Bodybuilding & Strength

The #1 Rule for Long-Term Bodybuilding Success

What is bodybuilding success?

In the interest of keeping things simple, I’ll start off by telling you the most important rule you must learn early on if you are going to have consistent success in the gym. If you want know how continually makes gains and achieve your health/fitness goals over time follow the #1 rule for long-term bodybuilding success:


That is the number one rule for long-term bodybuilding success. Know you weaknesses. Know your strengths. Get to know them as early as you can. Lifting weights and setting specific health goals for yourself… this is a LIFESTYLE. And this lifestyle is all about consistency and learning about yourself. You must BECOME AN EXPERT ON YOURSELF.

Let me use myself as an example so you can see what I am talking about. I will compare my mindset in 2006 vs. my mindset now (2014).

Sonny’s Mindset in 2006 (Gym Newb)

My original benchmark for bodybuilding success.

My original benchmark for bodybuilding success.

Goal: I want to be BIG. I want to look like Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) in the movie Bloodsport. That dude was a beast. I want a big upper body (big chest, big arms, big shoulders). Everything else including legs… I guess I’ll do a little bit for.

Here is what I knew about each bodypart and what my general plan of attack was. I have included all of the major bodyparts so you can see what exactly I was thinking.

Chest: I want a big chest. That’s the main reason why I’m going to the gym in the first place. My chest isn’t that big and it’s kind of flat. I guess I gotta do a lot of bench presses and machine presses on the Hammer Strength Machine. I’ll throw in some pec deck too. This is definitely a weak part.

Back: I guess my back is good. I got a pretty good V-Taper already. I’ll throw in some pull-ups and machine rows on the Cybex… as long as I got time and it doesn’t interfere with my chest exercises. *** Bonus- Traps: I’ll do some machine shrugs to work my neck out every now and then. I would consider this a strength.

Legs: Legs aren’t really that important. I mean who cares… all I really need is a strong upper body right? Big chest and arms?… that’s all I need to be strong. I don’t wanna totally neglect my legs though. I’ll do some leg presses on the Nautilus machine, throw in some leg curls, and do some seated calf raises. Definitely now gonna do any of that Squattin’ that people say is important. This is a weak part but I don’t really care.

Biceps: Definitely gotta train these. Mine are decent already but I want them to be bigger. I’ll do some dumbbell curls and curls with the EZ bar. I’ll spend a lot of my time at the Lifestyle Preacher Curl Machine… I really feel it with that one. Biceps are a strength but I’m still gonna spend a lot of time on them.

Triceps: I’m smart enough not to be one of those squids in the gym that train bi’s but do nothing for tri’s. I love training triceps. Before I ever even thought about joining a gym I always did dips because they made me stronger and helped me smash a baseball. I’m gonna keep doing dips and rope pushdowns too. Triceps are definitely a strength.

Forearms: Don’t really have to train these. Already got big forearms from baseball.

Shoulders: I’ll do some seated machine shoulder presses. That works them pretty good and my shoulders are already tired from doing all those chest presses at the beginning of my workout.

Abs: I already got pretty good abs and I eat whatever I want without gaining any fat. But I gotta train abs so I can look like the guys on the wall posters and the supplement abs. They got their abs shredded like that by training abs really hard. They probably know some super-secret exercises to get that shredded 8-pack look. I’m not sure what it is but I’ll find out eventually. I’ll train abs at the end of my workout by doing some machine crunches.

As you can see, I was very naïve. But that’s ok. Working out in the gym was something that was completely new to me. From a genetic standpoint, I already had a great foundation. In fact, when I was 16 years old people were already accusing me of using steroids before I had even touched a weight. Most importantly, I had an INCREDIBLE foundation from an attitude standpoint. In the future, I’ll write up an article on how this mental foundation was set but the only thing you need to know for now was that I was an ANIMAL. I refused to lose and I was very positive. I knew that this game was all about slow incremental improvement. I knew that this was a learning process that I would be a part of for the rest of my life. I was in no rush and time was on my side.

Now I want to delve into my mindset in the present (2014). Pay attention because this part is much longer, much more detailed, and contains a lot of terms you have probably never heard of. That’s ok. Over time, as you continue to read the FREE ARTICLES on my site and apply the advice, it will all make sense.

Sonny’s Mindset in 2014 (An Expert)

I am absolutely an EXPERT on myself. I know what bodybuilding success is all about. After years of absolutely destroying myself in the gym and making impressive gains WITHOUT THE USE OF ANABOLIC STEROIDS, I am an expert in this game. And no one can take that away. I don’t care what kind of degrees or certifications the so-called “experts” have that you see dishing out cookie cutter advice at your local fitness center. It’s pretty much common knowledge (accepted) that after 2 or 3 years of “serious training”, natural gains are impossible and at that point a person has to use steroids to keep making gains. My problem with that?… Most people don’t know what serious training really is. If you have been doing 9-10 straight sets for a bodypart per workout for 2-3 years… you don’t know what serious training is. I’m living, walking proof of what happens when you constantly change up your workouts and subject yourself to YEARS OF SERIOUS TRAINING. 8 years natural and still killin it… that’s what you get with real serious training.

Picture from August 2013... continuing to climb the ladder toward bodybuilding success.

Picture from August 2013… continuing to climb the ladder toward bodybuilding success.

Goal: I have different goals for different times of year. I usually bulk up January/February and start my diet around mid-March. I try to get absolutely shredded by May. I may also get shredded again for Fourth of July weekend. Other than that, I don’t try to peak twice in one year. Style: I am a VOLUME TRAINER. Despite everything else I have tried, I make the best gains and am truly at my best when I use HEAVY VOLUME… super sets, giant sets, FST-7 training. I need to keep my rep range high, around 20 reps. Straight sets have worked for me in the past. They certainly worked in my early days. But straight sets really don’t cut it anymore. The only instance where straight sets work for me is when I concentrate on emphasizing the negatives and do slow, controlled reps… Dorian Yates style.

Split: Over the years I have used many different splits. For me I use different splits for different goals/different times of year. I don’t bother with 3 day splits. 3 day splits are garbage and are for the squids who wanna minimize effort and still get maximum results. I’ve never been about that and I’m certainly not going to encourage that here. No. You wanna build muscle, gotta hit the gym at least 4 times a week.

4 DAY SPLIT: I like 4 day splits. I’m actually changing my routine up and will start up a 4 day split next week. In my experience, 4 days splits are when I am at my STRONGEST… without a doubt. I hammer every bodypart once a week. So when I want to be the BIGGEST STRONGEST version of myself, I’ll use a 4 day split.

5 DAY SPLIT: Most of the time I use a 5 day split. Hit everything once a week. It’s a good game plan to make gains/maintain what you have. I like going 5 days because it keeps you active every day of the week. I think 5 days is a good game plan for when you are just starting off using splits (wait for this though).

6 DAY SPLIT: I never used a real 6 day split until recently. When I first started working out, I would go 6 days a week but those weren’t real splits. It was basically me winging it and trying it out. I briefly used a 6 day split from Sept 2013- Nov 2013 and I had amazing results. I was using straight sets and hitting everything twice a week. Not much in size gains, but it really brought out that 3-D look. I wasn’t that strong using this split but the workouts were great and I got a great pump. I think this would be a good split to try if you were to switch into a cutting phase.

Different Times of Year:

For me, routine is key… short term, obviously, but also long term. My year starts in January. For the past 2 years, my game plan has been this. January through the middle of March is when I am in Monster Mode. My goal is to become as big and strong as possible. Around mid-March, is when I start to diet.

So from mid-March until mid-May, my goal is to get SHREDDED. I’ll do my early morning cardio and kick it into another gear with the lifting (I’ll usually add more sets and pick up the pace). When mid-May hits I’m in my best shape… big and totally shredded… just in time for them Vegas pool parties or the beach.

After that, I’ll take a break. I’ll go 2 weeks not setting foot in a gym and eating whatever I want… burgers, wings, cookies, ice cream. You name it. This time period of not doing anything is called a SLUMP BUSTER. These time periods are called slump busters because if you were to go in the gym you would feel like terrible and your workouts would be crap. The solution… DON’T GO!!!

After that slump buster it’s back to the gym. I’ll usually have something planned for 4th of July weekend, so that’s my next goal to be in awesome shape. The whole month of June I’ll be hitting it hard to get in shape for 4th of July weekend. The diet and training for that is a little bit different then the prep-phase for May (I’ll differentiate between the two phases in a future article). Once 4th of July hits, I’m in awesome shape again. It’s a different physique this time… usually bigger and fuller than the May version.

After that, I’ll take another break and get back at it around mid-July. From mid-July until end of August, the training is very hard and heavy. These are the hottest months of the year, so I like to take advantage of them. I can usually flip flop between a 4 and 5 day split… going very heavy. It’s my belief that this is the time when the most muscle density is built due to the heat. The diet is a lot more relaxed because I’m training hard and getting great workouts in.

Beginning of September, I’ll take a 2 week long break… hang out with friends/family, get some fishing in, get those last few days in at the beach. Anything but go to the gym. After that, it’s cruise control until middle of November. From mid-September until mid-November, there isn’t that much thought or creativity put into the workouts. I still go hard, always do… but this time period is more geared towards MAINENANCE and DISCOVERY. I’m going to the gym to maintain what I have worked hard to achieve. More importantly, I’m going to the gym to try out new movements… perhaps an exercise I haven’t done in a while, perhaps a new one that I completely made up. This will be my mindset until mid-November.

The final phase is the easiest one and it lasts from mid-November until the New Year. You ready? Okay. By mid-November I’m gassed, that’s what happens when you truly put yourself through serious lifting. So what do I do? Simple. I go into ULTIMATE SLUMP MODE. That’s right. For a month and a half, I don’t touch a weight and don’t go to the gym. I might go with a friend if they want some help or tips but I’m not lifting like an animal. I’m burnt out. I need rest. I need a long break like this so that once January hits I’m fresh and ready to kill it again.

Well that sums up my current mindset for tackling a years’ worth of goals, let’s dig deeper and see my mindset for the various bodyparts.

Chest: It took years but my chest is no longer a weak point. It’s well-balanced. I am very delt-dominant and for years this limited my chest development. I think the critical point came in 2011 when I really started hammering  it with VOLUME. Nothing has changed. It still needs a ton of volume to maintain that full pop. I can’t start off my workouts right away with heavy presses. I need to get some sort of light pump to get the blood flowing to the muscle. If I don’t those first initial sets are wasted as mere warm up sets. ** Warm up sets are a joke. For me, heavy weight high rep incline presses are KING. I love starting off my workouts with a superset of heavy incline dumbbell presses and incline dumbbell flies. I think the flat barbell bench press is the most overrated exercise in existence. For years, it just never hit the muscle right and the front delts would always take over on the lift. Everyone follows the cookie cutter routine of starting their chest workout off on Monday by going over to the flat bench and knocking out 3 sets of 10-12 reps. These are the same people who subject themselves to the same mediocre straight set workouts for a few years and then one day come to the conclusion that they have “maxed out their genetic potential” and need steroids. Okay. Bottom line: Chest is great as long as I hit it with a ton of volume. ** Funny enough, I just started doing very heavy flat bench presses again this past fall and the results have been awesome.

Back: Again, another part that responds well to getting hammered with volume. It came to life in 2011 when I stopped avoiding the hard exercises, meaning… hit it with heavy deadlifts, heavy barbell rows, dumbbell rows, T-bar rows. Machines work good too. They work amazing as the second exercise in a superset… such as supersetting barbell rows with seated cable rows. I have to always remember to do unilateral movements because my right lat is naturally more developed than the left. It’s been balanced over the years but that’s because I made sure to do unilateral movements for the back. The best ones for me have been one armed dumbbell rows and one armed hammer strength rows. Deadlifts have really brought some nice density to the back over the past few years. I never start off a back workout with deadlifts because they take a lot of grip strength out of you and the worst thing you can do is waste all your grip on the first exercise of a back workout. I usually end my back workouts with one all out set of deadlifts for 20-25 reps using very heavy weight. Back is absolutely a strength now. All that extra work put in the past 4 years has really added some nice thickness, especially to the spinal erectors.

Quads: Since I started hitting legs hard in 2007, I’ve never looked back. My quads have taken a beating over the years. I’ll admit though my best workouts may have taken place back in 2008 when I trained with my friend Mike for his first contest. I wasn’t as strong then but those were absolutely brutal. I’ll probably write up an article on those and my friend Mike in the future. But since 2007, I’ve never skimmed on my quad workouts. I do barbell squats, hack squats, different types of leg presses, walking lunges in the parking lot… you name it. If there’s a difficult exercise for quads I’ve done it extensively over the years. Quads are a strength, as long as I keep some sort of variation of the barbell squat in the routine. The right quad tends to take over a little bit more on certain lifts so I have to concentrate a little more on the left one sometimes. Since 2012, I’ve started to feel the wear and tear on my knees. That’s what happens when you regularly squat and leg press a lot of weight. But I’ve made sure to use supplements such as fish oil, flax oil, and turmeric. It’s been helping so far.

Hamstrings: The hamstrings are decent as long as I hit them with high volume and high reps. The back of the right leg is a lot more developed than the back of the left. Because of this I usually hit the left hamstring with more sets. For the most part, I do a variety of leg curls. I also do stiff-legged deadlifts and Jefferson lifts. Over the years, I have also made up a few of my own exercises.

Calves: Calves used to be a weakness but that was before I started to train them. Since 2007, I have made sure to hit calves just as hard as the other bodyparts. Again, the more volume the better. Definitely like using giant sets for these. Also heavy weight is a must. The best exercise for me is the standing calf machine. Donkey calf raises are good too. The left calf seems to insert lower than the right. Not much I can do about it, just a little thing I notice.

Biceps: Biceps are absolutely a strength. Peak. Fullness. Dimension. It’s all there. In fact, I can go weeks without training them and they’ll pretty much stay the same size. I’ve done pretty much every exercise and tried every style you can imagine. VOLUME is KING once again. I love using supersets for bi’s… especially following the gameplan of FREE WEIGHT>MACHINE. To me it’s all about peak, so a lot of my exercises will focus on that. I absolutely hate preacher curls with any type of bar. It’s another exercise that is highly overrated and yet everyone does it (That should be saying something about when you see everyone doing something). It’s overrated because a lot of people use too much weight and in most cases the front delts take over a lot of the lift. The right bi has a little more natural peak than the left but I address that by doing more volume for the left on unilateral movements such as concentration curls.

Triceps: Triceps are a strength as well. I had a great base from doing bodyweight dips before I even started lifting. Again, another bodypart I’ve pretty much done everything for. One thing I have noticed is that I absolutely CANNOT start off a workout with a free-weight/compound movement. It’s bad for the elbows and I need time for this muscle to warm up. So for my first 2 movements, I’ll usually stick with cables or machines. I think my tri’s are most responsive to any variation of dips… machine, traditional, bench. Left tri is more naturally developed than the right but over time I have been able to shift the focus to the right more on compound lifts. That or I will simply add in an extra unilateral movement only for the right one.

Forearms: Forearms have always been a strength. In recent years my main focus has been the brachioradialis. That’s the top part of the forearm. I always saw how ridiculous Phil Heath’s were so that’s what I wanted. Since 2011, I’ve hit this area pretty hard with reverse barbell curls, hammer curls, and a few exercises that I made up. I made forearms a priority by actually training them first in my arm workouts. Definitely a strength now.

Shoulders: Shoulders might be my biggest strength. They’re big, round, and all 3 heads are balanced. They’ve really developed that 3-D look since 2011. My shoulders need a TON OF VOLUME. Straight sets will not cut it. Also presses did not build my shoulders. Different types of lateral movements did. Presses are not even the featured exercise and I NEVER EVER start a shoulder workout with a free weight press. I hit rear delts first because that’s what gives the shoulder that 3-D look. Also that’s what everyone’s weakness is when it comes to shoulders (no one ever has too much rear delt vs. front delt). The left front delt is probably the most responsive muscle in my entire body. It tends to take over on the majority of my pressing movements. This is what hindered my chest development for years. I’ll actually go through phases of this and it will show… the left shoulder will appear much more developed than the right. Believe it or not, I think shoulders is one of the rare instances where machines are king.

Traps: Traps are also a strength where I can go long periods without training them. They were built up over the years from barbell/dumbbell shrugs and also indirect work from heavy deadlifts. They have come to life since 2010 because since then I have focused a lot more on heavy volume cable work experimenting with different types of movements. The left side is naturally more developed and thicker, not by much though. I’ll sometimes hit the right with more volume.

Abs: I stay lean enough all year for my abs to show. For most of the year, my work on abs will be strictly maintenance. Just a few sets here and there. When I am in diet mode is when I will actually put a lot of effort into my ab training. There’s no secret ab exercise or routine to get shredded abs. To get shredded abs you have to GET SHREDDED. Spot reducing is a myth. Don’t like doing fancy machines. Usually stick to crunches and different types of leg raises. Also like doing planks because it trains you to keep the waist tight.

WOW… that was a lot.  But it’s important you see that because hopefully it’ll make you realize that this whole going to the gym and getting jacked thing is not as easy as it seems. If it were everyone would be able to do and there wouldn’t be so many people thinking they maxed out their genetic potential after 2-3 years training. It can be easy if you want to cut corners *** (more on that at a later time). But if you want to do this as natural and as long as possible you’re gonna have to know yourself.

You’re gonna have to really get to KNOW YOURSELF. Embrace creativity in your workouts and learn to think outside the box. You can’t be another gym zombie who goes into the gym week after week doing the same mundane routines and wonder why nothing’s happening. I’m not saying you have to know everything to a T like I do. It’s not necessary if having a bodybuilder physique is not your goal.

But if getting jacked is a goal of yours, you’re gonna have to recognize what your strengths and weakness are. And you must make adjustments accordingly…. if you truly want bodybuilding success.

Look… this really is a lifestyle. I love it. Lifting weights and getting strong is my life. This lifestyle has given so much to me. I’ve learned a lot of lessons about life and developed a very powerful mindset thanks to my time in the gym. Because of that I have been able to apply that work ethic and dedication to all of my goals in both my personal and professional life.

I hope that you guys really take the time to read this article and use it as a basis for your own beginning if you are just starting off in the gym. Even if you are more experienced in the gym, I definitely think you can get some benefit from reading the article… especially the part where I break down my mindset for the particular bodyparts.

** As a bonus, check out Gregg Valentino explain this concept in his own words. He might be one of the most hated on dudes in bodybuilding but the dude keeps it real and definitely knows his stuff. That’s what bodybuilding success is all about.

Stay tuned for more free articles and hit me up with any questions you may have!


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  1. Sonny
    January 23, 2014 at 8:39 am — Reply

    Glad to get this first article up! Much more on the way!

  2. Don
    January 23, 2014 at 9:28 pm — Reply

    Not bad.

  3. Casper
    January 24, 2014 at 3:19 am — Reply

    Great info. Looking forward to hearing more!

    • January 27, 2014 at 4:23 am — Reply

      Thanks bro!

  4. January 29, 2014 at 11:08 am — Reply

    Good article man. Though I don’t really train like a bodybuilder, I def share some of the same concepts with you in regards to intensity/passion etc.

    • January 29, 2014 at 7:48 pm — Reply

      Thanks man. Yea regardless of how you train or what your goals are… if you got that solid foundation of DRIVE. You will make it happen.

  5. Reynaldo Betancort
    January 31, 2014 at 3:41 am — Reply

    Great article, and straight to the point.

    • January 31, 2014 at 5:11 pm — Reply

      Thanks Reynaldo! Appreciate it.

  6. maq
    February 19, 2014 at 9:14 pm — Reply

    Hey thank you for this wonderful blog and for your brilliant writing.

    I would like to ask something,

    in your other post, you talked about masculinity and how the current trends like spending too much time in front of internet or pop music are making men less masculine. But when I look at your photo, I dont see a single strand of body hair on you. I am guessing you probably got rid of it or shave it regularly.

    Now bodyhair is a sign of masculinity and not just an in and out trend but something that has always been associated with masculinity. I don’t think the masculine influences that you had, your dad, granddad, uncles ever got rid of bodyhair or even worse, so regularly and of the entire body.

    So isnt getting rid of body hair, just making yourself more androgynous and become less masculine just to fit into the current trend of trying to look like how male models and actors look these days?

    Thank you

    • February 20, 2014 at 12:12 am — Reply

      No. I think you’re looking into it too much. I shave it when I’m shredded down to highlight the conditioning that’s the only reason.

  7. […] reading this blog post at a blog called Strength by Sonny, I learned about the importance of working out your rear […]

  8. May 29, 2014 at 10:38 am — Reply

    how do I get Shaun Ts FOCUS T25

    The #1 Rule for Long-Term Bodybuilding Success – Strength By Sonny

  9. […] becoming a master of my own body. I know everything about this machine because I have lived by the number one rule in […]

  10. Bobby
    June 25, 2014 at 7:35 pm — Reply

    Hey dude just passed to say that my build is very similar to yours but I’m obviously much smaller and a little taller(6’2”).

    I’m still 16 so I have room for growth, what would you advice to help with explosiveness and agility in regards to sports(sorry if you’ve already posted about these)

  11. August 4, 2014 at 8:54 pm — Reply

    […] By Sonny The #1 Rule for Long-Term Bodybuilding Success – Know Yourself Improve Your Athletic Power – 6 Exercises Get Your Wings – Build a Big […]

  12. […] No one wants to take the time to master the #1 rule in bodybuilding. […]

  13. […] you see a packed gym full of people who have taken the time to get to know themselves and turn their weaknesses into […]

  14. October 19, 2014 at 2:15 pm — Reply

    Read the Full Article

    The #1 Rule for Long-Term Bodybuilding Success • Strength By Sonny

  15. […] a reason why I am able to get shredded on a whim. I follow the number one rule for bodybuilding success. I know myself. I know exactly what I need to […]

  16. […] certain fundamentals, gaining muscle and losing fat varies quite a bit between individuals. Sonny is right; knowledge of self is absolutely crucial for long term bodybuilding success. Everyone responds […]

  17. […] By now you know my story. I’ve been hitting the gym for 8 years. I’ve stuck with what’s work. I’ve made adjustments when they were needed. Most importantly, I’ve committed myself to being a lifelong student of MYSELF. […]

  18. February 27, 2015 at 3:41 am — Reply

    […] I bought this book in 2007 and it helped me out immensely. It served as an important reference and helped me learn the creative aspect of bodybuilding. Most importantly, it helped me master the most important rule in bodybuilding. […]

  19. […] However if you have some experience in the gym, feel free to make your own choice in terms of assistance exercises. With experience you’ll learn what works for you. […]

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