Q: To what extent do you think natural training for bodybuilding should differ from the training that enhanced guys do? It’s my personal feeling that natural guys need to lift closer to their one-rep maximum for most exercises and that they should use lower rep ranges of two to five reps more often than enhanced guys.
A: Natural bodybuilders do have to train somewhat differently than bodybuilders who are using performance-enhancing drugs. The combination of drugs—such as anabolic steroids, growth hormone and insulin—creates a very anabolic environment that encourages muscle growth. Natural bodybuilders have only their own hormones to rely on, so the training and nutrition programs they follow must be very effective for them to make progress.
I agree somewhat with you about training heavy. Doing pumping-type workouts may force blood into the muscles, but heavier weights are necessary for natural bodybuilders to trigger muscle growth.
I made some good progress in muscle mass this year by using power cycles. I alternated six-week cycles of training heavier with lower reps (three to five) with cycles of training with less resistance and more reps (six to 10).
The alternating cycles seemed to work great for muscle size as well as strength. I found my joints starting to hurt at the end of the strength cycle with the lower reps, so changing gears and using less resistance and more reps for the next six weeks was a perfect combination.
I found that using the lower reps with heavier resistance enabled me to get stronger. When I started my next cycle with less weight and higher reps, I had more power than previously. Using more resistance on the growth reps—six to eight—is the real key to developing more muscle mass!
Natural bodybuilders also have to be very aware of recuperation when they map out their training programs. Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs help to blunt cortisol and speed up recuperation so bodybuilders using them can train much more often and longer without the danger of overtraining.
Natural bodybuilders have to be careful not to use too many sets in their workouts, or they will deplete their energy reserves and quickly overtrain. They also cannot train too many days consecutively without taking a day off. If natural bodybuilders train too often, they will begin to lose size and strength because the body needs complete recuperation before it can grow.
These points are especially true with regard to cardio. Most natural bodybuilders I know cannot do extensive cardio training when dieting for a contest without losing valuable muscle tissue. The body can only take so much, and eating fewer calories combined with heavy resistance training and too much cardio exercise will eat up muscle in no time.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at www.NaturalOlympia.com for more information about how you can be a part of his exciting, new Natural Olympia Fitness getaway. Send questions or comments to [email protected]. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, www.Home-Gym.com. Listen to John’s radio show, Natural Bodybuilding Radio, at NaturalBodybuildingRadio.com. IM