don’t be that guy on the sidelines. Watch this video and choose at least one or two exercises for your rotator cuffs. Include them in your warmup on shoulders day, using LIGHT weights.
If you skip them, sooner or later, you will be sorry. I know, I’ve been there. More than once, because I learn slowly. Every time I injured my rotator cuff muscles, my progress was set back by months. It’s just not worth it. Invest the extra five to ten minutes to protect yourself from rotator cuff injury.
Video 1 about Rotator Cuff Exercises – Using Exercise Bands
By far the easiest and quickest way to strengthen and protect your rotator cuffs is with exercise bands. Invest in a set of exercise bands and then simply do exercises 1 and 2 in the video below. If you have a few more minutes to spare, add in the other exercises as well. Start off with the lowest resistance exercise band and work your way up slowly and gently over many months.
Video 2 about Rotator Cuff Exercises – If You Don’t Have Exercise Bands
This video offers a second-best option. You can use something as simple as a can of soup to do these. If rushed for time, only do Exercises 4 and 5, which you can find starting at minute 4:35. (Exercises 1 through 3 are more for people who already have injured rotator cuffs.)
An Important Note about Exercise Bands
As mentioned above, the easiest way to exercise your rotator cuff muscles is by using exercise bands. You just attach one end of the band to a wall at shoulder height, and then do external rotations of the shoulder joint. I very strongly recommend that you pick up a set of these. Exercise bands are also useful for a huge range of other exercises. And they are ideal if you are traveling, or exercising in a small space.
A set of bands comes with a range of resistance levels, so that you can use them to exercise light or hard. I am the proud owner of a set of the Bob and Brad Exercise Bands, and I am very happy with them. Bob and Brad are physical therapists, and they have a very amusing and informative channel on YouTube. I “consult” them whenever I have aches and pains!
Full Body Workout with Exercise Bands
The video below shows the amazing potential of exercising with bands. This video features a full-body workout that you can do with bands anywhere, any time. I plan to try it on my next trip.
The Shoulder Press for All Three Heads of the Shoulder Muscles
The king of shoulder exercises is the shoulder press. This on its own will go a long way to building the size of your shoulders to give you a manly V-shape, and make you look broader and stronger.
Video showing How to do a Shoulder Press
This video shows how to do this exercise properly. Note his safety tip at the end, especially if you are a complete beginner.
Should You Use a Barbell or Dumbbells for Shoulder Presses?
While you are still a beginner and using light weights, it is best to do shoulder presses with dumbbells. You will get more involvement of all the heads of the shoulder. Also, it is safer to do alone at home with minimal equipment. If you totally run out of strength, you can safely drop a dumbbell.
Once you become so advanced that you want to press heavier weights, you should probably think about investing in a power rack, for the sake of safety. Most racks can be set up so that you can safely do chest presses, squats, or shoulder presses. You simply position the barbell at the correct height, so that it becomes safe and accessible for the exercise.
The Dumbbell Lateral Raise for the Lateral Head of the Delts
This video will help you to get your form right for this important exercise.
The Prone Fly for the Rear Head of the Delts
This video shows how to get your form right for this exercise. It is usually challenging to target the rear delts, but this exercise makes it easy. And the end result – visible rear delts – is very pleasing.
Exercises for Your Triceps
Your triceps are much bigger than your biceps, and are therefore more important. Big, strong triceps will go a long way towards making you look big and strong. There are a lot of single-joint exercises that target the triceps. But the single most important triceps exercise is the closed grip bench press, which is a multi-joint exercise. I suggest you put most of your energy into this one, and then finish with just one or two sets of a single-joint triceps exercise.
Close Grip Press for Bigger Triceps
This is a multi-joint exercise that primarily targets your triceps, but also hits other muscles, such as the pecs.
Video Showing How to Do a Close Grip Press
This video shows you the correct form for a close grip press. The instruction starts at 2:30, but the introduction is also interesting. Personally, I place my hands in a more narrow position than this guy does, to target my triceps more. But you have to be careful not to over-stress your wrists. At the first hint of pain, widen your grip. The worst that can happen is that you exercise your pecs too much, and they get even bigger … oh well.
Seated Overhead Triceps Extension
There are many effective single-joint (isolation) exercises for building your triceps. I suggest you start with this simple seated overhead triceps extension.
Video Showing How to Do a Seated Overhead Triceps Extension
This video will help you to do this triceps exercise effectively. Instruction begins at 2:05.
Exercises for Your Biceps
Although a lot of guys focus on biceps, they are relatively minor muscles and will naturally grow as you do other multi-joint exercises, such as bench and shoulder presses. Nonetheless, don’t neglect them. I suggest simply doing two variations on good old bicep curls.
Video Showing How to Do Biceps Curls
Bicep curls seem pretty easy, but as with all exercises, form matters. Check out this excellent video for instruction. It not only shows you correct form, but shows you how to avoid all of the most common mistakes.
Chin-Ups for Your Biceps
Chin-ups are an excellent exercise for your biceps. However, I have left them out. The fact is that most people cannot do them.
That said, I personally switched over to chin-ups for my biceps as soon as I was physically able. They are excellent compound movements, and you can feel them working your entire upper body, even including your abs and your lats. Chin-ups contribute much more than biceps curls to building overall body strength and a masculine appearance.
You can work towards doing chin-ups by using rings to build the required strength (see video above).
Exercises for Your Back
These might not seem important, as it is hard to see our own backs. However, they really are essential. A strong back is the foundation of overall body strength and size. And a strong back is key to healthy, active aging. I have included the two most important back exercises, which are the deadlift and the row. These will build both your strength and your size. Then I have added in shrugs, because these will build up your traps, giving you a more manly appearance even while you are wearing a shirt.
If you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, it should be the deadlift. It really is that important. It works almost your entire body, and is very functional because it mimics picking things up off the ground. Just doing this exercise alone would go a long way towards building the manly body of your dreams. In the long term, it could enable you to pick up your grandkids when you are 80.
That said, the deadlift is a bit more complex than it looks. And it is essential to deadlift correctly, otherwise you risk lower back injury. Be sure to watch the video below at least once before you attempt it. When you do attempt it, make sure to do so in front of a mirror to check your form.
Video Showing How to Do a Deadlift Correctly
Watch this video, and then use a mirror to slowly and carefully learn the form. Keep doing the deadlift in front of a mirror for the rest of your life. Never get complacent about this exercise – and never stop doing it!
Barbell Rows to Broaden Your Entire Back
This simple exercise builds real functional strength, and also broadens your back by building pretty much all of your back muscles.
Video Showing How to Do Barbell Rows to Build Your Back
This video explains the importance of rows, and will show you how to do back rows correctly. It also shows you how to tweak the exercise to target the muscles you want to prioritize. Personally I favor the overhand narrow grip as it targets the all-important lats. More about the importance of the lats in the section below about ab wheel roll-outs.
Shrugs to Build Your Traps
As noted above, traps will make you look more manly even when wearing a shirt (which is what we do most of the time, after all). Shrugs are the go-to exercise for this purpose. They also have the added benefit of building your grip strength.
Video Showing How to Do Shrugs
This video will guide you in how to do this effective exercise. By the way, this video is from my absolute favorite body building YouTuber, Jeff Nippard. He is a former national body building champion, despite being only 5 feet 5. Check out his outstandingly useful YouTube channel here. The guy combines authentic personal experience with in-depth research. Plus, he just seems like a genuinely nice guy.
Instruction starts at around 2:40. However, the introduction is fascinating and useful too.
A Helpful Note on Pull-Ups
Pull-ups are very important exercises for the back, but I have not included them in the workout. Why? Because, frankly, most people just cannot do them. If you can do them, then by all means put them into your Back and Legs Day.
An alternative to pull-ups that works the same muscles is to do pull-downs on a lat pull-down machine in the gym, if you have access to a gym.
Try Gymnastic Rings with Cables for Modified Pull-Ups
Another alternative is to buy rings with cables and start off with modified pull-ups. This makes way more sense than trying in vain to pull yourself up, and just dangling there feeling silly. Or jumping up and then trying to lower yourself down. Even though this is recommended by many YouTube videos. The reality is that if you can’t do it, you can’t do it – and you run a real risk of injury.
The reality is that you don’t learn how to bench press 200 pounds by starting off with lowering 200 pounds. Or trying in vain to lift 200 pounds, and only getting it two inches off the ground. Instead, you start with a smaller weight.
The same can be achieved by using rings to decrease the amount of weight you are pulling up. By using rings, you can do a sufficient volume of modified pullups to build the strength you need to one day impress yourself (and the world) by doing full pull-ups.
Check Out this Video that Shows you How to Use Rings to Progress to Doing Pull-Ups
I have used this progression with friends learning to do pull-ups, and it really does work. The key is that the height of the rings can be adjusted to make the exercise easier, and then progressively more difficult.
Again, I have focused on the most important multi-joint exercises. In this case, the squat (of course!). Plus, lunges, which highlight different muscles of the legs.
The squat ranks as runner-up to the deadlift on the list of the most important exercises you can possibly do for overall strength and size. Plus, it will help to keep your body functional, flexible, and strong into old age if you do it regularly. If you plan to be able to get down to great-grand-child level at the age of 90, this exercise is a must. Or even if you just want to be getting out of your own recliner, unassisted, at age 100.
Video Showing How to Do a Squat
This video shows you how to do a squat correctly. Note that the basic movement is very much like sitting down into a chair. In fact, I started learning this movement with a bench behind me, so that it would catch me if I lost my balance. The tutorial starts at 0:37. Just learn how to do the basic squat. And don’t even think about doing the jump squats while you are still a beginner!
Progressing with Your Squats
You can start with body weight, then progress to adding weight later. To add weight, you can grasp a weight plate or kettle bell in front of you.
Alternatively, you can use a barbell across your shoulders. However, if you are doing this at home, weight on your back can be dangerous. You should have your own squat rack, so that you can safely get the weight off your back. If you buy the right one, it can double as a rack for bench pressing, so that you can safely increase your weight with that other crucial exercise as well.
This is another fabulous exercise for your legs – and also for much of the rest of your body. Plus, lunges improve stability, balance, and hip flexibility, and may even help you to look taller. And who doesn’t want that? Even a simple stationary lunge will target your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, core, and calves.
Video Showing How to Do Lunges Correctly
This video will get you started with lunges. Be sure to do them carefully to avoid injuring yourself. Also, if you are a beginner, you should start off with NO WEIGHTS.
Exercises for Your Abs and Core Included in Our Best Body Building Workout for Trans Men
The plank is a staple to improve your core strength and stability. This is vital in itself. And for bodybuilding, a strong and stable core will enable you to do other exercises better and more safely. For example, standing shoulder presses are safer when your core is straight, tight, and locked. Also, regular plank work will combat lower back pain. And of course, planks will make your ab muscles grow, as long as you incorporate progressive overload.
Video Showing How to Do the Plank, and How to Progressively Overload the Plank
In this video, an explanation of how to do the plank is provided at minute 1:53. The way to progressively overload planks is also explained in the video.
Ab Wheel Roll-Out Exercise
The way to do the ab wheel roll-out is explained at minute 5:10 of the video above. This old school exercise is excellent for the core muscles.
A bonus for trans guys is that ab wheel roll-outs also target the lats. That is a good thing because many of us have some kind of post-top-surgery “wings” under the arms. Over time, weight training can start to replace those flabby wings with defined muscle.
In the photo below, you can see this guy’s “wings” are composed of muscles – the lats. Lots of work with your ab wheel will help you develop those muscles.
Russian Twists for Your Core
This is another great exercise for a strong and muscular core.
Video Showing How to Do Russian Twists
As with most exercises, correct form is crucial, so watch this video carefully. It is all too easy to cheat on this exercise, negating its effectiveness.
Final Pro Tips to Help You with Your Best Body Building Workout for Trans Men
Nutrition for Body Building
To put on muscle, you usually have to be eating extra calories. Except if you are a new body builder and you have a lot of body fat. In that situation, some people can build muscle with a calorie deficit. I did it myself for many months. It is harder than putting on muscle while eating surplus calories, but it is possible.
However, whether you are in a calorie deficit or not, you do need a lot of protein. Prioritize protein in your diet above all else. Don’t fuss too much about taking in enough carbs (especially if you have abundant body fat to burn). Experts debate the fine points, but the general consensus is that you need at least 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight for muscle growth. So if you weigh 160 pounds and are fairly lean, you need 160 grams of protein per day. However, if you have a lot of body fat, you don’t need to be eating protein to preserve your fat. In that case, another way to calculate protein needs is 1 gram of protein per centimeter of height.
It can be very hard to get enough protein. I track my macros on MyFitnessPal, and I notice that it is close to impossible to get my protein numbers high enough. So, apart from eating a reasonable number of whole food proteins, such as eggs, chicken, and meat, consider a good, clean protein powder.
And absolutely ditch the junk carbs and processed foods. Your body development depends on what you fuel it with. Feed yourself garbage, and the way you look will reflect that. And the way you feel, too. I personally recommend low carb, moderate to high protein, and high fat (but no vegetable oils at all).
The only times in my life I have ever lost weight and improved my health numbers were when I was low-carbing. However, I know this is personal, and what works for one guy will not necessarily work for another guy. Also, different things work at different times of life. I am currently focused on a whole food, plant-based diet, because I am at a stage of my life where my cardiac health is my top priority.
You need to research and experiment to determine what works best for you. For some people, low carbs are a great way to lose weight, but can lead to increased cholesterol levels. In the medium to long term, this can threaten your cardiac health. My best advice is to carefully figure out what works for you. While doing this, have regular blood work done to ensure you are keeping your body healthy.
Supplements for Body Building
There are very few supplements in the world that do all they are cracked up to do. And most supplements are very contentious, or at best, unproven. However, there is ONE supplement that everyone agrees on, AND which is cheap: creatine monohydrate. A tub like the one below will last you for many months. This supplement will help to make your muscles look bigger within days, and will help you to build strength and muscle in the short, medium and long term.
Start with 20 grams a day (usually 4 teaspoons) for a week to load up your muscles, then scale back to 5 grams (1 teaspoon) per day. Be warned that the scale will show a small increase in your weight initially, but that is purely water in the muscles.
Bottom Line on the Best Body Building Workout for Trans Men/FTMs
Body building is an ambitious and challenging process. Even with the best form, you will occasionally have aches, pains, and even injuries. It comes with the territory when you go all out to transform your body.
However, most of us would agree that transforming your body is sometimes the best thing we can possibly do for our own happiness. Without a doubt, building a healthier, stronger and better looking body is a worthwhile goal that will reward your efforts.
Good luck with your transformation!
Sources Used for this Post on The Best Body Building Workout for Trans Men
Ace-Sponsored Research – Best Back Exercises.
Contreras, Bret. (2010). EMG Analysis on Biceps Involvement.
Cooper, Robert, Fernando Naclerio, Judith Allgrove, and Alfonso Jimenez. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: An update.
Farias DA, Willardson JM, Paz GA, Bezerra ES, and Miranda H. (2017) Maximal Strength Performance and Muscle Activation for the Bench Press and Triceps Extension Exercises Adopting Dumbbell, Barbell, and Machine Modalities Over Multiple Sets. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(7), 1879-188.
Heinecke, Marc L., Mauldin, Matthew L., Hunter, Monica L., Mann, J. Bryan, and Mayhew, Jerry L. (2021) Relationship of Barbell and Dumbbell Repetitions With One Repetition Maximum Bench Press in College Football Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, (35), 66-S71.
But Wait – There’s More!
This is the fifth in a series of posts about weight training and body building for trans guys/FTMs. This is the complete series:
- Why Weight Training is Important for Trans Guys/FTMs
- Tips for Success with Body Building for FTMs/Trans Men
- How to Set Up Your Own Body Building Program
- How to Set Up Your Own Private Body Building Center in Your Home
- The Best Body Building Workout for Trans Men – Our Complete Guide (this post)
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