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Natural weight training VS Assisted weight training

On the left you have Phil Heath who is the current Mr Olympia 2017. This means he is the best bodybuilder in the world. No doubt he is an incredible athlete, but there is also no doubt that he is assisted, in that, he uses various performance enhancing drugs. On the right is a small group of some of the world’s best pro natural bodybuilders. This means that these athletes have never used any performance enhancing drugs to achieve their physiques. Without arguing the moral pros and cons of which is better, it highlights the differences in physiques that are achievable if you apply the same work ethic with the only variable that is steriods. Therefore, this opens up the question: Do you train differently if you take steroids or if you’re natural?

The short answer is yes.

So here is why. The first reason comes down to protein synthesis. In order to retain more muscle mass than you lose, you must keep stimulating muscle to grow. Your body doesn’t want an elevated level of muscle mass, it is a drain on its resources, therefore, you must keep sending the messages for it to keep being built. Regularly eating proteins ‘turns on’ the muscle protein synthesis ‘switch’, but this only has so much effect. You need to stimulate the muscle to get bigger. This comes from weight training, progressive overload, causing mechanical, chemical, and hormonal stress. When you’re body experiences these stressors, its defence mechanism is to build larger muscles to deal with the stress.

So why not train all day everyday?

As a natural bodybuilder you can only handle so much stress before your ability to recover is compromised. Your nerves, hormones, and rate of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) are all limiting factors. If you train an unrecovered muscle, it will inherently get more more damaged and will take longer to super-compensate and become larger. When you are assisted by using of steroids, there are two major differences. Firstly, your body is already in a state of muscle protein synthesis, the steroids themselves stimulate this reaction. The need to train is less as you’re not solely relying the training stimulus to trigger MPS. Training on top of steroid use, will just further increase the state of MPS. Secondly, as your MPS is faster, your rate of recovery is faster, therefore you can train the same muscle more frequently, for longer, and more intensely.

How does this change the training?

The major difference is, if you’re natural, you need to get the most stimulation with the best recovery. This lends itself to an increased frequency and lowered duration. An assisted athlete can get away with a bro-split of one body part trained once a week. You can annihilate a muscle for 2 hours, and get over it quickly. As a natural lifter, if you destroy a muscle it may take 4-8 days to fully recover. Training should look to repeat body parts every 2-4- days, doing just enough to stimulate the muscle, without killing it. For consistent natural gains, I’d recommend all body parts being hit twice a week with complex muscles groups like back, possibly three times per week. Many lifters turn their noses up at whole body training as it’s not what the ‘pros’ do. Chances are the pros are assisted so emulating them is not necessarily the best way for you, especially if you’re a beginner. The more advanced you get you may find it more beneficial to reduce frequency for duration, but I’d still recommend that all major muscle groups get hit twice in a week or certainly every 8-10 days.

If you have an specific weight training questions or you’d like a bespoke program designed contact me via the website.

Keep on liftin’ Ali ‘Fat Al’ Stewart

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