Thursday, July 14, 2011

Roid Fever

Since the Roger Clemens trial (or mistrial as the case may be) is in the news, I wanted to say some things about steroids that you'll seldom hear.

Obviously roid fever has infiltrated nearly every sport for the past 20-years or more. Roids have been around (at least in the USA) since the 60s, but weren't used by much of anybody until the body builders started taking them in the 70s. But even then it was quite a different situation. Guys weren't using the massive amounts of the drug that they are today. They used it sparingly in those days. If you remember the big names in body building at the time—Schwarzenegger, Columbu, Oliva, Nubret, Zane, Ferrigno etc., they were much bigger than body builders that came before them, but they still were nowhere near the size of the guys we're seeing today. During the 70s, these guys were generally known for one or two predominant body parts. One guy was known for his big biceps, another for his legs, another for his back and so on. In fact, if you were to see any one of them just in silhouette, you would still know who they were. Today, every part of the body is massive. In silhouette, these guys all look the same.

In power lifting, we're seeing guys who are lifting incredible amounts compared to weight lifters in the pre-roid era. Paul Anderson was one of the very few lifters who could squat more than 600 pounds in those days. Okay, he could do WAY more, but that was Paul. Guys like him come along once every hundred or two hundred years. He was squatting 800 when his closest competitors were barely getting over 600. Today we see guys doing 800 to 900 all the time, a couple even managing 1,000 pounds. Very few guys could bench press more than 500 pounds before 1960. Today we see guys routinely doing over 750 and a couple over 800! This just shouldn't be. No amount of diet and exercise alone could generate that big an improvement. No how—no way. Roids have been a real game changer; no doubt about it.

Steroids create a great irony also in that they're great at helping the body to heal quickly, but they're also great at helping athletes tear the body up. Guys today have muscles that are easily capable of generating more power than the skeletal frame can handle. It's not torn muscles you see much of today in the gym. It's much more serious injuries like ligament and rotator cup damage. I must say that at my strongest (without juicing, thank you very much), when I was squatting and dead lifting 600 pounds, I often felt like my back was going to break, or my shoulders fall off. You can't imagine how the bones in your shoulders feel when they've got 600 pounds resting on them. A friend of mine at the gym used to look at me and say, "Man, that's stupid weight." He was right. Paul Anderson was different. He not only had massive muscle, he had massive, thick bones—one of the largest skeletal frames ever measured. 600 pounds for him was a walk in the park. I had no business lifting that kind of weight, and I would never do it again. Your body will generally tell you when it's had enough. Mine sure did. But guys on roids just don't seem to hear their bodies talking.

Aside from power lifters and body builders, all of whom seem to be taking drugs today, in other sports the guys to watch out for are the naturally thin ones. These are the guys who go to the gym and workout like hell for a year and still only manage to gain 5-pounds of muscle. When you see someone naturally thin like that all the sudden gain 30 or 40 pounds of muscle very quickly, you can bet he's juicing. But guys like me who can put on weight easily don't need steroids. While there are exceptions to the rule, generally speaking, if you can put on fat easily, you can put on muscle just as easily.

I understand why guys who are naturally thin feel a need to take a drug that will help them compete with bigger guys. After all, athletes are trying to keep their jobs. And lets be honest, if steroids were available a hundred years ago, athletes would have taken them then too. Athletes have always done crazy things to give them any edge they could get. Football players during the 40s and 50s often ate rocky mountain oysters with the notion that it would give them more strength. Paul Anderson actually used to go down to a local slaughter house and drink bull's blood for the same reason. These things probably didn't work, but it just shows what lengths they would go to. It's always been this way.

Now here's a notion I'd like to put out there. Steroids are most often rejected today by sports lovers because it's said that it gives the athlete an advantage over the others who aren't taking them. But what about those naturally skinny guys I mentioned earlier? Would it be wrong to say that steroids merely level the playing field for them? That would probably be true except for the fact that there are a large number of guys who are naturally strong that are juicing today too, so they'll always stay ahead of that skinny guy who's juicing.

Here's another thought to chew on: Isn't weight lifting itself an artificial advantage? Let's take steroids out of the picture a second. Now here we have two guys, one who can put on muscle easily and another who can't no matter how hard he tries. Wouldn't it then be an artificial advantage for the guy who can put on muscle easily? After all, he didn't come by those muscles naturally. He wasn't born with them. He had to workout to get them. By definition those muscles are not natural. But then enters a third guy, and this guy is one of those freaks of nature, a Bo Jackson who was born with 18" arms. He doesn't even need to workout to get muscles. Do you see anything fair in this? The first guy is skinny and can't put on muscle without steroids. The second guy can put on muscle easily by just working out. And a third guy has muscles without doing anything thing; he was born with them. The thing is, hardly anyone disputes the second guy working out so that he can gain enough muscle mass to compete with the guy who doesn't need to workout. Yet we're up in arms over the skinny guy using steroids to do the same thing.

Babe Ruth didn't need to lift weights in order to smash some of the farthest home runs ever recorded. Albert Pujols hits some long ones too, but he's put on around 35 pounds of muscle since he started weight training in 1998, and doing it steroid free. Sammy Sosa could hit homers with the best of them, but he was naturally slim and it took steroids for him to gain enough muscle to compete with the big boys. Is it hard to see why Sosa felt a need to take them? And if we take his awards away, should we also take away those of Pujols since it took weight lifting for him to get strong? Should only naturally strong guys like Babe Ruth be allowed to have muscle, hit home runs, and earn a living for his family doing it? Steroids really do level the playing field for the skinny guy sometimes. We say, "Yeah, but they're dangerous." Actually, it's been said by many physicians that if you find the right steroid for you, and take it in moderation, it can be a real wonder drug. So, if a guy like Sammy Sosa uses the right steroid in the right amounts, and it works like a wonder drug for him with little or no danger, then would it be okay for him to take them? And if steroids are unfair, how about vitamins? They've done wonders for me.

I really don't know the answer. I just don't think things are as cut & dry as people seem to think.

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