elitefts™ Sunday Edition

I am going to clear up what I think is a huge misunderstanding in what it takes to be a pro bodybuilder. Almost on a daily basis I am reminded that people consistently and routinely get it all wrong. Most people completely miss the boat when it comes to what it takes to “make it” in this sport. I'm going to lay it out in black and white terms to clear the air.

If you are one of “those guys” that thinks it is all about drugs, you are sadly mistaken. If you think that you have a better chance to turn pro training at Armbrust Pro Gym here in Denver, Colorado, you are sadly mistaken. Training next to Phil Heath won’t get you a pro card by proxy. Supplements have never once created a pro, either, so if you think taking the right pre-workout is going to do it, you are also sadly mistaken. Do all of these things help or play a part? They most certainly can. However, even if you do everything perfectly, you may never come close a pro card. Why? If you haven’t heard (or simply have been living in denial), it is a game of genetics before anything else. That is why some people will work their asses off for decades and never even come close and why others will work a fraction of that time and give a fraction of the effort and get a card.

In my opinion there are five main components to becoming a pro bodybuilder. You will need to have all five of these to even have a chance. NOTHING – and I repeat – NOTHING will or can substitute for any of these five variables.

1. Structure

This is the one that a lot of people think is the only variable and that this variable alone dictates pro potential. This is completely wrong and can be very misleading. Just because someone has wide shoulders and a small waist and has natural muscularity does not mean they have pro potential. Broad shoulders are a must and a small waist is a must, yes, but there is far more to it than just that.

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Along with a small waist and broad shoulders you will also need favorable muscle attachments. Many an amateur has advanced through the local and state level with broad shoulders only to find out that mediocre muscle attachments have halted progression up the competitive ladder. This would include high lats or short biceps or high calves (though the latter is not anywhere near as important these days as it was in the 80s).

When we talk about structure and muscle attachments we have to include the shape of the muscle because no one will ever get a pro card without “pretty” shape. This has a lot to do with muscle bellies and how round the chest is; whether the lats hang; what the sweep of the quads looks like, etc.. You can’t see this type of potential early on in someone’s career. It takes years to see this shape take place as muscles fill out over time. This is exactly why looking at someone’s bone structure doesn’t tell the entire story as to whether someone has pro potential or not.

2. Body Fat Distribution

One of the things that you will notice with pros is they very rarely carry body fat more in one place than another. You and I have “trouble areas” that we tend to lose fat from last when we diet. Pros rarely deal with this and when they do it is subtle. A lot of amateurs, especially as they age, will struggle to get as lean from the back as they do from the front. Pros do not have this problem. They almost always tend to carry their body fat evenly from head to toe and front to back. This is a huge genetic advantage because when they drop body fat they drop it relatively evenly and when they are ready and ripped in their chest and quads, they are ripped in their glutes and hams and abs, as well. It is quite common for the average competitor to be ready from the front and still ten more pounds (or more) until their back or glutes or hams are ready.

Metabolically, pros are in a different league, as well. While amateurs struggle to get into great condition, pros tend to get away with a lot more during their dieting and still get into great condition. When Vince Taylor eats shrimp baskets and ketchup during a prep phase and gets ripped to shreds, that is only one example of many. This is not to say that all pros don’t diet hard but when you are genetically superior, you have room to maneuver and do things that the rest of us only wish we could.

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3. Absorption and Assimilation of Nutrients

To be a pro you will need to have a digestive system that is pro, as well. A pro will utilize nutrients far more efficiently and tend to not store food as body fat as easily, either. Simply put, pros can usually eat more food and process it much quicker, allowing them to eat more meals and eat more food than the rest of us. I think it goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that no one can possibly see this variable when they say, “this guy has pro potential”.

4. The Hormone Factor

A pro bodybuilder will also respond to gear in a way that the rest of us can only dream of. Taking gear doesn’t insure that it is used and for pros, not only does the body respond more favorably to gear but the body is more efficient with it so that less is needed. That does not mean that pros don’t use a lot of gear. What it means is that you or I will respond in a completely different way to the same dosing as a pro.

You might argue that there are pros that are natural and to that I would say that the genetic component is still there. Natural pros have higher levels of natural testosterone, as a rule. Low testosterone levels would not allow natural pros to carry the muscle they need to be a natural pro. So, the hormone factor remains a critical component of pro potential whether endogenous or exogenous.

5. Psyche

I leave this one for last because this one gets way too much credit and yet without this component, you can have the other four components and never turn pro. What is funny is that most people want to give this variable more importance than the other four and they shouldn’t. No one will ever outwork truly shitty genetics to get a pro card.

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Without the mental capacity to work your ass off day in and day out there is a very real possibility that, even with superior genetics, you may never reach the pro level. Still, it can happen because genetics trumps hard work sometimes. I get that more than a few of you will want to argue this but as much as you argue it, it is still true. Too many people have become pros without working any harder than a lot of the amateurs out there that bust their asses day in and day out, sometimes for decades. Still, psyche is a component of pro potential because if you simply aren’t willing to do the work or don’t have the discipline to diet for shows then you may not reach the pro level. Even for the pros that aren’t working harder than everyone else, they still have the mental capacity to be consistent day in and day out and live the lifestyle to the point that they reach their goals.

When pro potential is discussed, usually the conversation revolves around a bodybuilder’s structure. That is the most obvious way to judge potential. It is not the only way and it is not the only variable. This is why you will find bodybuilders that you thought would never be pros, turn pro. They may not have had an insane structure but they did have the other four components and their structure was good enough to allow them to reach the pro level. To me, that means that even though their structure wasn’t obviously superior to start, it was good enough to allow a pro physique to be carried on it.

Even when someone does have pro potential, there are years of training and dieting that will go into whether that person reaches that level or not. This sport (and I use that term loosely) is probably one of the most demanding out there because it takes so long to reach full potential. Preparation is not just a few hours a day but an almost continuous preparation 24/7 for years before you get a good idea of the true potential that you might have. Don't slow your push towards your dreams, just be realistic and know that not every variable is under your control. Just Sayin'.