Bodybuilding is ripe with bullshit, lies, and exaggeration. Competitors’ heights, weights, and lifting abilities are boasted about, but are rarely ever true. The magazines are full of ads from supplement companies making ridiculous claims about their products’ capabilities that could never in a lifetime be proven. But, surprisingly, I’m OK with that – embellishment and bullshittery seems to be par for the course with most sports today, not just bodybuilding.
But the claim that actually bothers me to the point that I’m writing this article is one that started being printed in magazines decades ago: that the same guys would be winning the competitions with or without steroids. I first saw it written in the ‘80s, but it probably dates back further than that. Whatever the case, it’s a myth that not only discourages drug-free competitors, it also doesn’t give them the credit and respect they deserve. It’s also, in my opinion, a flat-out lie, which I’ll explain below.
I suspect this fallacy about the same guys winning originated way back before there were any sort of drug-tested events and it became widely known that everyone who placed high was on steroids. Instead of the magazine writers just admitting that drugs were responsible for their wins, they tried to give the sport some credibility and started to say that with or without drugs the same guys would still win because they’re simply genetically superior. There are many reasons they’d be encouraged to write this sort of nonsense, not the least of which is that it would appease the advertisers who sponsored the drug-fueled competitors (supplement companies mostly), so, in effect, everyone would win – except the drug-free guys, that is.
But I can point to two reasons why that argument falls apart. First, to the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a study in bodybuilding to prove that the same guys would be winning with or without drugs. In other words, it’s pure conjecture, and for that reason alone I could say case closed. But I’ll also point to a second thing – namely, the profound effects steroids have that far outweigh superior genetics.
For example, I can remember vividly the first time, in the early ‘80s, that I met one of Canada’s top champions – he came to a gym I was attending. This was when I was naïve and had no idea just how significant the effects of drugs were. He was a multi-time heavyweight champion who, onstage, was purported to weigh about 230 pounds. Even if that weight of his was embellished (it probably was), he had to weigh at least 220 onstage because he was pretty big looking. But when I met him a few months after his last competition, this champ was lucky to weigh 190 pounds and he claimed to already be training for the next year’s championships, which was still many months away. The massive arms he displayed onstage looked much smaller than the arms of many of the guys in my gym, his shoulders lacked the kind of width and thickness a topflight competitor needs, and his legs appeared almost thin in his pants. All told, I couldn’t believe it was even the same guy.
Physique Canada's top two – Denis Pedneault and Rob DeLuca
Frankly, I was dumbstruck at first, not to mention disappointed when I learned that this supposed champion was obviously a drug user. Later that year he was back on the stage weighing at least 220 pounds – I assure you, clean competitors don’t put on 30 pounds just like that. Suffice it to say that that was my initiation into what really goes on in bodybuilding and the lies most magazines promote. I also realized the most important thing that’s been reinforced time and again in the years that followed that encounter: drugs, not genetics, are chiefly responsible for most of the muscles jacked-up competitors carry around, which is something I’ve personally witnessed hundreds of times as I’ve seen competitors, pro and amateur, get off the juice and become shadows of their former selves in no time at all. Believe me when I tell you that while genetics are important, the effects of steroids and other drugs that are common today are far more profound. I can also assure you that the same guys likely wouldn’t be winning without the drugs – most are winning because of the drugs. If that visitor to my gym had stepped on Physique Canada’s drug-test stage as a natural athlete, I’m willing to bet he would have been smoked by the organization’s best.
I can see some competitors and perhaps some writers getting up in arms about me dispelling this myth, but I figure if this lie can be perpetuated for decades without a shred of proof to back it up, I have every right to stand up against it and try to set the record straight. And if any drug-using champion thinks he can still be the champ off the drugs, then let him get off the juice, train cleanly for a very long time, and step on Physique Canada’s stage and see what goes down. Until that happens and I’m proven otherwise, you know where I stand on this topic – and you also know what the truth is.
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