True Natural Bodybuilding


Training is by far the most complicated and important aspect of true natural bodybuilding. After more than 20 years of experience, I have developed a training routine that I believe works best for me, being a true natural bodybuilder. On this page I discuss all aspects of my personal training routine, which I believe are the most important. Note however that the science behind exercise-induced muscle hypertrophy is still not completely understood. It may well be possible that my way of training is not the only route to success, and that your body reacts better on a different way of training.

If you watch some training videos of the professionals, you will see that all of them have their own unique way of training, all resulting in excellent physiques. If you are not using any drugs, however, you should not blindly follow the training and nutrition advice of the pros, which are all using at least large quantities of anabolic steroids, growth hormone, and insulin. These drugs fundamentally change the biochemistry of your body, and are so extremely powerful that almost any training routine will cause the muscles to grow.

Having that said, I believe it is also correct to say that some aspects of effective bodybuilding training are quite universal, and followed by almost all successful bodybuilders. If you are new to this sport, I suggest that you consider following this training routine and principles that have proven to be effective for me, and adjust it to your own needs as you gain more experience yourself.

The general structure of my training routine is described below, and its most important aspects are discussed in detail.

The Training Routine

My training routine is completed once per week and consists of 5 different workouts and 2 rest days:

  • Monday: chest, abdominals, forearms
  • Tuesday: shoulders, upper trapezius, triceps
  • Wednesday: rest
  • Thursday: upper and middle back, biceps
  • Friday: hamstrings, lower back, calves
  • Saturday: quadriceps, inner and outer thighs
  • Sunday: rest

The frequency by which you train each muscle is very important. Basically you want to give the muscle just enough time to recover and to grow before you train it again. If you train too often or not frequently enough, you risk to injure your muscles and tendons, or not to grow at all. How frequently you have to train each muscle depends on how fast your muscles recover, which largely depends on the intensity of your workouts. People using anabolic steroids recover much faster than true natural bodybuilders. For advanced true natural bodybuilders I advise to train each muscle group once per week. Beginners, whose workouts are less intense, could start with training each muscle twice per week.

Another very important aspect of the training routine is the order in which you train each muscle group. For example, you should not train your triceps the day before you train your chest, because you need fresh and strong triceps to do heavy bench and dumbbell presses for your chest. You also need fresh and strong biceps to do your upper back workout, so don't train biceps the day before your upper back.

My workouts usually take no longer than 1 hour. During each workout I train 2 or maximum 3 muscle groups. It's best to start with the biggest muscle group that requires most energy. If you train chest and triceps on the same day, you start with chest. If you train upper back and biceps on the same day, you start with upper back. If you train biceps and triceps on the same day, you should start with the muscle that needs to grow most. Before I start to train my second or third muscle group of the workout, I take a rest of about 3 minutes so that I feel strong and energetic enough to continue.

It is very important never to miss a workout. Whenever you do miss a workout, try to catch it up the next day if possible. There exists also something like overtraining, which can occur if you train too frequently and/or do to many exercises and sets. When you are overtrained, your muscles will not grow and you may easily get injured. I recommend you to take 2 or 3 weeks off after every 6 months of training in order to give yourself a chance to recharge mentally and to let your body fully recover from any physical stress accumulated during the past 6 months of heavy training.


The higher the intensity of your muscle workout, the stronger your muscle will be stimulated to grow. Therefore it should be your goal to maximize the intensity of each of your muscle workouts. Many aspects of your muscle workout determine its intensity, such as: the number of exercises you do for the muscle group, the number of sets and reps you do for each exercise, the total time that you use to complete the muscle workout, the time that you rest between your sets, the form of your reps and sets, and the amount of weight that you lift. All aspects of the muscle workout that are important for its intensity, are discussed in detail in the following paragraphs.

The Muscle Workout

For each muscle group I do 2 or 3 different exercises, each exercise targeting the muscle from a different angle. Every week, I start my muscle workouts with a different exercise because I believe that the first exercise is always the most productive one. Basically I always do 4 sets of each exercise targeting 10 quality repetitions (reps). I limit my rest between consecutive exercises for the same muscle group to about 1 or maximum 2 minutes in order to keep my muscle pump and to maximize the intensity of the workout.

Let's take a look at what I do for each individual muscle group.


I do 3 different exercises for my pectorals (pecs). One will target the upper part of the pecs (inclined bench), one the middle part of the pecs (flat bench), and one the lower part of the pecs (declined bench), and I change the order each workout. Most of the time I use dumbbells (flyes or presses) as I feel that they work best for me, but barbell presses are also very effective for most people. Sometimes I add cable crossovers at the beginning or end of my chest workout. Cable crossover is a very good isolation exercise for the pecs and it works very well for me.


While many bodybuilders train their abs multiple times per week with many sets and high reps, my abs seem to respond best if I train them like any other muscle. I train them once per week with 2 exercises, each consisting of 4 sets of 10 - 16 reps. I always do one exercise for the upper abs (crunches), and one for the lower part of the abs (leg raises), changing their order every workout.


I end my first workout always with one exercise for the outer part of my forearms. I don't separately train the inner part of my forearms as they get enough intensity during my heavy upper back workouts.


I do 3 different exercises for my deltoids (delts). One will target the front part of the delts, one the middle part, and one the rear part. I used to do lots of dumbbell presses for my shoulders when I was a teenager. However, now I prefer standing dumbbell raises (front, lateral, and bent-over) as they isolate the delts better. I rotate the order every workout.

Upper trapezius

I always follow my deltoid exercises with one exercise (shrugs) for the upper part of the trapezius (trap) muscle, which is located between the neck and the shoulders. Since I only do one isolation exercise for the upper trapezius I usually do 6 sets of 10 - 15 reps.


The triceps muscle has three heads. Therefore, I do 3 exercises for my triceps, each targeting another part (inner/middle/outer) of the muscle. I rotate the order every workout.

Upper and middle back

The back is a complex group of big muscles. I do 3 or 4 different exercises to train my complete upper and middle back. One exercise targets the upper part of the latissimus (lats) (wide grip pulldown), one the lower part of the lats (narrow grip pulldown), and one or two that target the trapezius muscle between the shoulder blades (rows). I change the order every workout.


As my biceps usually already have quite a pump after my heavy upper back workout, I immediately proceed with 2 exercises for my biceps, each targeting the muscle from a slightly different angle to make sure that the inner as well as the outer head of the muscle gets fully developed.


The hamstrings are a complex and strong group of muscles at the rear side of the leg. I usually do 3 different exercises for my hamstrings, each targeting the muscle in a slightly different way.

Lower back

As my lower back usually already has quite a pump after my heavy hamstring workout, I immediately proceed with 1 exercise for my lower back.


As the calves are formed by two different muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), I do 2 different exercises for my calves, one targeting the gastrocnemius (standing calf raises) and one targeting the soleus (seated calf raises).


The quadriceps is a big, strong, and complex muscle group at the front side of the thigh. The quadriceps workout is without any doubt the toughest of all, and completely drains all energy from you. I do 3 exercises for my quads, usually 2 heavy compound exercises (a squat movement and a leg press) followed by one isolation exercise (leg extensions or one-leg bodyweight squat).

Inner and outer thighs

I finish my leg workout with 2 exercises, one to build my inner thighs (thigh adductor), and another for the outer thighs and glutes (thigh abductor).

Exercises and equipment

The exercises that I recommend and the equipment that should be used are described elsewhere on this website.

The Exercise

Usually I do 4 sets of each exercise, which is exactly enough to fully wear down the muscle and to maximize growth stimulation. I train to failure in every set of each exercise. I never save energy for my next set or my next exercise. I would rather advice to do a set or an exercise less than to dose your efforts.

In order to maximize the intensity of an exercise I always try to keep my rest between consecutive sets below 1 minute; just enough to more or less normalize my breathing, without losing my muscle pump. For very heavy compound exercises that are huge energy drainers (e.g. back and legs), I might take up to 2 minutes of rest between consecutive sets.

As I go all out in every set, I usually use the heaviest weights in the first set of my first exercise, and gradually go lighter set after set, as my muscle gets more and more exhausted. If everything went well, by the time of the last rep of the last set my muscle should be fully pumped up and almost paralyzed from exhaustion. For example, after my quadriceps workout, I can hardly walk, and after my shoulder workout I cannot comb my hair anymore.

The Quality Repetition

Lifting a weight sounds very simple, but it is in fact rather complex, if you want to do it in such a way that it will maximally stimulate muscle growth. A repetition (rep) should basically result in two growth-stimulating effects, if executed correctly: depletion of the energy supplies in the muscle (especially glycogen), and damage to the protein structures inside the muscle fibers.

Let's take a closer look at the repetition (rep) and define its 4 different parts:

  • Bottom: A rep starts at the bottom where the weight is in the lowest position and the muscle is fully extended and stretched.
  • Up-phase: During the up-phase the muscle contracts and lifts the weight up.
  • Top: At the top of the repetition the muscle is fully contracted and the weight is at its highest position.
  • Down-phase: During the down-phase the muscle extends and lets the weight go down.

Now let's define the "Quality Rep" as being a repetition that is executed in such a way as to maximize muscle growth stimulation. A quality rep, in my opinion, should be executed as follows: Lift the weight in an explosive way from the bottom to the top. The up-phase should be a fast and powerful movement that takes maximum 1 second. At the top of the movement, the muscle should be fully contracted (as short as possible), and flexed for a fraction of a second as hard as possible (peak contraction) as if you are posing for a photo. Then slowly lower the weight in a controlled fashion to the bottom of the movement. The down-phase should be controlled and take longer than the up-phase, let's say between 1 and 2 seconds. At the bottom of the movement the muscle should be fully extended (as long as possible) without losing the tension on the muscle. There must be no pause at the bottom of the movement; without any rest the weight is lifted up again. A quality rep should take in total between 2 and 3 seconds for most exercises. During the complete rep your mind should stay focused on the muscle, its contraction and extension, rather than the weight you are lifting.

I want to focus your attention on 2 extremely important principles applied in the quality rep, which have been recognized and followed by most top bodybuilders for many decades: continuous tension and full range of motion.

Continuous tension

Continuous Tension is without doubt the most important principle that needs to be followed in order to maximize muscle growth stimulation. It basically means that you keep the tension on the muscle throughout the complete movement of the rep, including the up-phase, top, down-phase, and bottom. There should be no moment of rest (muscle relaxation) during the entire rep or between consecutive reps at all in order to maximize the intensity of your set.

About ninety percent of the bodybuilders fail to respect this most important principle, and wonder why their muscles are not growing. The main reasons why many bodybuilders fail to follow the principle of continuous tension are ignorance, and because they are using much too heavy weights that forces them to pause at the top and/or bottom of the movement, and/or by letting the weight fall down in an uncontrolled fashion during the down-phase. A typical example of violating the principle of continuous tension is to lock-out the elbows at the top of a bench press or the knees at the top of a squat, as this fully releases the tension from the pecs or quads, respectively. Putting 30% less weight on the bar should solve the problem and really make your muscles grow. Bringing the dumbbells too close together at the top of a dumbbell press or fly is another typical example where the tension is lost at the top of a rep.

Full range of motion

Full Range of Motion is the second most important principle that needs to be followed in order to maximize muscle growth stimulation. It basically means that you contract the muscle as far as possible at the top of the rep (until the muscle is as short as possible) without losing the tension on the muscle (e.g. by locking-out the joint), and that you extend the muscle as far as possible at the bottom of the rep (until the muscle is as long as possible) without losing the tension on the muscle (e.g. by letting the weight hang down).

The main reasons why many bodybuilders fail to follow the principle of full range of motion are ignorance, and because it is much easier to lift heavy weights if you do only partial reps. I often see bodybuilders lift much too heavy weights in a cramped manner, while hardly letting the muscle do any work, as it stays nearly at the same length throughout the complete rep. As I discuss on another page, some badly designed weight machines, unfortunately, don't allow the user to train full range of motion. Free weights (especially dumbbells) nearly always allow you to train full range of motion, and are therefore preferred.

The Forced and Partial Repetition

I recommend you to do 10 quality reps in each of your sets. However, at the end of the last set of your exercise, when you are no longer able to execute any additional quality reps, you may want to squeeze out the last drop of energy from your muscle by doing some lower quality reps - forced reps and/or partial reps - in order to maximize the intensity of your exercise.

Forced reps are basically reps in which you force up the weight during the up-phase because it is too heavy to lift it in the normal way, often helped by a spotter, followed by slowly lowering the weight in a controlled fashion to the bottom, without the help of a spotter. Many spotters, however, let the forced up-phase take much too long. The up-phase of a forced rep should basically take the same amount of time as the up-phase of a quality rep. Forced reps can be very effective as lots of the growth stimulation actually comes from the down-phase (negative part) of the rep, which is very stressful for the muscle fibers.

When you don't have enough power left to do additional quality reps, partial reps can also be effective to squeeze out the last energy from your muscles. Doing partial reps basically means that you don't follow the principle of full range of motion, but only a fraction (let's say 50%) of the full range that is used for a normal quality rep. Effective partial reps as well as forced reps should always follow the principle of continuous tension.

The Set

A set that is optimized for muscle growth stimulation should be an uninterrupted series of about 10 quality reps, potentially followed by a few additional forced or partial reps. In order to optimize the intensity of the set, which is essential in stimulating muscle growth, the principle of continuous tension should be applied throughout the complete set. This basically means that there should be no moment of rest (muscle relaxation) between consecutive reps. Each individual rep obviously also follows the principle of continuous tension as explained in the paragraphs above.

I always do my sets with the heaviest possible weight that I think will allow me to do 10 quality reps. Depending on how well my estimate was, I may end up somewhere between 6 and 14 quality reps. As I train to failure in every set, I usually use the heaviest weights in the first set of my first exercise, and gradually go lighter set after set, as my muscles becomes more exhausted.

A full set of 10 quality reps usually takes me between 20 and 30 seconds to complete, however, it strongly depends on the exercise. Usually I only do forced and/or partial reps at the end of the last set of my exercise.

Drop Sets

Occasionally I finish my muscle workout with a few drop sets. This basically means that immediately after the last normal set of my last exercise I add a few extra sets (drop sets) of this exercise with progressively lighter weights. The rest between consecutive drop sets is kept minimal (a couple of seconds). In each of those drop sets I do as many reps as possible. Upon failure the weight is decreased again with 20% and without rest the next drop set is started. In total it may take about 3 drop sets before complete muscle exhaustion is reached.

Learn and Adjust

How to know whether your workouts are effective or not? That is a very important question because it allows you to learn from your experience and to adjust your training routine in such a way that it becomes more effective. As I wrote at the top of this page, it is well possible that my way of training is not the most effective way of training for you, and that you may need to make some minor adjustments to optimize it for you personally.

Intensity indicators

There are three very important indicators that can tell you whether your workouts are effective or not. The first and ultimate indication is of course the speed at which your muscles grow and the final size your muscles have. This, however, will not tell you much about any specific single workout, because it will take at least a few months before you will see any measurable change in muscle mass.

The second indicator is a very useful one, and it really gives you feedback about one specific workout, and often even about one single exercise. I'm talking here about the muscle soreness that you feel in the trained muscle during the first 3 to 6 days after your muscle workout. The more muscle soreness and stiffness you experience in the days following your workout, the more effective your training was, and the stronger the muscle is stimulated to grow. The exact location of the soreness can be a useful indication about which exact part of the muscle was targeted most by one specific exercise.

The third indicator gives you almost real-time feedback about the effectiveness of your set. It is the well-known muscle pump, which is caused by an accumulation of blood in the muscle. The higher the intensity of your sets, and the less rest you take between consecutive sets, the more your muscles will get pumped up, and the stronger they will be stimulated to grow. Because of various reasons, your muscle pumps will not be of the same intensity every day. However, on top days, your muscle pumps may be so intense that during the last couple of reps of your set you may even feel an intense burning sensation inside the muscle. Whenever you feel this intense muscle burn, you may smile, because you reached top intensity and your muscles are getting the maximum load of growth stimulation.

There are a few other simple indicators that may give you an idea about whether the intensity of your workouts is high enough to result in some serious muscle growth. Your heart beat rate, breathing intensity, body temperature, and transpiration should significantly increase as your training intensity goes up. You might even see some steam coming off your body. During a very intense workout of one of your biggest muscle groups, such as upper back or quadriceps, you might even experience a feeling as if you are going to black out. These are clear indications that you are not playing around in the gym, but putting some serious growth-stimulating intensity into your workouts.

If, on the other hand, you are able to talk, laugh and dance between your sets, you are very likely not putting enough intensity into your workouts to get any serious results.

How Much Weight to Lift?

One of the biggest mistakes and misunderstandings among inexperienced bodybuilders is to think that you have to lift extremely heavy weights in order to stimulate muscle growth. They believe that gradually increasing the size of the weights they lift, will also gradually increase the size of their muscles. Although this might sound logic at first sight, nothing is less true. Bodybuilding is not the same as strength training. I have seen countless small guys lifting extremely heavy weights without ever being able to develop any significant muscle mass.

The only role that the size of the weights plays in an effective bodybuilding training routine, is to ensure that your reps are so intense that you are not able to do more than about 10 quality reps per set. Far more important are the form of your reps, and the correct application of the principles of continuous tension and full range of motion throughout your sets. So the answer to the question is: "use the heaviest possible weights that allow you to perform 10 quality reps."

Milos Sarcev, a former pro IFBB bodybuilder and today the most respected trainer of professional bodybuilders (Flex, Nasser, etc.) has given a very inspiring interview on this subject.


Read this page again until you fully understand each aspect of it, as the training is by far the most complex part of being a true natural bodybuilder. If you want to learn more about effective bodybuilding training, I recommend you to watch some good training videos. If you are a beginner, also check out my bodybuilding training routines for beginners and advanced trainees and download the detailed TNBB training routine.