If you’re natural, or ‘drug free’, you’ve likely contemplated whether you need to train differently to the guys out there using assistance. It’s a perfectly reasonable question – after all, a lot of the bodybuilders, fitness models and people in the spotlight we see on social media are using drugs. That isn’t to say they don’t work hard, many of these people are among the hardest working people on the planet in my opinion, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that you aren’t in their position.
So, in this article, I’m going to put my viewpoint across from the perspective of a natural lifter, on what I think you need to be doing differently (or in some cases, the same) as people who are assisted.
The first, and most obvious point that comes to mind is as natural lifters we have a much inferior recovery capacity than our assisted counterparts. We don’t have the ability to recover from tough workouts as fast, and therefore we need to put some careful thought into our programming.
We have to look at the 1-2 areas we really want to improve at any given time in our body. Can we improve everything? Sure but progress will be much slower. We must remember that in any given week, we only have a finite amount of energy and resources to use up on training. We must plan and spend these wisely if we want to make progress.
Big muscle groups (such as the back, the legs, the chest) can be trained up to 2x per week, whereas smaller muscle groups (like the shoulders, the arms, the calves) can be trained a little more frequently, 3 or even 4 times per week if you utilise tag on sessions (tagging on some tricep work at the end of a push session, for example). If you try to exceed this kind of frequency or volume, or try to push everything up at once, you may find yourself running into extreme fatigue and symptoms of overtraining forcing you to back off sooner than you’d like. Be smart, keep your ego in check and you’ll move forward.
Another programming point that is vital for naturals is to make sure you properly periodise your training programme. This means you need to take a structured deload – probably every 6-8 weeks but you’ll need to listen to your body and back off when you start flagging. Starting to dread your workouts, feeling tired all the time, strength declining are all signs you’re ready to back off. Either take a week off, or take a week of backing completely off the weight and intensity you’re used to before resuming your programme the week after.
For more info on how to set up a training programme check out the blog post I wrote on programming.
Now pay attention to this part because it’s important. Don’t forget what you’ve just read in terms of programming, but I want to talk about how to go about the actual sessions when you’re in the gym now.
We seem to have a movement of people using being natural as an excuse for their lack of progress. Don’t be like them. Although you might never win the Mr Olympia without picking up a needle you certainly have it in you to build an incredible physique if you’re willing to work hard. But you can’t use your drug free status as an excuse for being a f*cking pussy in the gym, it just doesn’t wash with me, soz.
In the time I’ve been training, I’ve gone through a few different training partners. I’ve seen guys start off natural and be weaker than me, and jump on the gear and quickly surpass me in strength and performance in the gym (not to mention size). As you can imagine this can feel quite demoralising at times – but I’m very grateful I had this experience, because it deeply engrained in my brain that I have to work twice as hard as everyone else when I train. You might never be able to hang with these guys when it comes to actual weight on the bar, but work ethic is fair game. If you have the stones to bury yourself not just in a workout, but in every single set you do, then you’re maximising your time in the gym. But to use your ‘naturalness’ as an excuse not to work hard? That’s probably the most backward thing I’ve ever heard.
Like I said earlier, we don’t have the same capacity for recovery as naturals, so we still need a smart approach to programming and recovery. But that is totally unnecessary if we’re not working hard in the first place.
Your execution of movements matter. If you swing weights around like you’re trying to do some sort of retarded bodybuilding rain dance you won’t grow. Slow down, focus on the muscle you’re trying to work – not just the movement you’re trying to perform.
If you need help on execution of specific movements check out my content on other platforms:
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Hope that was useful. If you have any questions on anything discussed in this article please ask.
PS – Enjoyed this article? Why not check out the one I wrote on dealing with stress by clicking here?