It is inevitable that natural bodybuilders make slower progress than enhanced bodybuilders, so it is important to know how to optimise your training and lifestyle in order to achieve your goals quickly. Although the quick results from the use of performance-enhancing drugs may be tempting, there are many reasons to remain natural such as no health complications, no negative aesthetic side effects and no post-treatment therapy reliance.
We often hear of the limits of natural bodybuilding, we believe that many of these limits are created by mental barriers based on what people perceive to be achievable naturally. Thankfully there are plenty of dedicated men and women working incredibly hard to challenge these stereotypes and prove that, with time and commitment, it is possible to achieve great results naturally. This article includes all of our top tips on how to maximise your results and reach your goals as quickly as possible!
Tip #1 – It’s all about the mindset!
Establishing a strong and healthy mindset is essential when it comes to natural bodybuilding. In order to succeed, you need to be disciplined, determined and have a clear understanding of what you are aiming for and how the work you put in each day will help you to achieve these goals. Creating a solid goal that you are working towards helps keep you on track and can motivate you fwhen you start losing momentum. Having a fixed target makes it much easier to stay on track and being able to visualise where you will be if you stick to your plan helps you avoid temptation.
Try asking yourself questions such as: What do I want to get out of this journey? Am I approaching this with a healthy attitude and doing it for the right reasons? What will I gain from this and how will it help me personally? If your main motivations are feelings of insecurity or dissatisfaction with your body it is important to evaluate whether or not focusing so intently on your physique will help or hinder your mental health, for example. It’s about doing something positive for your mind and body, not comparing yourself to others or thinking a good physique will solve all of your problems.
Once you are more established on your bodybuilding journey, mindset becomes important in a different way. Finding a good headspace for really giving it your all and pushing for PBs can be really helpful and many people recommend visualisation for hitting new goals. ‘Getting in the zone’ before attempting a new personal record is the mental equivalent of a physical warm up. Being able to block out distraction, focus purely on one lift and willing it into reality by picturing it happening is very beneficial. Closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths not only before PB attempts but before each set of your workout will help you build your focus and boost productivity. It is essentially a form of meditation!
Tip #2 – Have a structured, consistent routine
Creating a program which works for you, your body morphology and your current starting point is important…but sticking to it is even more important! Having a hugely varied workout routine might seem like a good idea but constantly trying different exercises can actually hold you back as you are not refining your technique and it’s much harder to track progress. By choosing a handful of the basic, tried and tested exercises for each muscle group, you allow your body to become accustomed to the movements, perfect your technique and you can track your improvements as you work towards new milestones.
With smart programming you can master the basics and then, as you learn more about your body, adapt these moves as you progress. Smart programming also involves how muscle groups interact with each other, the impact that the order of your workout split may have and knowing how to prioritise certain areas. An example of this could be avoiding training triceps the day before you train chest, as fatigued triceps may limit your performance on chest day. If building your chest is your current priority, then you should plan your week of workouts around optimising your performance chest day.
Your program needs to be adaptable depending on various factors such as cutting/bulking, prioritising certain areas and addressing weaknesses. Knowing your body is key as someone else’s optimal training plan will look very different to yours and that’s okay!
Tip #3 – Find a balance between strength and volume
A trap which many beginners fall into is focusing almost entirely on working on volume rather than building strength. You can get pumped from pretty much anything if you perform enough reps. 3kg bicep curls will burn after a while, but does that build muscle efficiently? Probably not. Increasing both volume and strength is essential if you want to add muscle mass and grow as quickly as possible. Lifting in a greater volume is important for hypertrophy but if you don’t also increase the weight you are lifting then you won’t make much progress. On the other end of the scale, if you focus purely on strength then you will become a powerlifter, not a bodybuilder. 5×5 Training is a great technique to start with if you’re not sure where to begin. You have a mix of strength work and volume.
If you’re just starting out on your bodybuilding journey, it’s probably a good idea to build up a foundation of strength first, make sure you perform your lifts with good technique and then boost volume. Training to failure isn’t advisable for beginners; as a rule of thumb you should push yourself to around 90% but no further to avoid burning yourself out.
When it comes to incorporating cardio into your routine, our advice would be this: if you enjoy doing cardio, whether it’s running, rowing or any other kind of sport, then go for it! However, it is not essential to bodybuilding (yes, you can cut without spending hours on the treadmill) so don’t worry about it too much.
Tip #4 – Understand dieting
It can be difficult to know whether to bulk, cut or maintain when you first start bodybuilding so don’t worry too much about it. You will come to know naturally what you need to do next to continue your growth. Most importantly, start slowly to ease your body into your new training regime and educate yourself on nutrition and what your body requires. Try eating at maintenance level and introducing your training routine. You’ll notice that you will begin to burn more calories, therefore slowly burning fat and building muscles. Make sure you are eating enough to account for all of the energy you are burning off during your workouts, otherwise your body won’t have the energy required to build muscle efficiently!
Tip #5 – Don’t believe everything you hear
As you develop on your natural bodybuilding journey you will inevitably meet people along the way who will offer you advice and tell you what is best (for them). Learning from others is great and it’s always nice to hear different opinions and pick up tips, but don’t get too wrapped up in trying to implement everything you hear into your routine. What works for one person may be totally ineffective for someone else. If someone has found a (rather questionable) technique that seems to work for their body, they may share it with you genuinely thinking it will help you but we are all individual. Taking every piece of advice you are given can just add complications and lead you away from your cleverly tailored routine. Bear in mind that other bodybuilders you meet may also be using performance-enhancing drugs, even if they say they aren’t, and so their journey will look very different to yours.
The best way to learn from others without wasting time or ending up totally confused is to listen to their words of ‘wisdom’, and then carry out your own research on the matter, find the facts and decide whether you think it will suit your body and your routine or not.
Tip #6 – Practice good form…but not textbook perfect
Although we spoke about having good form in tips #2 and #3, we feel it is important to say that you shouldn’t get too bogged down in completing every single rep of every single session with absolutely textbook technique. Performing lifts correctly is very important for safety and injury prevention but if you become consumed with the idea of perfect execution it may actually restrict you from pushing yourself to your limits and really going for that extra rep or new PB.
You should never put yourself in danger or take risks you are not comfortable with, but within reason you can listen to your body and go for it even if it does slightly compromise your flawless form.
Tip #7 – Don’t neglect warming up and stretching
We all know that we probably should do a thorough warm-up before each session and stretch out our muscles afterwards, yet so many of us either skip these or rush through them half-heartedly. However, if you want to make speedy progress whilst avoiding injury it is highly recommended that you dedicate plenty of time to your warm-up. Start with very light weights, even if it feels super easy, and build up in small increments to wake up your muscles and practice proper form before going heavier. It might feel like a bit of a drag or a waste of time now, but in 10 years’ time you will be glad you looked after your joints!
Stretching makes up part of warming up, but is also important following sessions for recovery and also for general mobility and joint health. Stretching is probably even more overlooked than warming up but, again, in the long-term you will feel the benefits. You don’t have to spend hours stretching, 5 minutes a day (or even every other day) is better than nothing and will help your muscles to stretch out, relax and recover from the intensive training you do. Try to get into the habit of gently stretching out the muscle group you trained each day just before going to bed!
Tip #8 – Be flexible and resilient
From physical flexibility, to mental flexibility! If you are going to commit to bodybuilding as a lifestyle, then it is important that you are flexible and adaptable to the many twists and turns of life. Many people enjoy training with a partner and there are so many benefits to this. It’s great to share your passion for fitness with friends, or even make new friends through training! Training with friends can be a great way to keep your motivation high as you push each other to work harder and enjoy going to the gym both for training and also to socialise.
However, this can work against you if you become reliant on your gym buddy for motivation. If your friend doesn’t feel like working out or can’t make it on a certain day then it can be tempting to give yourself a day off too and let them knock your training schedule! Being comfortable training independent is key to remaining dedicated and making your sessions as productive as possible – no more chatting for 5 minutes between sets! The days when you really don’t feel like it are some of the most important days, so remain disciplined and remember you are doing this for yourself and nobody else.
Having some gym buddies who you can train with on days when you’re feeling a little flat is great, but don’t feel like you can only have a good session when they’re around. Make a playlist that will get you in the zone, put on your headphones and get it done!
Tip #9 – Know your weaknesses
To begin with it is okay to focus on the main muscle groups and not worry too much about your weaknesses, but once you start making significant progress it is important to be aware of and address these deficiencies and imbalances. Being aware of them allows you to be conscious of injury prevention and also to adapt your routine to include some conditioning of these areas. For example, if you notice your rear delts are lacking then you can incorporate some high-rep exercises to engage and build them alongside your usual training. It is always best to be proactive in minimising imbalances and deficiencies rather than allowing them to become more and more significant.
On a similar note, an area which many people neglect during their day-to-day training routine but is important to train consistently to keep ticking over is abs. We’ve all been there, finishing up a long, tough session and remembering you were planning to work on core today, too…but it could always wait until tomorrow, right? It can be easy to put off training abs but it is always better to maintain a strong foundation and build it up slowly rather than allowing it to get left behind! Working on abs twice a week should be sufficient, and remember that just like any other muscle it’s important to add weight as well as volume to build muscle mass.
Tip #10 – Track your progress
Without tracking your progress, it is easy to become frustrated and feel like you are making little to no progress despite all of the hard work you have been putting in. Keeping track of PBs and the general increase of weight and volume throughout your sessions. However, these are not the only ways to track your progress and they may not seem so impressive to you.
A great way to encourage yourself to keep going when you’re lacking motivation is to take photos throughout your journey so you can look back and see exactly how far you have come! You don’t have to share them online and even if you do, it’s not about how many likes a picture gets. Photos allow you to see the physical changes you have created and also remember the personal challenges you have faced and overcome since starting your journey. If you feel that this could be counterproductive and actually harm your body image then give it a miss, but having documented your progress can be beneficial to addressing feelings linked to bigorexia. You won’t notice small changes day to day but having a direct comparison through photos helps you see these!
If progress photos aren’t really your kind of thing, or you prefer an even more black-and-white scale of progression, take body measurements! The numbers don’t lie (as long as you take your measurements accurately and consistently!) so keeping track of your muscle growth can be a great way to monitor the efficiency of your program.
That brings us to the end of our 10 tips to maximise your progress as a natural bodybuilder. We hope that you have enjoyed reading this article and will take away some helpful tips to help you on your natural bodybuilding journey. If you would like to learn more about natural bodybuilding or hear more about any of the points discussed in this article, you can also check out our friends at Natural Flex who have plenty of articles related to natural bodybuilding! And as always, Fitness Vloggers are there to help you achieve more and optimise your training and lifestyle.