Ask Joe The Pro Vol. 7 – What Does It Take To Be A Natural Bodybuilder?
Joe what do you feel are the most important attributes for a natural competitive bodybuilder to have? What are the judges looking for? – D. V., Long Island NY
I’ve been into this crazy sport for about 18 years now. I’ve been to countless competitions, I’ve competed 4 times, and I’ve peaked endless natural bodybuilders for show. This assessment coincides with my experience and knowledge of the natural side of the sport:
1 – Definition or “Hardness”. The guys that place well at natural shows are typically shredded to the bone. Because we “nattys” can’t get as big or full as our “enhanced” counterparts, we are expected to make up for that and try to get as shredded as possible. If you come into a show sliced and diced at 2% body fat and a competitor next to you is bigger, fuller, better proportioned, etc., but has 6% body fat, then with all probability you’re going to be beat him. I’ve seen it 100 times!
2 – Proportions/Symmetry. This refers to the general proportions of each muscle group in relation to each other. The upper and lower body match, the back and chest match, etc. The closer a bodybuilder gets to having each muscle group flow together without one particular group standing out then he has achieved (to a degree) physique “perfection”. Symmetry generally refers to one side of the body being evenly developed to the other.
3 – Mass/Fullness. Bodybuilding really begins with the desire to get bigger – “build your body”. The judges want to see you have developed each muscle group maximally in relation to your frame. But if you’re just big with little definition and your proportions suck, get ready to go home empty handed! In natural bodybuilding, mass is only one component!
4 – Presentation. This of course refers to how one presents his physique to the judges and the audience. Posing is all about highlighting your strengths and hiding your weaknesses. A good bodybuilder who can pose really well with great proportions and definition can easily beat out the mass monsters at natural competitions!
Of course, when looking at this list you want to perfect each one of these categories as best as you can. If you can master all of them then you will be a very tough competitor to beat!
You have really thick pecs! How did you manage to build them up so well? – Kenny Carter, NY
Thanks Ken. I think just like every kid starting out in weight training, all I cared about was my bench press. In high school I trained very hard for a bench press competition. They used a universal bench, and at a bodyweight of about 160 pounds, I could bench the whole stack! Of course the one year I trained really hard for it was the one year they cancelled the contest due to budget restrictions, lol.
After high school I became more serious about my total body development. I noticed my upper chest lacked tremendously. I remember picking up a copy of Iron Man magazine and reading a chest article by former IFBB pro Porter Cortrell. Porter stated he had issues developing his upper pecs, so his remedy? An ALL incline workout for 6 months! So I took Mr Cortrell’s advice (I met Porter once actually and he was a really nice guy!).
I blasted incline dumbbell presses, incline flyes, close grip incline press, etc. And in a few months my upper chest exploded! I still am a huge advocate of inclines. If you follow my workout threads you’ll see I usually do two inclines almost every workout. I feel dumbbells are far superior then barbells though. For one, you can get a much better range of motion with dumbbells. You can alter the top portion of the lift to turn the dumbbells slightly downward and get a great inner chest contraction, and you get the benefit of each pec working independently of the other.
I love incline dumbbell presses and have recently done 150’s x 2 reps while on a power week of my training. I also believe the inner/upper pecs are one area just about every bodybuilder on the planet can benefit from having more development in. To hit that area I like doing close grip incline hammer presses. Really focusing on the contraction and doing a constant non-stop tempo with my reps under control. I also like doing a “fly press” on a decline with dumbbells. Basically you hold the dumbbells in a neutral position as if you’re doing flyes but you don’t quite go as wide. It’s a great contraction, and if you do them at the end of your workout you won’t be able to use much weight! So if you want some fuller pecs, focus on the inclines. With some close grip work thrown in and some decline fly press action.
What are the things you love most and least about competing? – Terry Pastel, NJ
This is an easy one, lol. Let’s go with what I dislike first, so we can end on a positive note. Shall we?
1 – Posing Practice. Nothing pisses me off worse then having to practice the mandatory poses AFTER burning up energy from daily double cardio sessions, insane high intensity workouts and dieting strictly. Posing is very tough when you’re that fatigued. As the contest draws nearer I make myself practice daily at least 20-30 minutes. I start this usually at 9 weeks out. I may start out with just the tough ones. I feel the front poses are the most difficult. Rear poses are easier because I can make faces, lol. And the side shots are simple. But it’s very tough to do an abs and thighs shot, most muscular, double biceps, etc. So in the beginning I usually focus on those then eventually do them all. Not to mention I practice my routine usually 2-3 times a week at 8 weeks out as well. IT ALL SUCKS, LOL.
2 – Food Prep. Making my 6 daily meals each night for the following day is a royal pain in the ass, lol. It usually takes me an hour to do it if I have containers filled with cooked chicken, tilapia and sweet potatoes or an hour and a half to two hours if those foods need to be cooked. It’s very time consuming because I am VERY specific down to the very last ounce with my daily meals! Off-season I only count protein, other then that I usually think “eh, that’s about right”, lol.
3 – Taking Pics. I know it’s ideal to compare pics week to week, or every other week, BUT we all know unless you have a fantastic camera or phone you will ALWAYS look 20-30% worse in pics then you do in “real life”. I can see my lower abs in any mirror under any lighting, yet unless I have the best lighting when I take a pic they get washed out. This gives me a skewed perception on how I really look and can mess with my mind.
4 – OCD (lol). Bodybuilders can become very OCD when they diet. I am no stranger to this. I am meticulous with my macros, with doing cardio everyday, with staring at every misperfection in the mirror (or pics) and driving myself insane. It is important that I put myself in check or I will obsess about too many details and waste valuable energy!
Ok, enough of this negative crap! Lol. Here are the good things about contest prep:
1 – The Little Changes. I love how each week I get a little tighter, a little more vascular and a little more sucked out. It’s these changes that keep me motivated and propel me forward. People usually take notice of these changes as well, and it’s a good feeling.
2 – Structure. In the off-season I have no structure. I will eat well during the week, but on weekends I’ll blow my diet and even enjoy a few drinks. This is perfectly ok, but I am a creature of habit. Come pre-contest I am very disciplined! And my life has structure. Each meal, each workout, each cardio session serves a purpose in my daily routine. It becomes as such I don’t have to think, just do. I enjoy that aspect of the prep!
3 – Brings My Wife And I Closer. After my wife placed second at the NPC NC State championships, she bellowed a sad “now what”? I made the suggestion that she compete with me on June 19th and do the figure division. She agreed and I feel it’s a very positive outlet for us to share together. I completely work with her on her diet and peak and even her training. And she puts me in check when I become a neurotic mess, lol. We also do our cardio together and overall just provide awesome support for one another. If she was a party animal or unhealthy it would make competing extremely difficult. It’s very cool we do it together!
4 – Allows Me To Create Goals That Are Related To Working Out. When I first began training I did it because I loved the way it made me FEEL. I really had an interest in weightlifting and powerlifting. It wasn’t until I met my friend Alberto who competed that I learned you could use working out to LOOK a certain way and present it in a package that exemplifies beauty, art and science. I’ve been working out for 18 years. That’s a lot of incline dumbbell presses, a lot of barbell curls and a lot of leg presses. Doing bodybuilding shows allows me to keep working out interesting, and gives me something to shoot for. The contest gives me that pressure to be my best and my workouts are ferocious.
5 – I Love The Way I Look, lol. This one is cut and dry. Just like I love to be when prepping! Waking up and having no skin over your abs is an amazing feeling! It sometimes takes a while to achieve that look, but when you get there it does wonders for your self confidence and esteem!