Natural bodybuilding vs steroids: who works hard?

This article will take you 8 minutes to read. Feel free to leave your questions in the comment section, they will be answered!

Who is working hard and who is not?

Who cares who works hard?

Well, I do. I care about what you see and how you view bodybuilding!

It’s a common discussion out there: “who is working the hardest?”. We all want to talk about what it takes to get better, and hard work is one of the first factor of what makes results happen (with the right strategy and quality work).

Is it easier to achieve results with the use of drugs? Yes, it is!

Does that mean bodybuilders on drugs don’t work hard? No!

And does it mean you have no chance to build a super-physique by staying natural? 

Not at all!

natural bodybuilding vs enhanced bodybuilding

What does working hard at a top-level means though?

Everyone thinks differently and if people have different standards of what working hard in the gym means. You never know how hard someone is working until you are in the gym with them and they’re kicking your ass, rep for rep.

So, if I don’t explain my standards, you don’t know what I’m talking about.

In this case, we will talk about how old school bodybuilders trained like. Why old-school bodybuilders? This is what I usually use as a reference because it’s one we all know about.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and his friends used to train 3-5 hours a day at pretty high intensity. Some might have been doing their training differently than others, but the majority were spending hours in the gym.

arnold vs lou

We know these old-school bodybuilders to have been very hard workers in the gym.

While some bodybuilders might still do as much these days, it’s sometimes a bit surprising to hear that some pro-bodybuilders get away with much less than that. An hour a day with two rest days per week, yet look much bigger than these old-school bodybuilders who spent countless hours in the gym every day.

At this level and with the amount of PEDs taken (which in my opinion has increased in modern times), it’s just weird.

Intensity differs, but as a general rule and after years and years of training at a pro-level, you’d expect Olympia competitors to spend as much time training as old-school bodybuilders used to do! We see it in some cases, just not as often as before like in the old-school days.

Do enhanced athletes work hard?

You can work hard but you can also just have it easier by taking performance-enhancing drugs. Some enhanced athletes who work hard and others who do not really. Just like there will be natural athletes working hard and others not.

The difference, however, is that natural athletes who aren’t working hard don’t get results. You can see, 1-1, the relationship between hard work and results. Enhanced trainees, on the other hand, can look great without the work – it’s just the cherry on top.

Though, being enhanced means it is most likely to be much easier – unless you’re Ronnie Coleman or Phil Heath. The majority of users are not always the ones who are providing the hardest work. In many cases, you might have just decent genetics and you might then get great results and build a very good physique without having to work that hard in the gym while on steroids. They’re that effective and there are some people who got more – or less – from their steroid use.

enhanced bodybuilders

It can be suspicious when you regularly see some people not pushing it much in the gym –using light weights for low volume but getting bigger every other session. It gets you thinking – what’s going on?

The truth is that whether you’re bodybuilding naturally or with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs, you should train similarly: relatively heavy, aiming to get stronger and aiming towards a higher volume type of training overtime. It is explained in more detail in the article How many repetitions to build muscle?’.

Steroids can feel like a 50 mph wind pushing behind your back

Someone using performance-enhancing drugs will increase his volume far more easily and hit strength training more, since they recover much faster. Therefore, they’re likely to build more muscle since the turnover from session to session is so much higher.

Not only this, but if you’ve got good enough genetics, these chemicals will have a direct effect on your body whether you are doing much or not. 

enhanced bodybuilder flexing biceps

It tremendously helps with vascularity and a pumped-up, fuller, and dryer look. Some people will literally blow up without doing much.

We can still see that some people who are on steroids are still struggling with a bad physique. Now the thing is, we see a bit of everything. We still see some people who take performance-enhancing drugs and have a “bad” physique.

Then you see people say in YouTube comments that you still have to work hard when taking steroids. Well, it depends. There are many factors which could explain why if you compare two individuals taking steroids, one might have a much better physique than the other, even though they are training the same amount.

The different factors

Delving deeper into that subject, I have never been convinced bodybuilders taking performance-enhancing drugs always need to work hard for the majority to get results.

If we compare someone taking steroids who has a “bad” physique and someone who takes PEDs but has a “great” physique, it’s not always that one works much harder. Even the science of steroids tells us that they can do less work for better results in less-trained individuals.

People love to ask: “how can you explain that this guy takes steroids but has a “bad” physique then if steroids do help a lot?”

Genetics

The first factor which comes into place and most important is genetics. Some people will blow up like balloons not working very hard because they just have a super powerful genetic response to the drugs. 

great genetics in bodybuilding

In most cases, you don’t have to work super hard to get a very impressive physique while taking steroids if you have a great genetic response. It allows you to get plenty done with no real work.

A little bit of hard work can be enough

how hard do you have to work as a bodybuilder
Just a little bit of hard work

A few more factors… Someone who has got a bad physique taking steroids might not train enough and might not really know what he is doing.

He could also have not trained for very long yet. If we get back to someone using PEDs with a great physique, this individual could have had trained already for 3 years naturally. Even if his results were poor, stimulating his body prior to taking PEDs tremendously helps. 

If nothing else, it’s important to build up both the behaviours and the physical changes. You need to learn to train, learn to recover, and you need to build up the quality in the muscles so you don’t damage your tendons, as well as getting the best of the chemicals.

Also, if that person actually works out, let’s say, as much as 5 times a week for an hour every day, that is definitely enough to get a very good physique while using steroids.

That is enough to be an IFBB pro to today’s standards in my opinion. This could explain why nowadays we see many more pro cards given out. When you look at half of IFBB pros nowadays, there is really nothing more than some decent genetics, some PEDs, and a normal training routine and diet to get there.

But if we talk about how to get the biggest and truly become a champion in today’s world:

Here are the main factors from most to least important to become the best non-natural bodybuilder ever:

  1. Have the best genetics possible
  2. Take steroids and probably in medium to high quantity and be able to cope with them
  3. Train super hard, super smart, inside and outside the gym (diet)

Genetics and hard-work can take you far

If you have genetics and work very hard, it’s going to be very tough to beat you. The only way to win for someone who has not got the right genetics is to work harder than anyone else and understands his strengths and weaknesses. Just like Arnold who used to do that specific pose to hide his stomach.

Arnold had great body genetics and worked hard

Judges will certainly appreciate that you know what you are doing – and working your best to beat someone with better genetics. That’s why we also see people with not so good genetics say they can work up to 3 hours a day at a natural level.


The truth is, they have pretty bad genetics and at some point, and realised they’d have to work harder to win.
People with incredible genetics might just never simply realise they could do more since they already have such good physiques. They didn’t learn the same graft, to do 110% of what it takes to compete. Truth is that if you have great genetics and work super hard, you really have great chances of success.


To conclude this first part about enhanced training. steroids are a massive help if you somehow have a good genetic response to them. But, like everything else, hard work makes it better…

Why would steroids be any different than any other powerful drugs?

To add some elements to why steroids are that helpful, a good comparison is to any other drugs. How much of an effort is it to get high from cannabis, or feel the effects of taking cocaine?


The only effort required is to either get your hand to your mouth or inhale with your nose. And the effects are super strong! Why would it be different from the effects of injecting powerful anabolic compounds into your body? 


Realistically, getting as much as 2000 ml per week of powerful drugs in your blood for the average IFBB pro is huge! Just like you’re not being injected with water when you are anesthetized for surgery. Even when it comes to nutrition and dieting we cannot deny how helpful PEDs can get.

A lot of ex-pro bodybuilders often say they would eat fast food, follow unhealthy dietary habits.
This kind of food is actually quite beneficial for those who are taking performance-enhancing drugs.  Therefore, all the Men’s Physique guys on Instagram promoting a healthy lifestyle is questionable. IFBB pro Mike Morris does not deny the powerful effects of the drugs.

Fast forward to 13:20

Enhanced pro bodybuilders working hard are becoming a minority

Some professional enhanced bodybuilders work very hard, but it does not seem to be as frequent as in the past. Unfortunately for the ones who work hard, they will just be seen as the rest – people who only got easy results from steroids.


At the end of the day, some people just love bodybuilding too much and would not see themselves not to try and surpass their natural abilities, it makes more sense in that position.

Do natural bodybuilders work hard?

The same applies here to an extent when it comes to genetics. Some people have it easier than others. The difference though with natural bodybuilding is that there are no PEDs involved. Genetics play a big role, but we never get to the point where people can just rely on a great genetic response to the drugs to beat you.


Natural bodybuilding is overall fairer. If you are a natural pro bodybuilder, there is a good chance this is because you’re spending far more time in the gym than anyone else. If we take the above example for natural bodybuilders on how to become a champion, factors are:

1-Have the best genetics possible

2-Train super hard, super smart, inside and outside the gym

But these two factors are less important. Natural bodybuilding is much fairer than unnatural, “open” bodybuilding because we are not adding that last factor – the PEDs. Surely, natural bodybuilding competitors are less impressive on stage but at least you’re looking at people who more than often don’t have any option but to outwork themselves to even get onto that competition stage.


Most of great natural bodybuilders should be the ones we see at Men’s physique competitions. This category has individuals looking like mass monsters more than anything else.

What can you expect naturally? An example for motivation

How about we leave all the negativity about steroids behind. Why don’t we look at an example of what you can expect as a natural bodybuilder. And I’m not just talking about the health benefits to your heart and liver!


This example will be interesting because it will demonstrate what you can expect according to the time you want to I vest in the gym.


For the same picture, I can give a rough estimation of how long it would take to get to that level depending on the time you’d be willing to invest in the gym. The tme frame examples used will be:

  • 2 days a week
  • 4 days a week
  • 6 days a week

The goal of this article is to give an approximate truth and not sell any magical quick fixes. 
Working out 6 times a week requires you to have a lifestyle allowing this type of training and really loving the gym.

Now, when talking about 6 times a week for three years, we are not saying someone should start straight away with 6 sessions a week, as you may get burned out. 


Slowly building up to this kind of routine is crucial. You should start with 3-4 sessions in the first year, 3-5 in the second, and 4-6 in the 3rd year. These results can be achieved naturally without any additional “chemical assistance”:

A skinny to muscular body transformation with ripped fitness results
  • within 1 year of training 6 times a week
  • within 1.5 – 2 years of training 4 times a week
  • within 3 years of training 2 times a week

Unsurprisingly, people who will train 6 days a week will get similar results in one year as those who have trained twice a week for 3 years.


Again, this is not 100% the same for everyone: it depends on where you start, whether you were under or overweight when you first started for example. It’s still a good estimation of the kind of results you’re likely to see during your first 3 years of training.

Are PEDs damaging the sport?

All-natural competitions aren’t perfect by themselves. There are drug-testing questions: even the Olympics can’t ensure everyone’s clean when they’re the biggest competition in the world.


There is a reason why Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about drug testing in 2019. He sees the average gym goers using performance-enhancing drugs even though they are not competing – a cultural and health problem that nobody is talking about.


Especially when these guys don’t have the training experience, diet, or lifestyle that they’ll need to make the most of that choice.

While PEDs will always be part of bodybuilding, it is a shame that we see more and more beginners, and specifically amateurs, being influenced to use them. That is where in my opinion, steroids are starting to really damage bodybuilding – both as a competition and among the aspiring fans, too!

Conclusion

Both natural and enhanced bodybuilders work hard. Being a natural bodybuilder doesn’t give you a choice: progress isn’t assured. Steroid users are going to progress no matter what, and there’s more variety in their results. Every competitor and impressive physique at a natural bodybuilding competition is a hard-worker but not every big guy at the gym represents the same hard work.


Meanwhile, on steroids, if you respond well to the drugs, you can get big without being really dedicated. In all situations, though, if bodybuilders natural or not want to get the best out of their potential, they have to give their best in the gym and with their diet/sleep. Natural or not, best effort produces the real winners.

Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments, do you agree or disagree with what has been said?