should you take lifting advice from people who use steroids?
3 MAJOR RED FLAGS TO AVOID
by Alec Enkiri | 12/21/20
Today we're going to be covering one of the most contentious of all topics in the fitness industry...and that is steroids! More specifically, should we, as natural lifters, even be taking training advice from people who themselves are not natural? The problem here stems from the fact that there is a big difference between training naturally and training enhanced, even just mildly enhanced, which is the zone where many of the supposed "fitness" influencers likely fall. And you know exactly who I'm talking about here: the fake nattys who look just good enough to amass a huge following and make you question their natty status, but not so good that their protests can't still create plausible deniability. This does not hold true with someone like, say, Mike O'Hearn, for example, who could produce a trillion consecutive negative tests for anabolics and still no one would believe he was actually natural.
All natty, bro.
Another issue here is that in the current era of social media fitness many of the highly popular influencers are very, very young as well. They hopped on the juice train not a day past 20, rode it for a couple years, got super fucking jacked, and then decided they were enough of an expert to start a YouTube channel and become the next big thing! Now, I'm not saying that people in their early 20's cannot be relatively knowledgeable on the subject of weight training and fitness, far from it, however, it stands as a fact that much training wisdom is a product of experience, and experience is a function of time. So if you are very young you likely simply have not been around long enough to figure everything out just yet.
That's no one's fault and the wisdom will come with time, but if you also compound that with the fact that you started taking steroids very early on in the game as well and were never forced to figure out what works for the natural trainee in a long game scenario then in all likelihood there is going to be a massive disconnect between what YOU THINK is good advice for the average person, and what is ACTUALLY good advice for the average person.
But it isn't just young guys who fall victim to this either. There are seasoned guys pulling similar junk as well, for me Ryan Humiston immediately comes to mind as he is probably one of the more popular ones at the moment. But here you have a guy who has been in the game for a long time, has built a very impressive physique, and carries far, far more muscle than I could ever even dream of. However, he comes onto YouTube, amasses a huge following which by default is going to consist primarily of beginner trainees, and then goes on to basically discourage traditional progressive overload, essentially by straw manning the concept of adding weight to the bar - and dissecting that advice specifically is a whole other topic for another day. But in Ryan's case you've got a guy who is obviously very strong and who obviously built his base of strength and muscle using many of the very concepts that he now speaks out against. He's also very obviously pushing the gas pedal pretty heavily. It doesn't a rocket surgeon to figure out that a big, strong, enhanced guy like Ryan is going to be able to get far more out of many of the unique techniques he currently espouses than a young, weak, inexperienced trainee with no muscle on his frame to speak of.
And don't get me wrong, I do NOT believe that Ryan's message is invalid. I just don't think that YouTube is really the correct platform for preaching it. Yes, people are receptive to it because much of it sounds novel and exciting, but his channel is akin to trying to teach a baby how to sprint before it can even crawl. The application is simply incorrect. And that's really what I want to cover today. Choosing to be enhanced is fine. I do not give a shit, I don't judge people, and I truly do not care because why on earth would I? But the simple fact of the matter is, the great majority of us are NOT enhanced. The majority of us are still natural and we still want to make damn good progress in the gym and we need advice that is designed around that notion and caters specifically to that "limitation."
And so if, as an enhanced trainee and coach, you are unable or unwilling to discern those differences, the differences between what works for an enhanced trainee vs. what works for a natural trainee - or should I say what you can get away with as an enhanced trainee whereas being a natural trainee physiology is NOT going to be quite so forgiving - if you're unable to discern those differences, for whatever reason - lack of experience, or you've simply become disconnected with reality over time - then it becomes an unavoidable fact that your advice is just not applicable to trainees who are natural, ergo, your advice, while it may sound cool and different and exciting, in the real world is simply not applicable to the vast majority of people who step in the gym and it's mostly just going to cause them to spin their wheels and waste their precious time.
So today I want to covers 3 major red flags to look out for. As I alluded to a minute ago, just because someone is enhanced does NOT mean that by default they cannot provide you with solid and legitimate training advice. However, being around the block a few times myself and spending a lot of time in the social media fitness realm, I've noticed that many of them simply do not. A lot of the advice doled out by enhanced social media influencers is, frankly, bullshit and is simply not the best way to help YOU achieve your fitness goals, most especially not initially. So if you see somebody who looks very impressive but is probably not natural, and you start thinking "ok this dude knows his shit so I'm going to hang on his every word" maybe first check to see if any of these 3 major red flags are present and, if so, then you should probably run the other way as fast as you fucking can.
Red Flag #1: Not Much Emphasis on BASIC Compound Exercises
This is kind of the biggie right here. The next two red flags will kind of umbrella out from this, but this is the big one. If you take nothing else away from this article then this should be the takeaway point to remember: anyone who is fucking jacked as hell and telling you you don't need to do compound exercises in general, or that the tried and true basic compound exercises "suck" for some particular reason, or that you should exclusively be doing their novelty variations that are essentially futile attempts at re-inventing the wheel primarily for the sake of standing out from the crowd and gaining notoriety - then this isn't the person you need to be listening to or taking heartfelt advice from. The basics are the basics for a reason, and that is reason is that they work. They build size across the whole body, they build strength across the whole body, and they do so in the most efficient manner possible for the natural trainee.
Ya know, compound lifts.
They are difficult enough and create enough of a systemic disruption to oust homeostasis and convince the body to add metabolically expensive muscle tissue. They can also be progressed upon for a very long time - assuming optimal set, rep, and programming protocols are adhered to - allowing you to build more strength, subsequently making everything you do in the gym more productive. So if anyone is telling you, as a natural trainee, and most especially as natural trainee who is still a relative beginner or even an intermediate, that you should not be emphasizing these tried and true exercises and instead that you should be emphasizing more isolation type movements or novel variations instead then run far the hell away from that person and never look back because in all likelihood that person has been on the gas for so long that they are simply disconnected from reality at this point and have no clue about what kind of training is actually required to optimally build muscle and strength in the natural trainee.
Red Flag #2: Overemphasis on Cables & Machines vs. Free Weights
Now this red flag is probably going to be a little bit more contentious with more of you than red flag #1, but hear me out first because this kind of piggybacks off the same idea. If you are performing an exercise using a cable or a machine the difficulty of that exercise will simply never be able to match the difficulty of that exact same movement pattern when it's performed with a barbell or even a pair of dumbbells in certain cases. And the bodybuilders and the enhanced guys are going to jump on this point and say that mechanical tension is the only thing that really matters, and while there is some validity to that statement where muscle hypertrophy is concerned, it's certainly not the end all be all, especially not for natural trainees.
Here, ask me if I'd rather lead off my leg workout with 4 sets of 10 on the leg press or 4 sets of 5 on the front squat. Go ahead I'll wait.
While we wait.
Legs built by leg presses or squats?
I'm glad you asked! I would rather use the leg press.
Shocked? Well you shouldn't be. Of course I'd rather use the leg press because it's fucking easier, but it's not as productive. The mechanical tension directly on the quads might even be higher with the leg press than it is with the front squat, but there's a lot more that goes into a front squat than simply the mechanical tension generated within the quadriceps.
And I'm still gonna go with the front squat anyway because of exactly that. There's A LOT MORE going on. And that "a lot more" is kind of important and can't really just be glossed over when it comes to the natural trainee. Aside from the overall systemic difficulty of the exercise which, in the absence of a plethora of exogenous hormones, is in part what forces the body to overcome homeostasis in the first place - if your body doesn't feel threatened to adapt then it simply will not adapt because it's wasted energy otherwise. But there are also the aspects of heavy spinal loading, massive core engagement, the incorporation of the entire upper back, the necessary contribution of many of the stabilizing muscles in the hips and ankles, actually having to stay balanced on your feet, and a much larger degree of total body intra-muscular coordination. All of these aspects tie together to create a much more potent systemic stress, which in the end is going to lead to greater strength gains and more muscle growth in the long run in the natural trainee, even in the quadriceps specifically, mechanical tension be damned.
The body is a system and its designed to work as a system and obsessing over each constituent part when the whole is much much greater than the sum of said parts is to miss the forest for the trees. It's a duplicitous notion brought about by people to whom the laws of physiology no longer apply and as such it should be promptly ignored, discarded, and forgotten by natural trainees.
Red Flag #3: Overemphasis on "Chasing the Pump" or "Feeling the Muscle"
And finally, red flag number 3! And this one kind of piggybacks off the last point in that it's easier to feel the muscle working, and deliberately generate a lot of tension within the muscle and get a bigger, better pump by performing machine work and cable work, as well as isolation work. The problem with this, again, is that these exercises simply do not create enough of a systemic disturbance to impact very much meaningful change in the natural trainee when they are treated as the cornerstone of the training program. There's nothing wrong with getting a pump. I wouldn't call it orgasmic like our friend Arnold once did, but it's still cool. As well, there's nothing wrong with trying to enhance the so called "mind muscle connection." There really isn't, especially when using that philosophy merely as an adjunct to enhance the primary work, which is the big bang for your buck, traditional, compound barbell exercises. But focusing on pump work, and fluff work and just trying to "feel the muscle" working hard and doing so at the expense of actually working hard is the fast track to making minimal fucking gains.
Working hard or hardly working?
Now, if you put these exercises and techniques where they belong: in the back half of the training session after the heavy squats or overhead presses or chin-ups or rows or deadlifts or whatever the main lifts that day happen to be, then they can actually be very useful. Incredibly so even. I've been making use of a lot of high rep work lately myself, with minimal rest time in between sets and really just trying to finish off my sessions by catching a big pump, cramming a lot of work into a short period of time, and simply becoming more aware of the action and function of the specific muscles that I'm working that day. Just yesterday I finished off my training session by doing 100 reps for time on the weighted dip using an extra 45lbs and I completed all 100 reps in about 12 minutes.
It was really hard and I had a huge pump in my triceps afterwards and my chest was sore as hell for the next 3 days. It was great! I've gained a lot of muscle in my upper body these past few months thanks in large part to the incorporation of techniques just like that one.
But I did that after heavy Larsen pressing; after hitting 8 triples, 24 moderately heavy reps, on the Larsen press. And if I didn't already have the strength required to bench press 315lbs or do a heavy dip with 200lbs strapped to my waist then there is no chance that all that high rep, high density dip work that I used as a finisher would have been able to add as much muscle to my frame as quickly as it did. It has been able to be so productive for me in recent history because the requisite set of physical capacities needed to make it so already exists. I already possess them. But if I didn't then this work would mostly be for naught.
So again, there's a time and place for it and the value is certainly there, but you need to keep it in perspective and understand where that value actually lies. It isn't the cornerstone; it isn't the anchor; it's just the final piece of the puzzle and anyone who tells you the opposite is most likely on a dose of that good good juice.
So there you have it. The 3 biggest red flags to watch out for when taking advice from enhanced lifters. It's not that you shouldn't take training advice from anyone who takes steroids, it's just that a great many of them have either lost touch with what its like to be a natural trainee, or they simply never really had that experience in the first place because they hopped on the juice train at such a young age.
The great irony here is that many of the techniques and ideas that I've mentioned in this article are actually good training ideas and concepts. I've really opened my own eyes to a lot of these things in recent history. But without that enhancement they simply aren't enough in and of themselves to spur on the kind of results that most natural trainees are dreaming of. And they are NEVER ever going to be able to replace the hard work that goes into building your initial base of strength and muscle, which requires a few years of grueling work on squats, and bench presses, and overhead presses, and chin-ups, and deadlift variations, etc. etc. etc. Once that base is built, however those aforementioned techniques actually become a lot more valuable overall and a lot more effective, even for natural lifters.
But until that time comes you need to be leery of anyone who is spouting off this sort of advice because without that base and without the enhancement you might as well just perform Dr. Joel Seedman's air resistance training instead - the results you see are going to be about the same in both cases.
Dr. Joel "The Troll" Seedman! Air Resistance is the next big thing.
This same article in video format on my YouTube channel. Be sure to check it out!