Gear in sport.
Drugs in sport.
On occasion someone will bring up the lifting gear or drug use in strength/power sports (steroids, growth hormone, cocaine, etc.) and here is my basic thoughts on the matter:
First and foremost, anyone that is brave enough to compete in general I respect. Anyone that is willing to possible shorten their own long term health (potentially at least) for short term strength gain (significant gain at that) is making a personal decision that should not be taken lightly. It is their choice, not mine, not yours. We can’t inflict our morality or lifestyle on others, but we all have our own reasons for doing what we do.
With that being said here is my basic thoughts on this (which will require the heavy use of metaphor); Natural (drug free) strength sports would be like high jumping and drug assisted lifting would be like pole vaulting. Both athletes must train hard and smart, most work methodically to get to a higher level, but at the end of the day pole vaulters can jump higher than high jumpers. They also accept more risk by jumping higher. (Do keep in mind that an idiot with a pole will still be out jumped by a high jumper and a high jumper that doesn’t train and only complains will never get any decent height at all.) I’m a high jumper and I’m ok with that. When people ask me about my thoughts on pole vaulters I will say “that’s impressive, but that’s not my sport”. I’m not that excited about those performances since that is not the game that I play. Another big part of why I do this (as in don’t do drugs), is I work with kids. I level with them about what those people do to jump so high so quickly. I want them to try hard, to attain the highest levels possible, but I won’t lie to them and tell them those folks did it drug free. Those athletes might not need to use drugs to hit the same numbers. A number of high level strength athletes have done bigger weights drug free (google Brad Gillingham) than many other athletes who were on.
I’ve also trained long enough to watch some people come up in the sport and have first-hand knowledge of when they first went “on” (term for started using steroids). The numbers they attained before then are forever their records as a high jumper, everything after that is pole vaulting. Good for them, not for me. My thoughts are if you haven’t trained hard for at least half a decade before you touch the drugs, you haven’t trained hard enough and long enough to ride the needle into elite. The other thought here is that if you work with people, especially if you train with other folks who aren’t on drugs be honest with them. Don’t lie to kids, they don’t know any better and often trust you.
I’ve seen people quote lifters that used drugs and were honest about it (I’ve had a number of honest conversations about drug use with lifters, I won’t name them, because I respect them) and remove the drug use from their statement as a means to help kids bulk up. This lifter (who I heard the quote firsthand) said: “I drink a gallon of milk a day, eat a sheet cake every night, and use D-bol”. This quote was convoluted to omit the drug abuse which is now a great recipe for diabetes in most kids. I understand the point of instruction, I just leave this realm as soon as lies are involved. When I grew up I genuinely thought all my heroes didn’t use drugs, was that naïve, yes, but I refuse to accept the fact that we should just lie to kids and use the ideas of “if they’re dumb enough to believe me that’s their fault”. Screw you if that’s your mentality (then again that is most of the supplement industry’s tactics). (I really went all Catcher in the Rye right there didn’t I?)
The key is after starting drugs you are now operating from a different deck of cards. Does this nullify everything you have learned and do with your training as useless? No, but research shows that using steroids and not working out will get you bigger arms compared to people that actually train for the same period of time. Some have referred to using drugs as having a second puberty and those of you reading that are male can remember how much muscle appeared in a matter of months after starting puberty. The longer you are on and the more cycles you do the bigger you will get, plain and simple. There is a lot of good research out there and reviews on the effects of steroid use. There still needs to be more work done in this area as far a side effect and useful health promoting application of it (read up on andropause if you’re interested).
The same argument stands for using bench shirts, squat suits, and deadlift suits except for it doesn’t go so preachy with the drug use at the end. At the end of the day it is a personal choice, I know mine in this matter and I respect anyone that does that style of lifting with whatever weights they attain. I just don’t waste my energy on comparing myself to either style of lifter. They have their way and I have mine, as for the true and correct way, it doesn’t exist (Soren Kierkegaard for the win).
I enjoy talking about this topic with folks from time to time. I know a few lifters that battle with the desire to use drugs to gain an edge. I also know a few that use them and due to the legal issues around them can never be fully transparent about their use. I just want to put this idea out there and hopefully a few of you folks out there can gain a little from it.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you are natural or otherwise, good for you. The key is at the end of the day you are training, you are putting in the work. We can all respect one another for that fact. I like the effort more now at this stage in my training (results are nice too). So have fun and get after it whether you high jump or pole vault. Either way you are stepping up on the runway and going hard to fly high.