My Problem with Steroids


I have a bit of a mixed opinion on steroids.  In one sense I generally believe people should be able to do whatever they want as long as they aren’t hurting other people.  Even if a certain activity carries a higher level of risk, if an adult wants to engage in it, so be it.  I don’t think base jumping is particularly smart but if someone wants to do that, who I am to stop them?  Hell even riding a motorcycle isn’t the greatest idea when it comes to examining the risk vs reward ratio (although motorcycles are cool, you can’t deny that) but again just because I may choose not to do it doesn’t mean I am against other people choosing to do so.  And I don’t think the government should be the one making that decision either.  If we go down that road too far some might suggest regularly deadlifting over 500 lbs isn’t worth the risk vs reward ratio and obviously we can’t have that.

When looking at drugs, the pendulum is clearly swinging towards decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, yet from a behavioral point of view I think marijuana is likely just as harmful if not more so than steroids (based on emergency room visits associated with usage it blows steroids out of the water).  And the trend is certainly not toward the legalization of steroids.  Steroid usage now carries sharp penalties and the dosage is often misunderstood (so that a normal user might be assumed to be a dealer).  I certainly don’t agree with the way the government is classifying and treating those that use steroids.  And if one looks at the fact that alcohol and tobacco are legal, both of which are clearly more damaging to one’s health and the state of the union as a whole than steroids or marijuana, the entire concept of what is legal and why gets thrown for a loop.

If you lived on an island and you wanted to take steroids to look bigger or perform better, I really won’t have any problem with it.  As Louie Simmons’ said in the great documentary Bigger Faster Stronger – “who am I to judge you and who are you to judge me?  Your morals are your morals.”  And on an individual level I agree with that concept.  But you don’t live on an island, you live in a society and you are compared (directly or indirectly) with others and therein lies the rub.

All sports, all aspects of fitness, and certainly strength are entirely relative concepts.  We think a 500 lb bench press is good because very few people can do that.  If everybody could bench 500 lbs we would think it is mediocre and whatever that statistical marker that is equivalent to a 500 lb bench (which I argue is .000002% of the population just in case you were wondering) would be considered super strong.  If almost no one could bench 135 then we would think that is bad ass (although 45 lb plates and bars probably won’t be very popular in the gym).  A “good” or “bad” performance is ultimately ranked and compared against others, and steroids make a noticeable enough difference (likely 5-20% in the realm of maximal strength) to throw off the equation.

It would be great if all steroid users just had that famous asterisk next to their name or their performance, if only it were that easy.  But life is always complicated.  There are different types of steroids, how long were you on them, what dosage did you use, what other drugs did you take – the list goes on and on.  And ironically in the push to eliminate steroids, it actually makes those who would be open about using them have to essentially hide that fact to minimize legal and social repercussions.


My biggest beef about steroids is when looking at things from a kid’s perspective.  How is a kid or a teen supposed to know that this lift was done on steroids or this lift wasn’t?  That this guy is on steroids and this guy wasn’t.  When you are athlete (or a celebrity) you are a role model, whether you want to be or not.  And when you are an athlete your performance is just one of many benchmarks that get thrown into the hopper to create this idea of being relatively “good” or not.  I appreciate the fact that our sport is at least more open about steroid use than most, with drug tested feds and those feds that are not tested, and I respect those lifters that use and limit their competitions to the feds that don’t test for drugs.  But the bottom line is this is not about individuals and your specific rights or mine.  It is about relativity.  It is about setting an example for future generations.  It is about what one should do.  In the words of Mark Bell “steroids are not for kids.”  If that is true, then athletes on steroids can’t be for kids either because you can’t have one without the other.  If you take steroids, you have to acknowledge that you are encouraging someone else, somewhere out there, to take steroids as well, and that someone may likely be a teen that wants to be just like you.

Drug use in sports, or even just for recreational purposes, is a complex issue.  I don’t know what the final answer is, but I do know the answer doesn’t include steroids.

Share your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear them.


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7 thoughts on “My Problem with Steroids

  1. Mark

    I don’t normally comment on articles I read on the internet, but as a youth sports coach and high school coach I felt compelled to let you know how much I appreciated your words. Whether we like it or not, kids look up to us as adults for guidance and will follow what we say, and even more so what we do. Our actions do have consequences, not only for ourselves but for young people who look to us for us direction. Again, thank you.

  2. Tim Henriques

    Mark – thanks for sharing your thoughts, I am glad this resonated with you. Keep up the good work by working with younger athletes.

  3. John Finn

    Mark unfortunately on powerlifting steroid use is common and athletes talk about it openly. If one starts using it, everyone else needs to do so to be on the same level.

    Good article, thank you.

  4. Jon Landau

    Tim, great article but the one issue I think that you are skirting is the NATURAL GUY considers steroids are CHEATING. I am not sure if I consider them cheating and I have been drug free my whole life.
    Like the Great Louie Simmons said “people on steroids train harder”.
    I have trained with juicers and boy do they make gains, which is something that I envy but with the aforementioned side effects would not subject my body to.
    Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Lance Armstrong…..just got caught, plain and simple and at the TOP of every sport, the competitors all look for that edge that will give them the win. Lets just remember that these drug users are at the top of their game and if I were to make millions of dollars a year, I might be juicing also.
    The IOC only test for a few types of steroids and the name of the game is staying ahead of the testing curve.
    Most of the time, insecure, inferior lifters just use that steroid excuse to explain why they haven’t reached their potential.
    Pot is becoming legal throughout America because it can be grown and processed in your backyard but you need laboratories take juice and the Gov’t CAN control that. The movie Bigger, Faster, Stronger explains the saga very well.
    Thanks for taking both sides into consideration.
    Jon Landau *

    *denotes natural

  5. Jon Landau

    P.S. You have a 700lb deadlift, almost everyone would accuse YOU of juicing. That is the ultimate compliment. You have super-human strength. Great job

  6. Dashaun M. Lipscomb

    Louie Simmons has been doing steroids for fifty years and is healthy and strong as the strongest convict, behind bars, amazing for a seventy year old man. His secret moderation, just as psychiatrist teach the depressed and mentally sick. As long as it’s legal, moderation is key, he( Mr. Simmons) does steroids every eight days. He has doctors approval and blood an lab work checked out. All I can say is it’s worked very well for him. One man’s heaven is another man’s hell (many didn’t make it from steroid abuse and even with moderation you must be careful).

  7. Aaron Barlow

    I’m 51 years old and just started getting into powerlifting. I’m slowly getting stronger, I deadlifted 210kg for 2 reps the other day, but I remember being in my 20s and getting roid-like gains as a casual gymgoer just by being in my 20s. Boy is it a slog in your 50s. I can understand why older lifters take roids or HRT but for me its not worth the health damage. I’m never going to be a pro, so there’s no reason to cause organ failure and shut down my ability to produce the meagre amount of testosterone I do naturally.

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