We are Forerunners. Guardians of all that exists. The roots of the Galaxy have grown deep under our careful tending. Where there is life, the wisdom of our countless generations has saturated the soil. Our strength is a luminous sun, towards which all intelligence blossoms... And the impervious shelter beneath which it has prospered.
One of the most popular posts that I have ever written concerns the use of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancers to achieve gains and strength and body composition results that would otherwise be impossible for natural lifters like me. In that post, I made my own personal point of view very clear: I regard steroids as a shortcut, a way to avoid putting in hard work, and a crutch. I personally do not take them and I am quite open about what I do take in addition to real food.
If you came over to my place, you would find a big tub of low-glucose whey protein powder, creatine tablets, multivitamins (the jury's out on whether those actually do anything, especially if you eat on a proper Paleo-type diet), fish oil capsules, zinc tablets, and DHEA. There is also a tub of L-glutamine which I use quite rarely, and frankly I'm not particularly convinced that it is of any use for people who don't do endurance training.
I eat to keep my body strong. I do not eat to keep it trim or cut or anything like that. So you'll see me eating huge amounts of green vegetables, fruits, meat (especially red meat), and fish. You'll also see me happily indulging in alcohol- mostly red wine- and dark chocolate. This is not the diet of an ascetic or a bodybuilder; in fact, on Sundays I generally choose not to eat anything at all, the whole day, and still put in a very hard workout trying to max out my squats and deadlifts. This is a very far cry from the strictly regimented life of a bodybuilder, where meals come often and are measured to exacting standards; I eat what I like, when I want, and I eat a LOT, just not very frequently.
That's all there is to a natty's life. No fancy powders, no needles full of testosterone, no anabolic steroids, no HGH. Nothing written above is conducive to significant muscle growth- not even the protein powder, which I use simply to reduce soreness and speed up recovery time. Hardgainers like me simply cannot gain muscle that quickly, and the only thing we respond to is pushing ourselves to the limits of what our nervous, muscular, and skeletal systems can handle in the gym. There simply is no other way.
So when I say that I can deadlift and squat and bench certain weights, you can be damn sure that it's me doing all of that, not some BS supplement or powder. I do not claim to be a particularly good lifter- my numbers put me somewhere between intermediate and advanced for someone of my age and weight, but I'm nowhere near elite status.
That being said, let us hear from someone on the other side of the fence, who started out as a natty and became an "enhanced" bodybuilder:
Rich Piana is a championship-level bodybuilder who knows what it takes to reach truly elite levels in that sport. He has made his choices to get where he is today, and he is fairly open about those choices. I do not agree with them, but they are his to make and I can only respect that.
Let me play devil's advocate for a moment and point out the benefits of using enhancements like steroids and HGH. As you get older, your ability to recover from injury or hard workouts rapidly diminishes. I'm already noticing this, and I'm not yet thirty. My ability to bounce back from a truly brutal squats workout is not as good as it was just two years ago. My joints hurt every time I mess up my form- and I'm talking about real pain here, the chronic kind that you don't just walk off between sets. It takes real mental fortitude sometimes to put yourself through the kinds of grueling, brutal workouts that natties respond to- the kind where you have to sit down for long minutes afterwards, staring into space, your mind blank, chest heaving, lungs burning like a furnace.
These are things that enhanced lifters don't have to worry about to anything like the same degree- because the stuff that they are using is doing the hard work for them, helping them recover faster and lift heavier and move better.
Yet ultimately, this never lasts. And then the true value of being a natural lifter becomes clear.
Toward the end of the video, Rich points out that a bodybuilder who starts at 160lbs and lifting, say, 2x bodyweight on his strongest lifts, and then starts juicing to get to 260lbs and manages to lift 4x bodyweight or more, is going to have a very hard time sustaining those gains. Meanwhile, a natural lifter who started out at 240lbs and started juicing to get to 260lbs, will simply revert back to his original level and strength once he goes off the juice.
And eventually, you will go off it. The toll that steroids and HGH take on your body is severe. You simply cannot sustain that kind of performance over the long haul without significant negative effects on your health, your musculature, your nervous system, your sex life, and your physique.
To those of you who are just getting into lifting, or even to those who have been lifting for a while, and are tempted to take steroids as a way to enhance your gains, I simply have this to say: the gains that you make when juicing are an illusion. You won't be able to sustain them. On the other hand, if you focus on your form, keep pushing yourself to take on heavier weights and bigger challenges, and are safe in the gym, then the only real upper limit to your abilities is purely genetic.
Sure, you won't end up looking like Arnold- almost no natural bodybuilder or powerlifter ever does. But you will be able to keep lifting and being strong for the rest of your life. Never forget that powerlifting, in particular, is a marathon and never a sprint; the progress that you make is measured in small 5lb increments, and often comes painfully slowly after the initial burst of significant gains. It may take you months- even years- to add on just 5lbs to your heaviest lifts, but once you get there, you can live contentedly with the knowledge that it was all you.
So if you do decide to swear allegiance to the Iron God, remember that He respects only true strength and real courage- the kind that does not come from any bottle or packet, the kind that you can only ever learn by putting in the work, taking the hard knocks squarely on the chin, and coming back stronger and better than ever.