Mark Oakes Natural Bodybuilder Interview

Mark Oakes


The following is an interview with natural bodybuilder ‘The Natural Oak’ Mark Oakes.

Age – 39

Training Gym – Future Fitness in Coventry

Sponsors – Reflex Nutrition, BioCare

Full-time employment – Biomarker Team Manager for Roche Products Ltd.

I was always involved in sports from a young age; starting gymnastics aged 4 and Karate at 7 years of age. Playing Rugby at school, the gym and strength training complemented all the sport I was involved in at the time. It was when I was training at the local YMCA that I was introduced to the idea of “Natural Bodybuilding” and those around me convinced me that I might do well. I decided to give it a go, really enjoyed the whole experience, and never considered stopping ever since!

I completed for the first time at the age of 19 in the South East qualifier for the ANB (Association of Natural Bodybuilders) and came second, thus qualifying for the British Finals. Since then I have competed more or less alternate years. The highlights so far being:

2002 – ANB u80kg British Champion

2005 – NPA Overall British Champion

2007 – UIBBN u75kg World Champion

2011 – UK DFBA Open UK, u80 Kg Champion

2011 – NPA Overall British Champion


  1. What has been the best piece of advice you have received?

The most valuable advice I received is to be consistent and regular with your training and nutrition. There is a tendency in the sport of bodybuilding to keep on changing the way you train and not give anything much of a chance to work by consistently doing it over a period of time. Also from a mind set point of view, it is important to have a ‘never say die attitude’. This mind-set has probably come from when I was much younger around the age of 7 to 21 and training in Karate. The attitude that was installed into me by my teacher (Hanshi Steve Arneil) was ‘keep going, never give up’ and this has been influential and guiding throughout my years training and competing in the sport of natural bodybuilding.


  1. What advice would you give to anybody wanting to get fit and improve their health?

I don’t like giving advice that is just ‘one size fits all’ because the advice you give has to be specific to what their goals and objectives are. What they are training for e.g. a particular sport, to lose weight or just to get fitter. The main advice I would give is to have a plan and stick with it. This plan can just be in terms of before you get to the gym, for instance I change my workout everytime I go to the gym, but I don’t make it up when I get to the gym.  I have a plan beforehand and I know what I want to achieve in the session. That plan is week by week and month by month, I stick to it. When you enter the gym you should know how many reps and sets you are going to achieve. Also, when training you should be focused solely on the exercises and not get distracted. So the main bit of advice I would give is to have a plan and stick to it. Beyond that…leave your mobile phone in the locker!!


  1. What has been the highlight of your career?

It is difficult to give one particular thing or achievement as a highlight, since I have had so many. The first time I won a British Bodybuilding title in 2002 (ANB u80kg British Champion ) was a big highlight and pinnacle of what I had achieved up to that point as that was where I wanted to get to at that point in my training. Another highly satisfying achievement was progressing and achieving a world title in 2007 (UIBBN u75kg World Champion) as that was a progression from being a British Champion.

Crucially, though some of my greatest highlights have not been the result of winning shows. In 2011 I competed against Andy Palmer. Andy is somebody who I have always held in high esteem and it was the first time I had an opportunity to compete on stage with him which was a huge highlight for me. Another highlight was getting to compete against Richard Gozdecki as we have known each other for a number of years and that was great, especially given his current high standing within the natural bodybuilding world.

Some of the most satisfying experiences I have had from the sport of bodybuilding have been as the result of travelling abroad as a team of natural bodybuilders and sharing the journey together. Bodybuilding can be a very individual sport but when you are there as a team and competing for one another, with people you have often competed against; it gives me a great satisfaction.


  1. Please could you outline your approach to training and your training plan?

My training philosophy and approach has not broadly changed for the past 10-15 years. The only things that I have really changed with my training are some of the movements. About 18 months ago I started working with a training partner again – after going 3 years without one. I feel you train with a bit more intensity when training with somebody else, for instance forced reps. Due to a shoulder injury I suffered I have had to tweak and adjust some exercises as when I was going through my rehabilitation there were some movements that felt uncomfortable and I did not want to risk re-injury.

I train 4 days per week. I have another job and 4 days give me adequate flexibility to train each of the body parts sufficiently during the week around working. For instance, I am not too hung up on whether Monday’s training session happens on a Sunday or a Tuesday, as long as it happens and I get the session in at some point during the week. Within the week I train each body part once and my current training plan and split is (depending on my other commitments):

  • Chest and Triceps on a Monday (plus cardio when dieting/preparing for a contest)
  • Back and Biceps on a Tuesday (plus cardio when dieting/preparing for a contest)
  • Shoulders and Calfs on a Thursday (plus cardio when dieting/preparing for a contest)
  • Legs on a Friday (plus cardio when dieting/preparing for a contest)
  • If I am dieting, I also do a further cardio session on Sunday

When I am dieting and preparing for a competition I do Cardiovascular work for around 45 minutes 5 times per week using the rowing machine, the cycle and the step master. When it is off season I just train with weights and do no cardio at all.

For big body part muscles - for instance chest and back - I will do 4 exercises and for smaller body part muscles - for instance biceps and triceps - I will do 3 exercises. For all exercises I only do 2 sets. For instance, when I am training chest, I will warm up by doing a couple of minutes on the rowing machine and some rotator cuff exercises due to my previous shoulder injury. I then go onto the equipment and machines, for instance pec deck machine and dumbbells, and do the movements I am going to do but with no weights just to get the joints warmed up and mobilised and to get some blood into the muscles that I am going to be training.

 I also warm up the supporting muscles and joints that are going to be working, so when training chest these are triceps and shoulders. Then I go onto the equipment and start with a very light weight just to get my muscles ready. Then we do a comfortable 10 repetitions of 60% of the weight I am aiming to lift. I count all of this as my warm up and the preparation. From that point on I then do 4 exercises (for large muscles) and 3 exercises (for smaller muscles) with 2 sets on each. With regard to the numbers of repetitions I use I am happy to go down to as low as 4 reps and I tend not to do much more than 8 reps. To stimulate my muscles I aim to hit failure at around 6 reps. This rep range suits me and I feel it is one of the reasons why I have a slightly ‘thicker’ muscle look than some athletes I compete against in the sport.

When training chest we might start with incline barbell chest press, then flat dumbbell flyes, then incline dumbbell press and flat press on the floating barbell. We mix up dumbbells, machines and barbells. A key philosophy of mine however, is to mix things up and whatever exercise I start my session with this week, I will use a different exercise at the start of next week’s session for the same body part. So for instance, when training my chest, if this week I do 2 chest pressing movements followed by 2 chest flye movements, next week I might do 1 chest flye movement, followed by 1 chest press movement, followed by 1 chest flye movement followed by 1 chest press movement, equally mixing up and varying whether the movement is performed on the incline or flat. I do not do decline movement. I like to do a completely different order and/or completely different exercises from the week before. Over the years, I have found that this mixing up philosophy has worked well for me.

I am very strict on form and also on not doing heavy squats and deadlifts in the same week due to the stress and pressure it puts on your lower back. So for instance, if I deadlift this week, I won’t deadlift next week but will squat (or vice versa). So I squat and deadlift on alternate weeks. On the weeks I do not squat I do leg extensions. Where I feel I differ from some other bodybuilders is that I do not believe in changing my routine every 4-8 weeks as I believe in changing my routine every session I am in the gym to keep my body guessing and to also help reduce the risk of injury from repetitively doing the same movement. I also am not focused just on lifting the heaviest weight possible but on hitting muscle failure at between 4-8 reps, so it does not bother me if I dumbbell press less this week than last, simply because it falls at a different point in the session, when I may be more fatigued..

Finally, I have a sports science background which I studied at Birmingham University and this I feel along with my experience of training and bodybuilding has helped me to understand the ways that our joints are designed to work and move. I am a big advocate of ensuring that the exercises we train stress the muscles and joints in the correct direction that they are designed to work. This I feel allows you to lift as heavy as you can and also helps to minimise the risk of injuries to your joints and muscle tissues by ensuring correct natural movements.


  1. Please could you outline your approach to nutrition and your nutrition plan?

The following is the structured and detailed contest preparation that Mark followed in 2011:

Between 3am – 6pm when up: 75ml Reflex Micro Whey, 10g Reflex Glutamine, 1x Reflex CLA

7am - BioCare Lipotone Intensive x 1 Sachet

8am - Breakfast: 6 boiled egg whites, ½ tin tuna spring water plus From BioCare: Multi-vitamin x 1, Multi-mineral complex x 1, Vitamin C - 2000mg, Vitamin E - 600iu, Glucosamine Hydrochloride – 1500 mg, Mega EPA Forte x 1, Linseed Oil 1000 x 2, Reflex CLA x 3, HMB - 1000mg

10am - 75ml Reflex Micro Whey, 10g Reflex Glutamine, 1x Reflex CLA

11am - 50 ml Reflex “The Edge” (50g carb drink), 1x Reflex CLA

12pm - 75ml Reflex Micro Whey, 10g Reflex Glutamine, 1x Reflex CLA

2pm - Lunch: 45g pasta shells, 1 tin tuna spring water, ½ tin tomatoes plus Vitamin C - 2000mg, Vitamin E - 600iu, Glucosamine Hydrochloride – 1500 mg, Mega EPA Forte x 1, Linseed Oil 1000 x 2, Reflex CLA x 3, HMB - 1000mg

4pm - 75ml Reflex Micro Whey, 10g Reflex Glutamine, 1x Reflex CLA

5:30pm Train if training day

6:30pm – Post weights / prior to cardio  - 75ml Reflex Micro Whey, 10g Reflex Glutamine, 1x Reflex CLA

8pm - 300g jacket potato and EITHER, 200g tuna loin / salmon OR 200g chicken breast plus Vitamin C - 2000mg, Vitamin E - 600iu, Glucosamine Hydrochloride – 1500 mg, Mega EPA Forte x 1, Linseed Oil 1000 x 2, Reflex CLA x 3, HMB - 1000mg

Before bed - BioCare Lipotone Intensive x 1 Sachet, Mega EPA Forte x 1, ZMA x 3

With every meal, Mark consumes 1.5 l water and mixes all protein in ½ l of water. Mark also consumes as much coffee as desired. As you can see from the above nutritional plan that Mark follows when preparing for shows, he is consistent and follows a plan.


I would like to say a big thank you to Mark for taking the time and effort to answer these questions and sharing some of his experiences of competing at the highest level. The detailed outline of his training and nutrition plan provides a fantastic insight into the dedication and commitment it takes to reach the top in the sport of bodybuilding. Thank you Mark for your time and providing the above image, it is much appreciated. You can follow Mark on twitter at @naturaloak. In addition, I would also like to place on record my thanks to Michael Phillips from the Natural Physique Association for making this interview possible. Please see their website.

Thank you for your time and feedback. It is really appreciated.

“Together, we’ll achieve your goals”

Matt Swierzynski


M: 07936654876


Twitter: @mattswazfitness

"I have seen some great results training with Matt and Matt really does value teamwork and his energy is infectious - keep up the good work Matt!"