People often get confused when they hear the term natural bodybuilding. Today’s generation, especially the youngsters, don’t even believe that anyone can build a classic natural physique.
When they are shown the pics of natural strongmen and bodybuilders of the 50s and 60s era, they simply refuse to believe that they are natural. The exposure is so limited that someone doing a decently heavy squat or deadlift, to them, looks like a guy who’s on juice.
But for a lot of people this doubt remains, may be forever in their minds, that whether there is really something called ‘Natural Bodybuilding’. However, the issue is not just one here. The major issue is the real meaning of the term ‘Natural’ as it is used in bodybuilding today. Because there is literally no definition of this term as such. Also, lot of people define it in different ways, molding it according to their desires.
Over the years the term ‘natural’ has been turned and twisted in the way people wanted:
- For some natural means, just the absence of anabolics steroids, i.e. they are fine with using growth hormones, SARMs, peptides, and other pro-hormone stacks.
- Then there are those, for whom none of the above come under the natural category. They are just fine with using supplements. But then they are using anything and everything in terms of supplements, trying to convince themselves, that these are at least not steroids.
- Yet, there is a third category which uses the terms like ‘holistic’, ‘detox’, etc. and are even against the use of most supplements. Some are fine, but most go to a tad extreme, adding their self-made definitions and meanings to terms.
- The fourth category is the one, which are the extremists, in the other way round. For them what comes under ‘natural’ are very selective food groups. For e.g. the vegans, for whom forget about steroids or hormones, even supplements is unnatural. Non-vegetarian is totally out of question, and even milk products and other animal products like honey are unnatural.
You may choose to be any of these, as its totally your choice and your life. But, here I am talking about the term ‘bodybuilding’. If you don’t understand this term, you can never correlate the term ‘natural’ with it.
- Acc. to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, bodybuilding is simply: the developing of the body through exercise and diet.
- Acc. to dictionary.com, bodybuilding is: the act or practise of exercising, lifting weights etc., so as to develop the muscles of the body.
- Acc. to Collins Dictionary, bodybuilding is: the activity of doing special exercises regularly in order to make your muscles grow bigger.
- Acc. to Britannica.com, bodybuilding is: a regimen of exercises designed to enhance the human body’s muscular development and promote general health and fitness. As a competitive activity, bodybuilding aims to display in artistic fashion pronounced muscle mass, symmetry, and definition for overall aesthetic effect. Barbells, dumbbells, and other resistance training devices are used in the exercises.
- Acc. to Cambridge dictionary, bodybuilding means: special exercises that you do regularly to make your muscles bigger.
- Acc. to Oxford dictionary, bodybuilding is: the activity of doing regular exercises in order to make your muscles bigger and stronger.
Now, in all the above definitions, where do the terms like ‘natural, ‘unnatural’, or ‘steroids’ etc. occur? Nowhere even once. Then how did this question arises whether there is something called ‘natural bodybuilding’.
The reason is because bodybuilding, even if we don’t use any of the above dictionary, just by the virtue of hearing the word, means, building up your body. Or in simple terms, growing the size of your muscles and building strength. This is all bodybuilding is, and this was how bodybuilding really was.
During the early 60s and 70s, bodybuilders around the world, primarily in the US, started experimenting with performance enhancing drugs. As the sport of bodybuilding started gaining popularity and became more lucrative in terms of sponsorships and prize money, apart from the fame, athletes wanted to have every possible edge over their counterparts, by hook or by crook.
Back then, and even now, use of drugs is no hidden secret in the bodybuilding circle. It may be frowned upon by people from other sports or non-athletes, but certainly it is an integral part of the sport of bodybuilding. But as the time passed, more and more variety of advance drugs and hormones started entering bodybuilding, and the famous quote became true to its words: “if takes 10 to kill you, then take 9 and win”.
When you talk about natural or unnatural bodybuilding, you are discussing about competitive bodybuilding, which is a sport, and a different ball game altogether. But before we discuss competitive bodybuilding, we should know that, you can build an amazing strong, fit, muscular and healthy physique, without the use of any steroids, hormones, peptides, SARMs, pro-hormones, useless supplements, diuretics, excessive food intake etc. Basic supplementation can surely be added, as that’s part of general heath for most people today. Therefore, ‘body-building’ is always natural and one of the best ways to have a longer and healthier life.
Now, what people are discussing here or want to know about is competitive bodybuilding, or the sport of bodybuilding. Whether competitive bodybuilding is natural or not? The answer is that in over 95% of the cases, the answer is NO! competitive bodybuilding is far from being natural. It’s actually the other way round. No sport uses more drugs so openly and to such an extreme than pro-bodybuilding.
The little ratio of ‘yes’ actually comes from few of those competitions which come under the category of ‘Natural bodybuilding competitions’. But even with these competitions, there are red flags attached.
Firstly, we need to be clear on one thing, and this is no secret, that bodybuilding is not an Olympic sport, and probably will never be. That’s a reason, the amount of drugs used in this sport are way too extreme. Of course, that’s also a reason, that when some of these brainless bodybuilders start training normal individuals, they prescribe them steroids without any hiccups, a reason why there is a big spill over of steroids in the gyms today, because most of the trainers are former or present bodybuilders.
Now, when it comes to natural bodybuilding competitions, it totally depends on the organizing body, as to what types of rules they want to frame. Most of them have a banned substance list attached with the enrolment form. But that doesn’t mean that the competition is natural. Also, many competitions just say that they are natural, but there is no drug testing of any kind, which makes absolutely no sense, as the person competing with full honesty and no drugs, would eventually lose to someone loaded with anabolics.
On the other hand, real and accurate drug testing is quite expensive and most so called ‘natural bodybuilding’ organizations really don’t do it. Some even scare you by taking your urine, but then there is no testing happening. Try asking them for a dope test report, the only thing they would tell you is that there is nothing found in your report.
Well then there are some amazing organizations which think all people are blind and they make a mockery out of the system, hand in hand with the government authorities. For e.g. in one of the top national bodybuilding competitions in the country, every year you have officials from NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency) present in the venue, during the competition. Well, I haven’t heard of anyone being caught so far under dope testing in that competition in last so many years.
But my question to both the organizing committee and the NADA officials is, “is this some kind of a joke going on?” In a national bodybuilding competition, even the judges may be on dope, forget about the competitors. Just check the pic from the last competition of a national event and tell me if these athletes even, from any angle look natural to you:
Also, I don’t know what is the problem is accepting a universal fact that bodybuilding is not without doping. If NADA officials really check the dope reports of these athletes, they would die of heart attack. The amount of variety of drugs these athletes use is inhumanly high.
Coming back to the definition of ‘natural bodybuilding’ which is as vague as the competition itself. Some competitions allow the use of many substances like pro-hormones which are banned under WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). Also, even if there is a drug testing, then the drugs are planned in a way that they don’t get detected at the time of competition, by using drugs which have a very short half-life. That can’t be done in Olympics, or other international championships, as the dope testing there is way to advanced and strict, and done randomly, multiple times an year, on any athlete, in any country.
So, when in the strictest of drug testing environments, many athletes are able to hack the tests, by using new kind of performance enhancement substances and other designer drugs, then you think a lame natural bodybuilding competition, where there is hardly any money involved, a drug testing would be even be taken seriously.
As I said before, Drug tests are very expensive to do and someone needs to pay for them. In this case, either the federation or the promoter of the competition would have to pay for this. Competitors would never do such a stupid thing, nor can you force them too, or your competition would be a flop show; and federation won’t spend the money, as they don’t gain much out of a competition as such to make any profits.
You think such things happen in India only? No, it’s worldwide stupidity. For e.g. “Big Ramy” won the first ever amateur Olympia. This was a drug tested event. ‘Big Ramy” natural? Are we supposed to laugh?
Dennis Wolf won his pro card in the 2005 IFBB World Championships, which was a drug tested event. This is how Dennis Wolf looked:
In very few natural bodybuilding competitions, there may be few brave hearts who cross their hearts and vouch never to use illegal means. But then in most cases, they may never really win. In a normal bodybuilding competition, they would be crossed from the competition, the way they had crossed their hearts. They would become a laughing stock in front of the monsters standing next to them.
Do you know what is the biggest problem with natural bodybuilding? No one is interested in that. People don’t like fit and bit muscular athletes on stage. They want to see monsters, with veins popping out, striations in the glute, every muscle clearly bulging out; who look more like walking trees than athletes. That’s what people pay to watch. People don’t want to watch normal, they want inhuman giants.
There do exist some natural bodybuilding organizations which are trying to be quite strict, but then, how many of these organizations you know about? And who cares of them, anyways? So, there should be no natural bodybuilding? In my view, no, not until there is a strict check by the government authorities, which may never happen. It’s better to build your best bodies, than to be a competitive bodybuilder. And, if you want to compete as a bodybuilder, then better carry some lose ethics.
CAN I DO BODYBUILDING WITHOUT STEROIDS
That’s the picture of legendary Chuck Sipes, a classic example of extreme human strength and muscularity, without even touching a steroid.
Well with all the discussion we had so far, the question needs to be clarified in terms of context. There are three aspects to this answer:
- If you are taking bodybuilding as a non-sporting entity, where in you have no plans to compete, then of course, it can be done without steroids. You can build a wonderful physique with flourishing health.
- If you have an intention of going for competitive bodybuilding, then you have to choose among the conventional bodybuilding competitions, wherein there is literally no limit to the amount of substance abuse you can do, or,
- You choose the competitive natural bodybuilding path, wherein though it’s not that anabolics are completely banned, but then ethically, you have a better chance to win, and assess your genetic natural limitations.
But, sometimes there is a fourth dimension to this, which actually doesn’t make any sense and is more of a common sense approach. A lot of youngsters ask me if they can compete in bodybuilding competitions without steroids. Herein, they actually mean the conventional drug loaded competitions. Yes you surely can, no one will stop you from competing. But you will never win. It’s like a cat competing against lions with a board in hand, stating: ‘I am from the same family’. For e.g. even if you are extremely gifted with great genes, and you have been working out dedicatedly for years, and you achieve a physique like Chuck Sipes of Reg Park, you still won’t win, even in a state championship today. Because competing against mass monsters loaded with anabolics can only be done through one thing, i.e. using anabolics.