To grow muscle naturally is very admirable in today’s day and age. Because so many choose performance enhancing drugs (PEDS) before any serious lifting has even begun. But it’s unnecessary for beginners (this blog’s to spread awareness) as their body is super sensitive to building muscle. Particularly in the first 5 or so years. To use an analogy, it would be like passing your driving test in a Citroen Saxo (my first bombshell). Then immediately transitioning to a formula one race car (far too sensitive for you to control). So, why do people instantly start PEDS without having first trained naturally for a while at least? Because it’s good s*** and works! I mean, is building muscle naturally actually worth the effort?
Contrary to popular belief, enhanced lifters train just as hard as naturals, they just get a super Saiyan response! And this is due to various reasons such as an increase in satellite cells within muscle fibers. As well as having the ability to recover rapidly and handle much higher volumes than naturals. As a result, they can train super hard, without being sore for their next session! Now, this blog is a controversial one but it’s too big a part of amateur and professional bodybuilding to not cover it. Moreover, PEDS are prevalent throughout every gym you can possibly imagine. And at some point you will come across the ‘dark side’ of bodybuilding. Important to note, once you dabble in PEDS (especially longer term) you hand over your au naturel card. Because small but significant adaptations to satellite cells can be retained in muscles after usage.
To Grow Muscle and Get Strong Is Empowering
Now, if you’re a beginner you’re probably full of excitement and eager to get massive (like me 6 years ago)! And so you should be! Because taking on your transformative journey even as a natural is super exciting! Besides, weight lifting is a wonderful experience that men and women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities love! Many of our female clients have described it as empowering and we couldn’t agree more. Furthermore, I wrote this blog not to take the shine away from bodybuilding or your excitement. But to pass on my experience so you can avoid the same negative pit falls I couldn’t. So, by having base knowledge towards what’s achievable will enable you to appreciate those small but progressive wins! Thus, years later mounting up to a complete night and day transformation. Importantly, that are super easy to maintain aside every day life when done naturally.
Grow Muscle the Long Game Way
Another reason many choose the enhanced route is due to humans by nature wanting immediate glory. Moreover, they don’t have the knowledge to know how to train optimally yet. But it’s a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Due to the amount of health ramifications and physiological changes that can occur. To note, I have friends in both camps and genuinely respect both, especially those honest about PED use. However, I feel it’s imperative to touch on a few things for those unknowing beginners. Which was once myself purchasing the bloody Arnold Encyclopedia. And instantly crippling myself with multiple hour long workouts leading to injuries. I think I actually lost muscle due to over training! How ironic. Now, the problem was that the book wasn’t developed for naturals yet didn’t state otherwise. Hence my complete respect to those who are honest when enhanced. To clarify, Arnold wasn’t natural!
As you can probably tell, PEDS aren’t my area of expertise but I can still add some helpful pointers. So, enhanced bodybuilders have regular precautionary blood work taken every few months by companies like Medichecks. In addition, they cycle steroids intelligently whilst incorporating post cycle therapy phases. And this allows their body to synthesize and regulate it’s own testosterone now that the synthetic version is depleting. One very impressive enhanced athlete said he started off on doses too high when crossing over to the ‘dark side’. And that if he could turn back the clock he would have utilized a more intelligent approach. For example, drip feeding the ‘special supplements’ in progressively for reduced health problems and improved results over time. So, this is definitely worth knowing too.
To Grow Muscle the Enhanced Way what are the Side Effects?
Also, there are various potential side effects that are very individual and genetic based. Meaning, one individual may get none whereas another may get many. Ultimately, when you go off cycle, you won’t look or feel nearly as good which apparently can be difficult mentally. So, considering PEDS is only recommended if wanting to compete at the highest level possible, not just for recreational purposes. Additionally, training naturally for years will reveal if you have said high caliber genetics. Plus, you could also ask several experienced coaches for their opinions of your genetics before jumping in with both feet.
Consequently, after years of training naturally you’ll have experience, knowledge and in turn better informed decision making. And you could always compete at a high level naturally too just with less monetary reward. Furthermore, PEDS should only be taken once you have exploited all or at least most of your natural gains. And this can take 5-15 years (30-50+ pounds of muscle) with an intelligent approach to build that better base! Indeed, PEDS will always be the quickest route no matter how good your methods are as a natural. But will this quickest route mean best long term outcomes? Probably not for most.
What can I Achieve Naturally?
So, the fat free mass index (FFMI) isn’t bullet proof. However, there are clear lines of what is definitely not naturally achievable. Which means we can back pedal a little from there and figure out what is. Because we know Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stage lean stats were 235 pounds at 6’2″. And if we’re being generous, a body fat percentage of say, 6 percent (they was higher back in the day). Now, this totals an FFMI of around 28! Thus, I think it’s safe to say that that level of physique is off the cards for naturals. And even for most enhanced lifters without superior genetics!
Contrarily, professional natural bodybuilder Dr. Andrew Chappell has an FFMI of 25.1. And is an excellent example of great genetics and hard work combined for many years! His physique is actually naturally achievable without drugs and lands right at the FFMI upper threshold. So, the FFMI can provide a good, healthy idea of what’s achievable naturally. Although, some people may break this 25 mark. With that said, many incorrectly estimate themselves as being leaner. So ask several experienced lifters or coaches opinions for a more precise estimation. Also, higher FFMI scores occur when above 10% body fat so get as close to this as possible. In my opinion, anything above a 26 FFMI starts to get very suspicious.
So, there’s no surefire way of finding out who the fake naturals are. Because someone may be using PEDS and have an FFMI of under 25 without any of the obvious side effects. Opposingly, an individual just above a 25 FFMI may be natural with world class genetics. But there are a large number of people (especially online) who sell plans and claim they’re natural (or keep mute). But as a customer it’s only years later with your cash and sanity spent, that you realize the truth. Namely, that your hard and consistent efforts achieved nothing close to their results and was never going to. Maybe you was progressing well after all! Check this video out on how you can spot a fake natty or this one!
Nevertheless, you can enjoy and appreciate your progress more, now that you know which realm of muscularity you’re playing in. For example, Phil Heath has an FFMI of 34+! And Chris Bumstead around 29. As a consequence of comparing yourself to (even) amateur enhanced bodybuilders you simply assume that you have the worst genetics. Because truthfully, it can really affect your confidence, self belief and derail you like it nearly did me multiple times. In addition, there may be that 1% of the population with actual world class, jaw dropping genetics. But I doubt they ALL live on Instagram, that’s more of a place where all the fake naturals congregate. In fact, I bet a huge part of that 1% with world class genetics have never even touched a weight!
A Few Examples of Lifetime Drug Free Natural Bodybuilders
Now we have a better baseline understanding of realistic muscle building progress we can look at some examples! So, let’s use one that’s definitely achievable for many, mine! I have a fat free mass index (FFMI) of around 24 with stats of 174cm, 80.5kg and 10-11% body fat. And I would say I have decent genetics, not elite. Although, I’ve been playing a lot of football the past 6 months. So, my bod pod results (completed by a university professor) was; 85.9kg (72.6kg lean) and 15.5% body fat. Resulting in a FFMI of 24.35 three years ago in 2018 . Anyway, below are some impressive natural individuals FFMI’s ranging from the 23-25 mark. And going forward this will allow you to have more realistic goals and inspirations as a natty! In addition, they’re all brilliant sources of learning too and have educated and inspired me through different periods of bodybuilding.
Dr. Andrew Chappell = 25
Gabriel Sey = 25
Igor Opeshansky = 22.5-23
Dr. Eric Helms = 23.5
Alex Leonidas = 24.5-25
Omar Isuf = 24
Jeff Nippard = 24.5
Mike Matthews = 23-23.5
By How Much Can You Grow Muscle?
Males with great genetics may build around 50 pounds of muscle (females around half this) over a 5-15 year span. For example, say a male starts lifting at a start weight of 140 pounds. Further down the line he may eventually hit 190 pounds and have the same body fat percentage.
12-25 pounds of muscle in year 1 (2lbs per month)
6-12 pounds of muscle in year 2 (1lb per month)
3-6 pounds of muscle in year 3 (0.5lb per month)
2-3 pounds of muscle in year 4
1-2 pounds of muscle in year 5+
Obviously, enhanced athletes can gain a lot more muscle than their mortal cousins and at a much faster rate. And this is somewhere in the region of 50-100% more. Because each FFMI level includes 7 pounds of muscle I.e. 22-23. So, this can take them from an FFMI of 25 all the way up to 32+. And 7 FFMI levels multiplied by 7 pounds of muscle in each level, equals 49 pounds. Due to this, they can achieve a supra physiological, tee shirt popping, ‘hulk like’ look! On the other hand, a natural wearing a tee shirt might just about look like he’s touched a weight before! In all seriousness, a natural can look absolutely incredible like those above, just not super human. Moreover, a natural who reaches an FFMI of 23+ will look very impressive in their own right.
Grow Muscle to Your Full Genetic Potential
Now that you know the rate at which humans can grow muscle will enable you to be more logical. Particularly, when it comes to your rate of progress in relation to others. Because if everyone’s growing like a weed (whilst staying shredded) around you, you might be better inclined to spot suspicion. As a result, you’ll stay in your lane and keep pushing yourself to your natural, genetic limit. Instead of letting others confuse and demotivate you – whether consciously or subconsciously. Because, all we can do is be our very best irrelevant of our natural or enhanced status.
Finally, to answer paragraph question one, yes it’s worth staying natural because 30-50 pounds is a lot of muscle! Watch my video for more information on how much muscle you can build naturally. Including FFMI scores of champion bodybuilders of the past! And this blog will help you to build muscle the right way from the beginning.
Are you a beginner joining the bodybuilding world? Which route are you going to take to grow muscle?
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