How to Build Muscle Naturally: An Unexpected Plan

A Three-Stage Strategy for Natural Bodybuilding

It’s not magic, but it might seem that way once you start doing the right things. Here’s how to build muscle naturally.


Build Muscle Naturally. Finally.

There are a handful of things the natural lifter must avoid and must do to build muscle naturally. You might’ve seen them in the article: 6 Bodybuilding Lies Crippling Your Progress.

Here’s a quick recap of those lessons:

  1. Squat, but only using variations you can do with great form. You don’t have to have a bar across your back.
  2. Deadlift with the same thing in mind. The RDL is a good option.
  3. Find alternatives to the bench press if it has stopped delivering results or doesn’t fit your body well.
  4. Don’t lift more than three times a week.
  5. Don’t do more than three work sets per exercise.
  6. Don’t trust advice from pros who are using hormonal assistance.

Those last three might be hard to believe, but let them sink in.

Now let’s get more specific and REALLY make sure you build muscle:

  • If you’ve been doing four or more workouts per week (not what I recommend) but have been dissatisfied with the results, start with stage one.
  • If you’ve been training two or three times per week – what I usually recommend – jump straight to stage two.

Stage One: Your New Training Plan

To transition gradually from a conventional split routine to one that’s more suited to drug-free bodybuilders, this is a good option. It’s an upper/lower split, alternated over three non-consecutive days each week, such as Monday-Wednesday-Friday. You get four rest days each week, and you train each body part three times every two weeks. Take a look:

  • Monday – Upper Body
  • Tuesday – OFF
  • Wednesday – Lower Body
  • Thursday – OFF
  • Friday– Upper Body
  • Saturday – OFF
  • Sunday – OFF
  • Monday – Lower Body
  • Tuesday – OFF
  • Wednesday – Upper Body
  • Thursday – OFF
  • Friday – Lower Body
  • Monday – Upper Body
  • …and so on

Here are the two workouts to alternate:

UPPER-BODY DAYS

  1. Bench Press (or an alternative)
  2. Chin-Up or Pull-Up (or Pulldown)
  3. Seated, Back-Supported Overhead Press
  4. Chest-Supported Row
  5. Lateral Raise
  6. Incline Dumbbell Curl or Barbell Curl
  7. Triceps Pushdown (or slight-decline Triceps Extension with dumbbells)

LOWER-BODY DAYS

  1. Squat (or an alternative)
  2. Calf Raise
  3. Romanian Deadlift in a Rack
  4. Leg Curl (preferably seated)
  5. Crunch Sit-Up

Don’t add any exercises!

SETS AND REPS

For each exercise, do warm-ups plus two hard work sets. By “hard,” I mean perform every rep you can grind out in good form without help. It’s good to have help at the end of a set if you’re about to get stuck on a rep, but don’t include that assisted rep in your count.

The next time you do that exercise, try your best to get that final rep in good form under your own efforts. Only when you get it unassisted can you count it.

Do 6-8 reps for the first work set for everything but calves. While you rest, reduce the weight so that you can do 10-12 reps on the second work set. For calves, use 10-12 and 18-20 as your rep targets for the two sets.

Select your poundages so that you make your target rep range on each set. It’ll require trial-and-error experimentation at first. For the weight reduction between the first and second sets, try 25% to begin with. If you got it wrong, adjust the reduction next time. The reduction will vary for different exercises and among individuals.

Rest three minutes between sets of the compound exercises and two minutes on the isolation exercises.

After 10 weeks of that routine, take a week off.

Stage Two: Your Ideal Training Plan

Now try 10 weeks of just two sessions per week: Monday and Thursday, Tuesday and Friday, or Wednesday and Saturday. Space them out by a few days and give yourself five rest days each week.

For simplicity, let’s call them workout A and workout B. You’ll alternate these two simple, near-full-body workouts:

WORKOUT A

  1. Squat (or an alternative)
  2. Leg Curl (preferably seated)
  3. Calf Raise
  4. Bench Press (or an alternative)
  5. Chin-Up or Pull-Up (or Pulldown)
  6. Triceps Pushdown
  7. Incline Dumbbell Curl

WORKOUT B

  1. Deadlift (or an alternative)
  2. Calf Raise
  3. Seated Back-Supported Overhead Press
  4. Chest-Supported Row
  5. Lateral Raise
  6. Barbell Curl
  7. Slight-Decline Triceps Extension with Dumbbells
  8. Crunch Sit-Up

Don’t add any exercises!

SETS AND REPS

For each exercise, do warm-ups plus two hard work sets. By “hard,” I mean perform every rep you can grind out in good form without help. The rep only counts if it’s unassisted.

Other than for calves, do 6-8 reps for the first work set, and, while you rest, reduce the weight sufficiently so that you can do 10-12 reps on the second work set. For calves, use 10-12 and 18-20 as your rep targets for the two sets.

Select your weights so that you make your target rep range on each set. For the weight drop between the first and second sets, try 25%. If you got it wrong, adjust next time.

Rest three minutes between sets of the compound exercises; two minutes on the isolation exercises.

After 10 weeks, take another week off.

Stage Three: Your Next Ideal Plan

Let’s say you’ve gone through stages one and two and you’ve taken a week off after each. Here’s what to do for the next 10 weeks.

Do the same workouts as you did in stage two, but instead of training twice each week, train three times every TWO weeks. Sounds confusing, but you’ll see that it’s simple.

Because you’re training near-full-body each workout, each body part will get worked three times every two weeks. Rather than training every three or four days (as with twice-weekly training), you now train every four or five days.

That extra recovery time in stage three can make a world of difference, especially if you’re very busy or you’re middle-aged or older.

Here’s how it looks using workout A and workout B from stage two, but remember we’re now thinking in terms of two-week periods:

  • Monday (week 1): Workout A
  • Friday (week 1): Workout B
  • Wednesday (week 2): Workout A
  • Monday (week 3): Workout B
  • Friday (week 3): Workout A
  • Wednesday (week 4): Workout B
  • Monday (week 5): Workout A
  • …and so on

5 Things to Make The Program Work Even Better

1. EXERCISE SELECTION

Ideally, select exercises you’re already used to doing so you can train hard from the start. But they must be exercises that really work for you: ones you can train hard but safely and that actually work the target muscles.

If you select exercises that you’re not currently conditioned for, take a few weeks to ease into them before you start training them hard. Then start the 10 weeks of hard training.

2. TECHNIQUE

You must use good exercise form, which means lowering under control and lifting under control – no dropping, bouncing, yanking, heaving, or jerking. You must train your muscles, not just move weights. Lousy form wastes your time and greatly increases your risk of injury. You must avoid injury!

Good form also means pausing for a dead stop at the bottom and the top of every rep of every exercise and using as full a range of motion that’s safe for you. A pause of just one second (count “one thousand and one” each time) improves your form and stimulates your muscles if you train hard enough. The pausing may require you to reduce your poundages depending on the exercise, but those numbers will recover as you adapt and build muscle.

3. NUTRITION

Eat a slight caloric surplus from healthy foods. Consume around a gram of protein per pound of body weight, and divide the rest of your caloric intake roughly 50-50 between carbs and fats. (A low-fat diet will hinder muscle growth.)

4. RECOVERY

Sleep eight or more hours each night. Take it easy between workouts and find ways to manage the stress in your life so that it doesn’t wear you down.

In combination with excellent training, excellent recovery will give you good bodybuilding results. Without recovery, even great workouts won’t yield much progress, if any. Recover fully and you’ll be able to build strength slowly but steadily (unless you’re already very advanced).

5. LOAD SELECTION AND STRENGTH

Make a written note of each of your work sets – poundage and reps – in a training log. Consult it before every work set. Don’t try to rely on your memory. Before each work set, remind yourself of what you did last time so that you know what you need to do to register a tad of progress in good form.

Advanced lifters should still strive to build additional strength even if it doesn’t actually happen. But all beginning and intermediate bodybuilders are a long way from topping out in their strength. So, continually aim to add a little weight to each exercise when you can… without compromising on your form.

Ideally, use small weight plates: not just the 1.25-kilo or 2.5-pound ones, but also micro plates or large washers so that you can nudge up your weights by just a pound at a time, especially on the lower-poundage exercises.

WHEN DO YOU INCREASE WEIGHT ON AN EXERCISE?

Let’s say you’re an intermediate bodybuilder doing the Romanian deadlift. You’ve done your warm-up sets and then do two hard work sets: 8 reps with 255 pounds and 13 reps with 205. Here’s how progress could go over the next few weeks:

  • 260x7 and 210x11
  • 260x8 and 210x12
  • 265x7 and 215x10
  • 265x8 and 215x12
  • 270x6 and 220x10
  • 270x7 and 220x11
  • 270x8 and 220x12
  • 275x6 and 225x10
  • 275x7 and 225x11

Later on, when your progress slows, use micro plates to nudge up your weights. Your rate of progress depends on the exercise, your training experience and current development, your genetic potential, how well you train and recover, and other factors.

Fully commit to each stage and its programming, inside and outside the gym. Then compare the results and do another round of the stage that worked best for you. Do it right and you’ll benefit from it again.

Make any workout work better. Fuel it.

Biotest

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