You’ve been lied to and the fitness industry did it. That sounds outrageous and harsh but let me explain. They have insidiously ruined your expectations, your self confidence, and your self image. I’m not talking about the myriad supplement companies, peddling their powders, or the newest fad workout programs from isometrics and Charles Atlas to BOSU balls. No those lies are relatively harmless, only costing you time and money. The worst lie, the lie that they don’t even speak, is one shown on nearly every magazine cover, instagram account, and motivational meme. They would have you believe that if you work hard, and follow the right diet, you can look like a fitness model too. That’s just not true. Let that sink in for a second.
Most Americans believe that if they put in enough time at the gym and learn a few things, that they can do anything they set their minds to. This is only true if you understand the goal and what is required to get there.
The fitness industry has shown you a path, that while generally healthy, will not get you to the result they show on the pages of their glossy magazines. What is it they aren’t telling us? Is it some training secrets that only the pros and pampered Hollywood stars use to get ready for movies? Nope, it’s much simpler than that. Its called steroids, human growth hormone, and other anabolic agents.
Simply said, the amount of doping in the fitness industry is incredible and always unacknowledged, for various reasons which we will discuss. This article will show you what your true potential can be, and how much greater it is than you might imagine.
Before we start, let’s lay some ground rules. This is not an article bashing people that have decided to take anabolic compounds. Regardless of the legality of these substances, I believe it is a personal choice that must be taken seriously. If you have dedicated your life to being the best in your given field and these types of substances will allow you to continue that journey, perhaps it is worth it to you.
However, most folks using performance enhancing drugs (PEDS) are not in this boat. Most users are recreational bodybuilders or strength athletes looking for a shortcut. I cannot emphasize how insane that is. Messing with your endocrine system for the sake a bigger squat or 15lbs of muscle is incredibly irresponsible. It’s like running your lawnmower on nitrous. It sure will go fast before it explodes, but who’s impressed with a fast lawnmower, besides Hank Hill?
Some of you might be asking, how do I know so many of these fitness models and bodybuilders are using steroids? It’s fairly simple. There has been a fair amount of research examining natural muscular limits for humans. This research has developed an index called the Fat Free Mass Index or FFMI. This index is basically an equation used to determine the amount of lean muscle tissue per unit of height.
Intuitively this seems fairly simple; however, it is not one hundred percent accurate, as there are outliers. That being said, it can give us a very strong indication if someone is using exogenous hormones or not. In this model, developed by Kouri, et al., the researchers compared the height and weight of both steroid users and non users to determine the amount of maximum muscle each group can carry.
In the study linked above, both non-steroid users and steroid users were recruited. The researchers then ran them through the model and were able to predict with a fair degree of accuracy, who had been using. You can see in the chart that there is a significant overlap with those who have been using and are still under the 25.0 limit. These folks are the nitrous lawnmowers. They have taken these substances as a shortcut, not a necessity, and are not even close to natural muscular limits. We know this model is not one hundred percent, but we can infer that if you are significantly higher than 25.0 the chances increase that you are not natural.
Seen below is a chart of FFMI’s from pre-steroid era Mr. America’s. They are split into two groups, with pre-1944 being steroid free with 100% confidence and the post-1944, slightly lower, with high confidence, as some labs were beginning to start experimenting with them. Notice that these folks are all around 25.0, with a few being higher. These calculations are based off of self-reported height and weights. The values in the 27 and 28 range are likely exaggerations in the athletes self-reporting.
I know you are suitably impressed with my ability to find charts, with numbers (you know how hard numbers are for me . . . ), but you are probably asking, “how does this relate to my previous statement that most fitness pro’s are using?” Well, I’m glad you asked. We are going to run some simple calculations, on some popular fitness athletes, to find out where they land on this model.
First is fitness model, power lifter, and former American Gladiator, Mike O’Hearn. From this Muscle and Fitness article, he is listed at 6’3″ 262lbs with single digit bodyfat. This equates to a normalized FFMI of 29.7!!!! In the article he says he doesn’t use, and he’s always been big. Well let me be the first to call bullshit! I’m not taking anything away from the guy, in any way. He works incredibly hard and is a very gifted athlete, but he would not look the way he does at age 47 with out some additional substances. He is also one of the most photographed fitness model on the planet. Still think these guys are natural? Lets look at someone else you might have hear of, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Now Arnold, at his competitive peak, was 6’2″ 235lbs, in competition shape. This equates to a normalized FFMI of 27.4!!! You are telling me Mike O’Hearn has more muscle mass than Arnold, who was arguably the greatest bodybuilder of all time, and an admitted user of steroids (they were legal at the time of his use). This strains credulity to the limit. Feel free to do some googling and run others through this calculator . It is sobering. See the chart and photo below for historical FFMI info.
Now that we know that all is not as it seems, where do we go from here? Well, this is where I show you what you can look like, if you are smart about your diet and work hard.
You’ll notice that these guys are pretty damn big, and many of them were very strong. Reg Park was famously purported to be the first bodybuilder to bench press 500lbs, no slouch even by today’s powerlifting standards. I would further hazard to guess that the majority of my readers would really rather look like that, than today’s current bodybuilders. Heck, even current bodybuilders don’t want to look like they do, they just have to if they want to be competitive, i.e. Big Rami at a mind blowing 41.6 FFMI. So why do these fitness pro’s do this? The answer, money.
Let’s be honest, these people do need to make a living. Often times they are sponsored by supplement companies and other businesses in the industry. They would not make much money if they said, “hey, buy my new product, it didn’t make me big, but try it anyway,” they wouldn’t move to many products now would they. Honestly, we are at fault as well. Humans, by nature, always want to see the biggest and best, the newest and freakiest, not the most aesthetic or realistic. So as a result, they show these folk that have attained these unrealistic physiques to continue to sell products, and these models must keep their enhanced physiques to continue to be on covers, and receive sponsorships. It’s a vicious cycle.
This is good news for those of us that choose to set realistic goals. I believe that the physiques of those previous Mr. America’s are very impressive. They were able to accomplish that level of development with fairly rudimentary training, by today’s standards, and basic nutrition knowledge. We have made a lot of progress in both areas, and as a result, it’s likely to be much easier to reach our limits than it was nearly 70 years ago. Remember, there are only three ingredients that you need to reach your potential, blood, sweat, and years.