The world of bodybuilding has become synonymous with the use of performance enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids. Most new bodybuilders who look up to the greats such as Jay Cutler, Arnold, and Phil Heath, understand that if they want to reach that level, then steroids and growth hormones are going to have to become a part of their lives.
However, steroids might not be so synonymous with good health. If you’re setting out in the world of bodybuilding to become the best and healthiest version of yourself then natural bodybuilding is the wise man’s path.
The world of competitive bodybuilding does contain its natural superstars such as IFBB Pro Mark Sindayen, Mike O’Hearn, and Simeon Panda. They might not be as big as the juice-heads, but they’re in great shape and free from side-effects.
If you’re looking to pursue a path in natural bodybuilding competitions, all the more credit to you. Let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know about natural bodybuilding to get started.
Natural Bodybuilding for Beginners
While the difference in appearances between a natural athlete bodybuilder and a steroid user might be huge, the differences in how they approach bodybuilding competitions are slight.
Slow and steady might not always win the race, but they can certainly run for longer. Natural bodybuilding demands you to work alongside your body to improve it. The results might take time, but this allows the functionality of your body and vital organs to adjust as you improve.
It’s important to not compare yourself to the gigantic likes of Ronnie Coleman and Rich Piana. You need to separate the physique goals of natural bodybuilding and steroid use into two completely separate things in your mind. You are working with your body to carve the very best version of yourself you can.
Never forget the huge benefits that this will have to your overall health. You only have to look at the likes of Mike O’Hearn to realize that natural bodybuilding is still big on the grand scale of things!
The Training: Developing a Natural Bodybuilding Routine
Everyone will be slightly different, but how hard and how often you train needs to be balanced with how well you recover. You can go to the gym for 3 hours every day and carry out grueling workouts, but you won’t get any bigger. You will get injured though!
When it comes to working towards the physique of natural bodybuilding two things will serve you well when it comes to stepping foot in the gym: Progressive overload and compound movements. Working these into your bodybuilding program is a must for natural muscle building growth.
When it comes to packing on muscle naturally, progressive tension overload is the only mathematical equation you need. To build muscle you have to shock the body by introducing it to increasing amounts of stress. There are three ways to do this:
- Increase the load
- Increase the number of reps with a load
- Decrease the amount of rest between sets
All of these will shock the muscle by asking it to do something it hasn’t yet done. The 5×5 method is a perfect example of this. You take your major compound movements and perform 5 sets of 5 reps. Each time you perform the exercise you add a little weight to the bar. Those small weight increments are what eventually add up to huge increases in strength and more muscle mass.
Similarly, you can take a fixed weight and add a rep each time. So if you performed 8 reps with a weight in one session, next time you go for 9 reps. The weight increments should be small to shock the muscle, but not be so heavy that you reach failure too soon.
When it comes to getting bigger naturally, the first thing to focus on is getting stronger. And nothing gets you stronger like the big compound movements. These multi-joint movements include the deadlift, squat, overhead press, bench press, and bent-over row.
They require multiple muscle groups, which means if you train them progressively you’re going to get stronger. The 5×5 method is a great place to start, as it uses all the major compound movements and the program is easy to follow. It’s widely considered one of the best ways to build overall strength when getting started in natural bodybuilding.
The Nutrition of a Natural Bodybuilder
Steroids might be off the menu, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of nutrition and other supplements. Your nutrition is going to be just as important to you as your training, so pay attention.
First things first, if you want to get bigger then you need to be in a calorie surplus. One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to put on muscle while worrying about gaining body fat. To build a strong foundation you’re going to have to get used to eating. To bulk up you’ll need to be consuming a 10-20% surplus of your weight maintenance calories.
A lot of bodybuilders will use mass gainers to make up the extra calories as it can be hard work finding the time (and space) to get extra meals in throughout the day.
Protein needs to be a large part of your diet. Protein is the key to building muscle. Every time you go to the gym you tear up your muscle fibers and protein is what your body needs to repair them.
Use this protein calculator to work out how much protein you should be consuming a day. We recommend that you aim for the upper region of the CDC limit if you’re looking at building more muscle.
More protein means better recovery, which means more strength when you return to the gym. Aim to have a lean protein source with every meal and be sure to consume 1-2 protein shakes a day, especially around your workout.
Supplements for a Natural Bodybuilder
Supplements can help to give you the edge when it comes to bodybuilding. There are a few key items (in addition to protein) that are a must for anyone looking at pursuing natural bodybuilding. Let’s take a quick look at two that can help you get the most out of your workouts.
Creatine is probably the most studied supplement when it comes to bodybuilding. Experts recommend taking 5g of creatine monohydrate daily to maintain maximum creatine concentration in the muscles. Creatine has been proven to help increase strength and muscle development.
Pre-workout supplements such as Impact Igniter are designed to help you get the most out of each training session. They combine caffeine and other stimulants for extra energy along with other supplements like citrulline and agmatine to improve blood flow. Impact Igniter also includes a clinical dose of beta-alanine for improved endurance as well as Alpha GPC and Lion’s Mane Mushroom extract for increased focus.
Rest and Recovery
And finally, if you’re planning on bodybuilding the natural way, then your rest and recovery have to be paramount. In the absence of steroids, the body needs longer to recover from intense workout sessions.
2 day’s rest is recommended for optimum muscle growth. 3 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 1 day off is a common weekly split that allows optimum recovery for muscle growth.
Natural Bodybuilding FAQ
If you’re looking for answers when it comes to natural bodybuilding then this is for you. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions for building muscle naturally.
1. Can a Natural Bodybuilder go Pro?
Of course. There are several natural bodybuilders competing at a professional level. Mark Sindayan is an IFBB pro. Several other bodybuilders have all won titles in natural bodybuilding competitions such as the WNBF and the Mr. Natural Universe competition.
2. What’s the Ideal Weight for a Natural Bodybuilder?
This depends really, as they are different weight classes in each competition. The biggest pro natural bodybuilder is Mike O’Hearn who weighs almost 250lbs and has won Mr. Natural Universe 4 times.
3. What’s the Best Training Split for a Natural Bodybuilder?
Everyone is slightly different when it comes to training and how much time they need to recover. For longer full-body sessions it’s recommended that you train no more than 4 days a week, incorporating a rest day between every training session.
A push and pull split can be done 6 days a week. Alternating between push and pull Monday to Saturday and then resting on a Sunday. It’s important to keep the number of sets to a minimum (2-3 sets) to allow for recovery.
Alternatively, you can opt for a ‘bro split’ and dedicate and a day to each body part. Your typical 5-day bro split looks like this:
- Day 1: Chest – 4-5 exercises, 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
- Day 2: Back – 5 exercises, 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
- Day 3: Shoulders – 4-5 exercises, 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
- Day 4: Rest
- Day 5: Legs – 5-6 exercises, 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
- Day 6: Arms – 3-4 exercises each, 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
- Day 7: Rest
4. Can I Stay Lean and Bulk Naturally?
If you want to get big then it can be hard to stay clean due to the necessary calories surplus, but it’s not impossible. If you’re looking for lean gains then check out this article for some all-important tips and tricks.
5. What are the Benefits of Natural Bodybuilding?
We might all want a physique like Arnold, but the truth is that it comes with a price. Steroids are known for their negative side effects including liver damage, decreased natural testosterone production, and an increased chance of heart disease. Not only that but once you stop taking steroids the gains you made will quickly disappear.
With natural bodybuilding, you are more likely to stay healthy throughout your whole bodybuilding career and improve your overall quality of life.
For all the essential supplements for your natural bodybuilding journey, be sure to check out our store for some of the industry’s leading products.