I recently had a conversation in the gym with a woman who was once a fitness client of bodybuilder Paul Jean-Guillaume. She trained with him for years and got to know him personally.
For those of you who are not familiar with Paul, he's probably the only (truly) natural bodybuilder I know of who competed in the Mr. Olympia in the late '80s. He also won the 1986 IFBB World Amateur Championships in the middleweight division.
What makes me so sure about his claims of being natural? That's exactly the question I posed to my friend at the gym who is his former client. Her answer:
"Oh… I know he's always been natural. He's so health conscious, he was afraid to put any drug in his body. He refused to even use creatine."
"Forced Reps": Did avoiding them help build the impressive physique of natural bodybuilder Paul Jean Guillaume?
This extemporized disclosure, coupled with his relatively small size when standing beside the Mr. Olympia contenders of 1987, led me to the same conclusion; he probably never "juiced". Don't get me wrong - he had/has an impressive physique. But it possessed more of the attributes for what the late Vince Gironda termed "creating an illusion" rather than a lot of raw size.
Why should this matter? Well, in the abstract it doesn't; it's just conversational. But in the context of training techniques for gaining natural muscle, it means a lot. That's because I clearly remember the opinion of Paul-Jean-Guillaume on the topic of "forced reps" from an article I saw about his training many years ago:
"Taking your bodybuilding sets to failure is going too far", he confidently stated.
What? This was astonishing to me. In my twenties, I was a regular practitioner of "forced reps"; taking sets past failure with the assistance of a spotter. How could someone claim that pushing a muscle to failure is over training? It seemed like blasphemy of an implicit bodybuilding work ethic standard.
In fact, I initially wouldn't drop my practice of forced reps. I stubbornly held on - believing he had to be wrong even though his physique development held evidence that he was right.
Could one argue that Guillaume merely has good genetics and that's why his muscles grew from sets taken short of failure?
Oh… he definitely has great bodybuilding genetics. But experience has now shown me that the exact opposite is the case: you'd have to have super-human genetics to consistently gain muscle by applying forced reps.
His extraordinary genetics took him to elite level competition through sound training and eating habits. Applying those same sound habits (notably - dropping "force reps") can lead you and me to better natural physique development.