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Natural bodybuilding for regular guys


It was the summer of 2000, more specifically 2nd May 2000 that I first entered a public gym as a member to begin weight training. Before that I had some experience of training at home with a 10 pound dumbbell and doing push ups. As a 17 year old starting out in a gym my idols in those days were pro wrestlers like the Undertaker, Rock, Steve Austin, HHH. I was then more keen on bulking up and adding tons of strength to be like the pro wrestlers that I idolized.

One of my early idols

During the next few months to help improve my performance in the gym I started reading bodybuilding magazines and collected a ton of them in very little time. Those mags are still with me and I am as fond of them today as I was when I was a teenager. Thereafter as I continued to train I started losing interest in pro wrestling and was starting to get more interested in bodybuilding. Of course I was at no point of time interested in becoming a pro bodybuilder due to two major reasons. Firstly I knew that my natural bodytype is not that of a mesomorph so I would always struggle to make it at a high level of competition. Secondly even if I did so, the fact remains that even till today bodybuilding is a very poor sport, and not really one that you can take up as a full time profession to make ends meet, atleast not unless you are in the top 10-15 in the world. Infact even the thought of being involved in the strength and fitness industry as a trainer like I am today did not occur to me till 2006, i.e 6 years after I started lifting weights.


As I said that I was never keen on taking up bodybuilding professionally, but I was starting to get fascinated with the idea of atleast looking close to a pro bodybuilder even if I did something else to support myself financially and never enter a contest. Of curse in those days I was so innocent and silly that the thought never entered my mind that guys like Arnold and company could be using steroids to get way past their genetic potentials. Needless to say that over the years my frustrations started growing as I would see some guys in the gym grow inches in a month, while I struggled to even improve at the half their rate despite the fact that I was lifting as much if not more than them.


As always life is a great teacher and the more you age, the more you learn about the facts of life. Yes, finally my silly little confusions were cleared when I learned about the various differences between myself and pro bodybuilders. It was then that I realized that I was being a fool to try methods that were not meant for me, I mean it was like someone competing for his first cycling race preparing for it by following Lance Armstrong's training routine, or someone who stands 5'10" thinking that he has the same advantage at playing basketball like a guy who stands 7'.

Now before I proceed let me clarify that I think very highly of bodybuilding and am not impressed by the recent bodybuilding bashing that all those "functional strength" marketers do. Unlike their claims bodybuilding is not all about "pumping your muscles" while building no strength. Pro level bodybuilders have worked very hard and have lifted very heavy weights to get where they are. And yes they are strong, look at the training videos of guys like Ronnie Coleman , Johnnie Jackson, Dorian Yates, and see for yourself if they lift teeny tiny weights or lift big and heavy. Of course dont compare them to professional powerlifters, at the pro level everything is very specific, and those that train specifically for a goal, excel at it.

So then what exactly distinguishes a pro bodybuilder from a regular gym trainee. In my opinion there are three major factors, which are:

Sorry but this is not what everyone can look like



Genetics

Most of us are not born with the kind of genetics that will make it possible for us to compete at the pro level. Most pro bodybuilders were quite muscular even before they had lifted their first weight. Most were born with an ideal shoulder to hip ratio and either have full muscle bellies that swell from small joints or large bones capable of supporting major muscle mass. Many top level pros will  also double split their training, i,e train twice a day. They can of course keep up with such demanding routines and build up their bodies, but most of us will simply breakdown to the point where we will quit after failing to improve at all. Of course some pros have fought genetic disabilities to gain tremendous success but they are rare rather than the norm.

Lifestyle 

Even though most pro bodybuilders on the planet fail to make sufficient income from the sport itself to sustain themselves financially, they are still very dedicated towards the sport and live a very disciplined life. For eg here is what I had read about Jay Cutler's lifestyle way back in 2004 even before he became Mr. Olympia. He would wake up at 4.30 am to perform cardio, Throughout the day he ate 6-8 meals, did two workouts, took tow naps, a stretching/Yoga session, and a massage before going to bed. Clearly unless you are a professional you cannot devote that much time and dedication to bodybuilding, Most of us would struggle to get 4 full workouts a week, let alone multiple sessions of weight, Yoga, etc each day.

Besides the dedication even the cost of bodybuilding or more specifically nutrition is very high. In that old article that I read in 2004 it mentioned that Jay spent $200 a week for his food alone in those days, and obviously it will be a lot more today. And this is not even counting the cost of expensive supplements, which he gets for free and we dont.

Of course bodybuilding is more than a hobby, it is a lifestyle where you must eat, sleep, train properly to do well, but you can only follow it till your limits. So you really have got to ask yourself the question, can you afford to give the same amount of time, money, effort and dedication to bodybuilding as a pro does? And even if you can will it be in your best interest to do so? Unless you have the genetics for it and have decided to take bodybuilding as your career, will it be fair to put your job/studies, family in the background and ignore them? It would however be much more worthwhile if you could make training a part of your life and put your family and job first and then training.

Drugs

This is 2011 and I hope that no one in this day and age buys the old lie that pro athletes do not use steroids. If you do then you must immediately get a copy of the documentary- Bigger, stronger, faster to learn more about pro athletes. Of course I am not trying to suggest that pro bodybuilders win contests only due to drugs, and that anyone whoever takes them will also become a pro, but it is also true that drugs do take a person way beyond his or her genetic potential. For eg a man with an average height would really never have 20" ripped arms unless he was taking steroids or had really flabby arms.

So then why not take steroids? First of all it is not allowed for one to use them unless it has been prescribed by a doctor, which means that you will be taking chances with the law if you decide to do so. Secondly steroids do involve health risks, like liver, heart, and kidney problems. So then does it make sense for you to take a chance with these drugs when you are not even competing on stage or making tons of money by using them?

Then again some guys feel that looking like a pro bodybuilder will help them get a better life even if they do not compete ever. Well in reality yes, big and powerful muscles are impressive but too much of it is likely to scare away the girls rather than make them fall for you, and surely big muscles have no impact in getting  better at your job unless you happen to be a bouncer. So in reality building big muscles within your genetic potential is enough to get the job done for most purposes for a life that is not that of a pro bodybuilder, and surely no need whatsoever for drugs with the health risks involved.


4 valuable lessons to learn from the pros

He has valuable lessons to teach you

At the end of the day pro bodybuilders do remain great idols for many of us even if we will probably never match them. So it is wise that we learn some valuable lessons from them which will help us with our physical improvement:

1) Dedication and discipline- no pro athlete ever got to the pro level while taking his sport lightly. This is a great lesson to learn from pro bodybuilders. Of course you will not be able to keep up with their levels of dedication and discipline, but surely you can do the very best that you can. So if you cannot get 6 workouts a week, then get atleast 3, even if you miss or skip a workout once every 10 workouts, do not let it come to the point where you stop working out completely.

2) Healthy habits- even though they risk it with steroids, pro bodybuilders do follow a ton of other healthy habits which you can and should make a part of your life. For eg the average pro will stay away from smoking, excessive drinking, using recreational drugs, etc to keep his body in top shape. This is something that I strongly feel that all of us can follow whether we are pros or not.

3) Attention to proper recovery-pro bodybuilders do not party away or sit on the net till 3 Am and get an average of only 4 hours of lousy sleep a night. They are very strict about their sleep and recovery. They do not mind skipping mindless TV shows or socializing away on Facebook at night to get 8 hours of sleep each night. So stop complaining that it is hard to get atleast 7 hours of sleep a night if you stay awake doing something that is unnecessary when you could rather be getting sound sleep in that time.

4) Listen to your own body- Dorian Yates did not follow the high volume workouts of Arnold Schwarzenegger to win his 6 Mr. Olympia titles. Similarly Jay Cutler does not follow Ronnie Coleman's training and diet routine to win Mr. Olympia titles. They all over a period of time learned to use what works best for their individual bodies. Thus Dorian chose briefer workouts compared to Arnold, and that is why Jay trains each muscle group once a week when compared to Ronnie who hits each muscle group twice a week.. So with experience choose workouts that suit you best considering your genetics, lifestyle, etc instead of downloading Jay Cutler's training routine to hang it and try to follow it to the T.




Two great champs but they have their differences


Training routines for natural bodybuilding  

If you wish to add serious size without the aid of drugs then I feel that you will do best to do heavy style strength training focusing on a few lifts for the first 1-2 years when you begin. You should aim to reach certain poundages before you try for more advanced type routines. For eg get your squats and deadlifts upto double bodyweight for atleast 5 reps, bench press upto 1.25-1.5 times bodyweight for 5 reps, etc. When you have reached those levels and assuming that you have been eating a lot calories while you did so, you would have already added a ton of muscle size. If you did not then you probably failed to eat surplus calories. After all in today's seemingly intermittent fasting obsessed generation the concept of force feeding to get bigger just does not seem so cool. Yeah right as if guys like Arnold, Dorian, or the older generation bodybuilders like Steve Reeves, Reg Park stayed away from food once a week for 24 hours to stay big and lean.

Here are some sample routines that you can follow to gain mass and look more like a natural bodybuilder:

Beginner

Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Bench/military press- 4 sets of 5 reps
Squats/deadlift- 4 sets of 5 reps
Barbell row or chin up- 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Rest 2 minutes between sets

After doing this routine for 12 weeks I would suggest that you continue to train 3 days a week and doing no more than 5 exercises and a total work volume not exceeding 15 sets each workout for another year or so atleast. This is the time to focus on a few compound exercises that hit major muscle groups and to build a ton of strength in each one of them.



Intermediate (alternate between the two workouts on Monday, Wednesday, Friday)

Workout A
1) Bench press- 3 sets of 6-8 reps
2) Incline press/flye- 2 sets of 10 reps
3) Military press- 2-3 sets of 8 reps
4) Shrugs-2-3 sets of 8-1o reps
5) Superset:
Lying french press-2 sets of 8 reps
Barbell curls- 2 sets of 6-8 reps
6) Wrist roller- 2 sets

Workout B
1) Squats- 3 sets of 6-8 reps
2) Leg press- 3 sets of 10-12 reps
3) Stiff leg deadlift- 3 sets of 5 reps
4) Standing calf raises- 2 sets of 12 reps, 1 set of 20 reps

Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets

Throw in some abdominal work on 1-2 days in between the weight training. Good choices would include  hanging leg riases, side bridges, Turkish get up, ab wheel rollout, Russian twist, crunches, reverse crunches, etc.


Advanced

Generally I am very reluctant to share generic routines for advanced trainees. As I mentioned before that when someone reaches the advanced level their training needs to be strictly tailored to their individual factors. This obviously is not possible for me to do unless I know what the trainee has been doing for so long and what has worked best for him or her.

Generally at the advanced level one has reached or almost reached their size building potential. This is the time when trainees look forward to sculpt their bodies the best that they can by adding further details into their muscles. Unlike the precontest stage of training the advanced bodybuilder is not exactly looking to drop weight while adding details, his goal is to maintain his weight while he adds details. Needless to say that this only possible when the trainee knows his body very well, and knows what exactly works for him.

So then to give you a sample workout to get an idea of how to structure your routine at the advanced level, here is one that will work well for you if training each bodypart once a week with low to moderate volume started working well for you towards the end of your intermediate stage:

Monday
1) Dumbbell overhead press- 3 sets of 6-8 reps
2) Lateral raise- 2-3 sets of 12 reps
3) Bentover lateral raise- 2-3 sets of 10 reps
4) Pressdown- 2-3 sets of 10 reps
5) Lying french press- 2-3 sets of 8 reps
6) Dumbbell kickback- 2 sets of 10 reps

Tuesday
1) Pull up- 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps (do weighted if bodyweight is easy)
2) Barbell row- 3 sets of 8 reps
3) Seated cable row- 2-3 sets of 12 reps
4) Shrugs- 3 sets of 10 reps
5) Superset:
 Wrist curls- 3 sets of 12 reps
 Reverse wrist curls- 3 sets of 12 reps

Thursday
1) Incline dumbbell press- 3 sets of 10 reps
2) Bench press- 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps
3) Dumbbell flyes- 2 sets of 10-12 reps
4) Pec dec/cable crossover- 2 sets of 12 reps
5) Hammer curl- 2-3 sets of 6 reps
6) Dumbbell curl- 2 sets of 8 reps
7) Concentration curl- 2 sets of 10 reps

Saturday
1) Leg extension- 2 sets of 15 reps
2) Squats- 3 sets of 6 reps
3) Stiff legged deadlift- 2 sets of 5 reps
4) Lunges- 2-3 sets of 10 reps
5) Superset:
 Leg press- 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
 Leg curl- 2-3 sets of 10 reps
6) Seated/standing calf raises- 2 sets of 15 reps, 1-2 sets of 25 reps

Rest for 1-3 minutes between sets depending on the intensity of the exercise.

Do ab work on 2-3 training days before or after weights

The critical factor at the advanced level will be the quality of your training. This is the time when you should be training using slow and controlled form, drop sets, peak contraction, and other intensity enhancing principles every once in a while to up the intensity and challenge your muscles.

So there you have routines to help you become a natural bodybuilder incase you are like the most of us who are not that gentically gifted nor have the lifestyle to compete with the professionals. Of course that does not mean that you cannot build a really impressive body, after all there were bodybuilders even before steroids became a part of the sport.


Image courtesy- http://www.thedailyinquirer.net/wwe-undertaker-dead/0615498
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bodybuilder.jpg
http://fitnessmen.blogspot.com/2011/03/branch-warren-wins-2011-arnold-classic.html

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