Bodybuilding is a very popular pastime, and it’s a competitive sport too. It’s been around for hundreds of years, but it really only achieved mass popularity during the middle of the 20thcentury, what a lot of people call the “golden age” of the sport. That’s when the movie Pumping Iron introduced bodybuilding to the masses and turned people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno (TV’s The Incredible Hulk) into media superstars.
Unfortunately, many of the top bodybuilders, both then and now, use performance-enhancing drugs, including anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids allow you to train longer and harder and recover faster from intense workouts. That’s why so many elite bodybuilders can train twice a day, six days a week.
A lot of natural bodybuilders attempt to copy these workouts, and end up tired, sore, and injured as a result. Worst of all, they don’t build any muscle! That’s because their bodies cannot cope with the demands of such intense, high volume training programs.
The good news is that, even without performance-enhancing drugs, you can still build muscle and change the way you look. However, you’ll need to forget about following workouts designed for or by steroid-enhanced bodybuilding superstars and start training like the natural you are.
The concepts of natural bodybuilding training
Enhanced bodybuilders can do long, intense workouts, and still grow. That’s because anabolic steroids increase protein synthesis, which is a fancy way of saying that it helps muscles to repair faster. The sooner this happens, the sooner you can get back in the gym and do it all over again. Two-hour chest workouts are no problem when you are on steroids!
Natural bodybuilders recover much more slowly, and that means they need to train differently to their steroid-enhanced counterparts. Here are the five rules that every natural bodybuilder needs to follow if they want to be successful.
1. Don’t use too much volume
Volume refers to the number of sets and exercises you perform per workout. While you need to do enough training volume to break your muscles down so that they grow back bigger and stronger, too much will just delay recovery.
The amount of volume you need to grow is very individual, as some people can tolerate more than others, but, as a natural lifter, you should try and determine how little you need, and not how much you can take. For most lifters, that means limiting your workouts to about 6-8 sets per major muscle group, and 2-4 sets for smaller ones.
2. Train each muscle group twice a week
Most workouts for enhanced bodybuilders involve working each muscle group once per week. These workouts are usually long and intense, which is why you’ll need an entire week to recover.
Such long workouts are not suitable for natural lifters, and you should work each muscle group twice a week instead. Because your workouts are shorter, you’ll recover faster, allowing for increased training frequency.
If you have a naturally good recovery, maybe because you are young, have a sedentary job, or are just a very lucky, naturally muscular mesomorph, you may be able to train each muscle group three times a week. However, if you feel like you are tired all the time or are unable to recover, you should drop back to twice a week before you start to suffer from overtraining.
3. Focus on compound lifts
Compound lifts are best for natural lifters for several reasons. Firstly, they allow you to train a lot of muscles in a relatively short time. Shorter workouts mean more time for recovery. Also, compound exercises increase levels of muscle-building serum testosterone and growth hormone more than isolation exercises (1). That’s not important if you are injecting or ingesting artificial hormones, but it’s very important if you are natural.
4. Keep your workouts short
Most naturals should keep their workouts to 60 minutes or less. Without artificial enhancement, it’s tough to recover from long workouts. Long workouts increase your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can inhibit muscle gain. Shorter workouts mean less cortisol, faster recovery, and better progress.
5. Don’t ignore your diet
If you are on performance-enhancing drugs, your muscles will grow even if you eat nothing but junk food. Steroids are potent drugs. However, naturals lifters should be much more careful with their diets.
As a natural lifter, you need to make sure you provide your muscles with adequate protein, carbs, and fats, as well as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Your diet should be mostly healthy, consisting of lots of vegetables, whole grains, quality proteins, and other natural foods.
If your diet is loaded with junk, your muscles won’t get the nutrients they need to grow. Natural lifters need to be experts in nutrition, as well as training.
The best workout program for natural bodybuilders
Armed with this information, you should now be able to write an effective natural bodybuilding program. Not sure where to start? No problem; here’s an example!
This program uses a push/pull split that allows you to train your muscles two (or even three) times per week while still leaving plenty of time for rest and recovery. It also ensures that all your muscles are worked equally. Each workout should take about 40-50 minutes to complete. If you take longer, you are probably resting too long between sets or exercises.
Remember to warm up before you start to make sure all your muscles and joints are ready to work. A few minutes of easy cardio, followed by 1-3 light sets of each exercise, should get the job done.
Workout 1 – pull
|1||Deadlift||4||6-8||Rest 60-90 seconds between exercises|
|3||Seated leg curl||3||8-12|
|5||45-degree back extensions||2||12-15|
|6||EZ biceps curls||2||8-12|
Workout 2 – push
|1||Front squat||4||6-8||Rest 60-90 seconds between exercises|
|2||Barbell bench press||4||6-8|
|4||Barbell shoulder press||3||8-12|
|5||Hanging leg raises||2||12-15|
Workout 3 – pull
|1||Romanian deadlifts||4||6-8||Rest 60-90 seconds between exercises|
|3||Lying leg curls||3||8-12|
|4||Single-arm dumbbell rows||3||8-12|
|5||Stability ball back extensions||2||12-15|
|6||Incline dumbbell curls||2||8-12|
Workout 4 – push
|1||Leg press||4||8-12||Rest 60-90 seconds between exercises|
|2||Incline bench press||4||8-12|
|4||Seated dumbbell shoulder press||3||6-8|
|5||Cable lateral raise||2||12-15|
Note: If you chose to work your muscles three times a week, simply create another push and pull workout, using different exercises to those listed above.
These workouts might seem short, and you won’t do as many exercises per muscle group as you are used to, but that is precisely what natural lifters need. Work hard, eat right, get plenty of rest, and adhere to these guidelines, and you will build muscle. Remember, if you aren’t using performance-enhancing drugs, such as anabolic steroids, you can’t train like someone who is!
1. PubMed: Serum testosterone, body composition, and strength of young adults.