“Why is it, that weak lifters always have to make the claim that stronger people are using steroids?”
Recently, an anabolic steroid using powerlifting poked fun of me (a natural lifter) for being weak. When I asked him if he used steroids (I already knew the answer to the question), rather than answer me, the anabolic steroid using powerlifter replied with the question above.
I would now like to take the time to answer this question. Here’s why.
Anabolic steroids make the average lifter WAY stronger and more muscular. When steroids are added to the mix, it changes the rules.
For the record, I have no problem with lifters who use anabolic steroids. Dozens of lifting partners of mine over the years have used them, and I honestly couldn’t care less, as long as they went about it in a wise and safe manner. However, I have a HUGE problem with anabolic steroid using lifters who poke fun of natural lifters for being weak. In fact, I believe it’s one of the most deplorable things I see on the internet. Think about it – these individuals are taking substances that artificially make them bigger and stronger, then going around and bullying lifters who are natural. If you do this, it makes you absolutely pathetic.
Lately, I’ve seen an onslaught of comments from steroid-using powerlifters that are quite puzzling to say the least. Here are two of them: “Steroids don’t do the work for you, sure they help you recover faster but you still have to put in the work,” and, “Natural lifters love to play the steroid card, but 90% of it is hard work, nutrition, and consistency.” WHO DO THEY THINK THEY’RE KIDDING? Do these guys really believe this? Steroid-using powerlifters and bodybuilders don’t work any harder than natural powerlifters and bodybuilders. We all put in the work, it’s just that steroid-users have drastically altered physiology which causes them to see much greater gains.
In my experience, many steroid-users grossly underestimate the role that steroids play in their strength development. I’d have a lot more respect for the lifter who admitted that without steroids, he’d be pretty ordinary in terms of strength and physique. In fact, one of my lifting friends openly admits this, and it cracks me up. He’s a jacked cop (ironic, I know), and he’s said on numerous occasions that, “Man, before I took roids, you could barely tell I lifted weights. Now guys envy my physique and women flock to me.” This guy is honest to a fault, but he makes us all laugh.
Many steroid-using powerlifters don’t have a good grip on what transfers best for the natural lifter, and they don’t optimally understand program design for the natural lifter. Why? Because many of them have never controlled variables. Fluctuating drug cycles confound training/nutrition cycles. Because when the going got tough, many of them simply took more steroids. Many figure out quickly that taking another gram of testosterone or adding in trenbolone transferred very well to strength and got them through their training ruts. Because it came too easy for many of them. Most never spent 8 months hammering the bench press, only to gain a meager 10 lbs of strength. Many never took the time to learn the effects of different protocols. When they were stagnating, many simply took more juice.
It reminds me of this Robert DeNiro speech in Limitless.
As a consequence, I’ve found that many training programs written by steroid users are too harsh for natural lifters; some of these programs contain excessive volume which the average natural lifter could not recover from. This is why it’s important for lifters and coaches working with natural lifters to train naturally themselves (or at least cycle on and off for ample amounts of time) and to train or train with natural lifters.
Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, I’d like to discuss some aspects of testosterone and androgen usage. There are several articles that I will call upon, which are linked below. Please click on them if you’d like to download the full papers.
The first thing you should know about testosterone is how much a normal person makes. Healthy men produce approximately 4.0–9.0 mg of testosterone per day, with blood concentrations ranging from 300 to 1,000 ng/dL (10.4–34.7 nmol/L). Females typically make 1/10 to 1/20 of this amount and have blood concentrations in the range of 15 to 65 ng/dL (0.5–2.3 nmol/L).
So, if you’re a male, your testicles pump out approximately 7 mgs/day of testosterone. In males, around 95% of this testosterone is made in the Leydig cells of the testis, whereas 5% is made via conversion in the adrenal cortex. Around 2% of this testosterone is free (unbound) in the bloodstream, whereas 35-38% is bound to albumin and 60-63% is bound to sex-hormone-binding-globulin (SHBG). In women, around 50% of testosterone is produced through peripheral conversion of androstenedione, with the remainder of production concentrated in the ovary (25 percent) and adrenal cortex (25 percent).
Quantities Taken by Elite Lifters
Now let’s look at what amounts the top lifters are taking. Here is a quote from a recent Ryan Kennelly video. For those of you who don’t know who Ryan Kennelly is, he used to be the strongest geared bench presser in the world, until he got put behind bars for selling steroids and other drugs. Here’s what Ryan had to say about steroid use and strength development.
“Basically later on in life instead of getting steroids from my friends and having to buy them, I got on the internet and realized that they can be purchased on the Internet in raw form. Basically testosterone powder and all the raw forms of the ingredients and it was much cheaper. So I invested in that because in 2003 when I benched eight hundred and knew I had to go for 900 I knew I needed a large amount of steroids.
The amount that I was taking like I referenced earlier, waking up to three syringes which was nine cc’s pointing up in the air in the bathroom when I woke up each morning. I also ended up going to the ranch home store because, why have three needles when you can buy a large syringe that were used for horses that had like 25 CC’s/25 milliliters and just fill that up? So the amount of steroids that I had were for personal use and not for resale or distribution.
Let me make a point, the amount that I was taking in 2003 consisted of at that time, going for 900 pounds, I was taking twenty five hundred milligrams of testosterone a week, eight hundred milligrams of nandrolone deconate a week, 75 milligrams of dbol a day and there was also fast-acting testosterones that I was taking upwards of a hundred milligrams of those a day.
The long-acting testosterone from my calculations the plasma half-life is about 14 days they kick in in about seven days but seven days wasted I need some that’s kicking in now. I would take testosterone propionate or testosterone no ester that I would make up myself in oil with sterile alcohol, sterile needles, sterile syringe filters. I would make bottles of it because I was going through upwards (bottle holds pan 10-13 milliliters of liquid) through roughly 10 bottles every 10 days at the time.
At that point it didn’t seem like a lot because if you know anything about injecting and how steroids work in the body, there are things your body called receptors. They are like flowers and after a while your flower start to will, meaning the amount you’re taking to 1500 milligrams and you’re not getting the desired effect. This is because your body is not accepting it so in return you take more. Or you take more of a different ester like testosterone cypionate is one ester. You take twenty five hundred milligrams. Once your body gets used to that, you change to testosterone enanthate, which can attach it to a different receptor.
By juggling these things at the time you learn that you can only inject so much. Your body can only handle so much injected into itself. Then you start consuming these oral powders and using insulin as a transport drug. What insulin does is it unlocks the cells in your muscle and it is very dangerous taking insulin. People could die and it’s something you go to your local Walmart and buy a bottle of humulin-r insulin for twenty-five dollars. Basically what insulin does is it shuttle’s all what you consume in your body into your muscle.
So basically I was taking the steroid powders, taking a tablespoon of certain ones adding it with orange flavored tang and I would drink these throughout the course the day. I would inject this medium acting insulin that in my mind, according to other athletes I spoke with at the Arnold classic and other athletes from overseas, this a technique that they are using now. They claimed increased water retention increased size and increase strength.
So on top of injecting 3- 4,000 milligrams a week I was also consuming orally as time went on. This upset my stomach, made me pale, and made me puke. That didn’t last very long because you cannot lift and gain weight when your pale sick and puking. In my mind that’s not going to be what benefits you in the long run.”
Ignoring the fact that Ryan was wrong about some of his steroid knowledge, he confesses to taking the following amounts of steroids:
- 2,500 mgs testosterone enanthate per week
- 800 mgs of deca durabolin per week
- 75 mgs of dianabol per day (525 mgs/wk)
- 100 mgs of testosterone propionate per day (700 mgs/wk)
- 4,525 mgs of anabolic steroids per week
When Ryan wanted to get to a 1,000 lb bench press, he knew he needed even more steroids. He didn’t mention that he needed another two years of solid training, where he’d periodize his training and implement strategic assistance lifts at various time points. It was all about the steroids. He knew that this amount would take him to this level, and to get to the next level, he’d need to take this amount. At any rate, let’s compare the milligrams of androgens for a natural lifter and world class bench presser:
Natural Lifter: 7 mgs testosterone/day
Ryan Kennelly: 646 mgs androgens/day
It has been reported that many top bodybuilders will take between 1,000-2,000 mgs/wk of anabolic steroids per week, with some reaching up to 5,000 mgs/wk (see HERE, HERE, and HERE). I’ve heard rumors of powerlifting gyms bragging that their main lifters take a minimum of 3,000 mgs/wk of testosterone as a base, while adding orals on top of it. As I mentioned earlier, normal blood levels of testosterone range from 300-1,000 ng/dL. It has been reported that pro bodybuilders tend to have testosterone levels of around 3,500 ng/dL, with a maximum of 21,000 ng/dL (see HERE), but keep in mind that they’re taking a lot more than just testosterone (they also might be taking steroids with names such as Deca-Durabolin, Dianabol, Winstrol, Primobolan, Equipoise, or Trenbolone, along with other drugs such as IGF-1, Cytomel, Human Growth Hormone, and Clenbuterol).
What Does Testosterone Do?
Here are the various effects of testosterone:
- Increases lean body mass
- Increases cardiac tissue mass
- Decreases body fat percentage
- Increases isometric and dynamic muscle strength and power
- Enhances recovery ability between workouts
- Increases protein synthesis, accretion, and nitrogen retention
- Decreases catabolism
- Increases muscle cross-sectional area
- Stimulates growth of the epiphyseal plate
- Increases erythropoiesis, hemoglobin, and hematocrit
- Increased vasodilation
- Increases bone mineral content, density, and markers of bone growth
- Regulation of osteoblasts, bone matrix production, and organization
- Increases glycogen and creatine phosphate storage
- Increases lipolysis and low-density lipoproteins and decreases high-density lipoproteins
- Increases neural transmission, neurotransmitter release, myelinization, and regrowth of damaged peripheral nerves
- Repression of myostatin
- Behavior modiﬁcation (i.e., aggression)
- Acute elevations in skeletal intramuscular calcium concentrations
- Decreases sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG)
- Increased androgen receptor density (depending on the androgen, the dose, the duration, the muscle, and the tissue)
- Increased satellite cells and androgen receptors in satellite cells
Many are aware of some of these effects, but most aren’t aware of all of them. Testosterone works through a variety of anabolic, anti-catabolic, neural, and psychological mechanisms.
How Does Testosterone Effect Strength, Hypertrophy, and Body Composition?
Hopefully you downloaded the articles that I linked earlier and can explore the studies to a greater extent, but here are a couple of highlights from two of those papers:
In the following study, subjects were given either 25 mg, 50 mg, 125 mg, 300 mg, or 600 mgs of testosterone per week. The graphs below illustrate that testosterone’s effects on hypertrophy are fairly linear.
In the study below, subjects were given 600 mgs/wk of testosterone. In the group that exercised, this caused total testosterone levels to raise by approximately 800%, and free-testosterone levels to raise by over 600%. As you can see below, taking ample testosterone is better for hypertrophy than lifting weights, and taking testosterone on top of exercising is markedly better for strength than exercising-alone.
Anabolic Steroids are Used with Females Too
Most people assume that anabolic steroids are used only by males, but many top female powerlifters, top female bodybuilders, top female figure competitors, and even top female bikini competitors take anabolic steroids too. They do not openly discuss this, as they would be judged and ridiculed too extensively, but nevertheless it’s happening all over the world.
In this case, they don’t take testosterone as it’s more harsh for women and leads to too many undesirable side effects. Therefore, they’ll often take oxandralone (aka Anavar), which has a favorable anabolic: androgenic ratio for women. Because women typically possess 5-10% of the blood levels of testosterone that men do, they tend to respond very well to small doses of androgens such as oxandralone.
For this reason, often the routines espoused by steroid-using female lifters tend to not be progressive enough for natural lifting women.
It Goes Both Ways
While the steroid-using lifters need to be sympathetic of the natural lifters, the natural lifters also need to be sympathetic of the steroid-using lifters. Many natural guys tend to assume that if they did a steroid cycle, they’d blow up and be just like Dan Green. First of all, just like with natural lifting, there’s a large inter-individual variation in the response to steroids. Some guys blow up and other guys don’t grow too much. Second, these guys should certainly be respected as they’re putting a boatload of weight on their backs or in their hands every day. One minor mistake can lead to Snap City. When you’re squatting 3 hundy, you have more wiggle room with improper form, but with a grand, your form better be spot on. This is why bodybuilders often adjust their programs so they’re not using so much weight on big lifts, for example utilizing pre-exhaustion techniques, high reps, drop sets, ultra-strict form, and pause reps.
Finally, the life of a steroid-user is not as glamorous as it seems. Steroids are expensive and illegal. They can do jail time if caught, and there are a lot of ancillary drugs and supplements that must also be taken to minimize the damage to their organs or to keep certain hormones in normal ranges (ex: Nolvadex). Their bloodwork (hematocrit, cholesterol profile, etc.) and blood pressure is often atrocious. They battle with sleep apnea and fluctuating moods and sex-drives, and many have trouble performing simple daily task such as wiping their butts or washing their backs. Last, their caloric intake is much higher (and expensive), and it becomes a chore to meet calorie and protein requirements day in and day out. The grass is not always greener on the other side.
Most of us lifters couldn’t care less if our colleagues experiment with anabolic steroids. Personally, I don’t judge lifters who take roids. However, I do have a problem with steroid-using lifters who surf the net and poke fun of natural lifters, and with steroid-using lifters who deny or attempt to understate their efficacy. If you take anabolic steroids, remain humble and enjoy your expedited strength and hypertrophic gains. Ripping on natural lifters when you take steroids make you a pathetic, mentally-fragile bully.
Ten years ago, I did some MMA training for a couple of years. We had around a dozen gym rats come through our doors during this time, and most of them only lasted a day. They’d get choked out or pounded around by guys half their size, and the vast majority had egos that got the best of them which enticed them to quit on the spot. I can’t help but wonder if some of these same bullying powerlifters would poke fun of the much weaker MMA fighters if they were face-to-face. If so, they’d get their butts handed to them. I respect powerlifting strength very much, but I respect humility even more. At any rate, I hope this article sheds some light on why natural lifters “play the steroid card” when steroid-using lifters are talking smack.