Q: I wanted to ask what your views are on the current status of bodybuilding and all the young guys who insist on taking steroids to get ahead in the sport. Is it worth setting up a federation and training organization for drug-free, health-minded bodybuilders? Or are people only interested in the mass freaks? Surely there should be clearer definitions of drug-free and assisted bodybuilding and how to train best for each side of the fence. That’s one of the reasons I like you. You stand your ground and have a mutual feeling on that all-important yet highly ignored issue. It is the biggest lie in bodybuilding—the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Bodybuilders who weigh more than 300 pounds write articles, saying that they got that way without steroids. Somehow I feel cheated to read such things, because some people will read that and then bust their asses in the gym thinking they’ll reach Mr. Olympia size if they train and eat like the competitors vying for the Sandow. In the end, though, they spend good money on endless supplements, wondering why they don’t look like Ronnie Coleman. No amount of training and supplements will get you to that stage without a chemical kick in the butt. I guess, when I was younger, I was one of them. Would it be possible for the Texas Shredder and the Steel Leopard of the U.K. to join forces to bring further awareness on these issues?
A: Thank you for your e-mail. And, yes, I definitely understand your passion. As for my view on the current state of bodybuilding, I’d have to say that I’m deeply disappointed in what it’s become at the highest levels of competition. What has driven it to that point is that judges have continued to reward the “mass freaks.” Bodybuilding fans are to blame as well. We’ve supported those athletes every step of the way. The Mr. Olympia contest draws fans from all over the world paying big bucks to see the biggest, freakiest men and women on the planet. If we stopped paying to see them, the sport would either have to change directions or die.
I’m even more disappointed that so many guys and gals, both young and old, insist on taking bodybuilding drugs—not just steroids—in order to try to get ahead in the sport. The superstars do it, so aspiring physique athletes think that’s what they have to do. I guess in some respects they’re right. Does that make the superstars bad people? No, absolutely not. I know a number of the top pros, and they’re wonderful people. They just made the decision to do what they had to do in order to reach the pinnacle of the sport. Are they aware that they’re putting their health at great risk? I’m sure that they do.
The really sad part is that many people will risk their health just for a chance to win a trophy. Most will never even win a novice title. Athletes who do find success at the lower levels quite often pump their bodies full of drugs for many years and never achieve pro status. Of those who do earn pro cards, only a few will be able to make a living at bodybuilding. Even more disturbing to me is the number of people who are doing the drugs and will never step onstage or on the field of play for any sport. I know a guy who graduated from college weighing about 165 pounds. Using bodybuilding drugs and training, he got up to almost 300 pounds—relatively lean. Every year he says he’s going to compete, but he always feels that he needs to put on another 15 to 20 pounds of muscle. I doubt that he’ll ever compete. Unfortunately, that mind-set is not uncommon.
I don’t condemn those who choose to use performance-enhancing drugs. Again, that’s a personal choice, and they have to live with the physical and/or mental consequences. What really pisses me off are those who use drugs but claim to be all-natural. That’s when they cross the line.
The other thing that really gets under my skin is when promoters and organizations claim to hold natural shows and then don’t do the drug testing. If you don’t claim to be a drug-free athlete or you don’t claim to hold natural competitions, nobody is going to ask. It’s kinda like the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military. You don’t have to advertise it, but don’t claim to be something that you’re not. A few years ago the Austin American-Statesman ran a story on Lee Priest in which he was quoted as saying, “The muscle is all natural.” To anyone involved in bodybuilding, that was laughable. I’m sure, though, that naïve young people and the general population bought it. To me, that’s just disgraceful.
On a good note, I’m very encouraged by the growth of drug-free bodybuilding. When I started competing in 1983, there weren’t drug-free shows, but I’ve seen a tremendous expansion of natural shows over the past 15 years or so, and the quality of drug-free competitors has improved exponentially. A number of people who have attended the Texas Shredder Classic, my drug-tested NPC contest, were inspired to compete after long having given up the dream because they thought they’d have to use drugs to be competitive.
I’m also encouraged by the number of drug-free athletes who have both the physique and the confidence to succeed in nontested shows. I learned last fall that the IFBB has added what it calls “classic bodybuilding” internationally. In classic bodybuilding events there are weight restrictions based on one’s height. Those restrictions remove the incentive to use mass-building drugs. The idea is to reward the perfect physique, not the biggest, freakiest one.
Do we need separate organizations for tested and nontested bodybuilding? I say absolutely no. The world of natural bodybuilding is ridiculously splintered, with organizations that range from those that don’t actually do any testing to those that are very reputable but feature athletes who are completely unknown in the bodybuilding world.
When I rejoined the NPC in 2006, it was the best thing that I could have ever done for my bodybuilding career, my bodybuilding contest and natural bodybuilding. Joe Agostinelli’s Web site, NaturalBodybuildingEvents.com, lists more than 30 natural bodybuilding organizations, not including the NPC/IFBB. The NPC membership far outnumbers all of them combined. Add to that the IFBB membership worldwide, and you have the absolute superpower of bodybuilding. NPC/IFBB contests and athletes get 95 percent of the media coverage in the physique world. By bringing my lifetime drug-free physique and story and my fully drug-tested contest—the New Motion Machines NPC Texas Shredder Classic—under the umbrella of the NPC/IFBB, I’ve been able to reach infinitely more people with the drug-free message.
The publications of the drug-free organizations are preaching to people already totally sold on—and usually already involved in—drug-free bodybuilding. I’m much more impressed with the efforts of the IRON MAN staff under the guidance of John Balik and Steve Holman in promoting the drug-free lifestyle to an audience largely made up of fans of the NPC/IFBB. I’m impressed with the efforts of Dave Liberman in Ohio, Jeff Taylor in Colorado, and my NPC state chairman, Lee Thompson, who not only has supported my drug-free contest but is also the promoter of the NPC Texas State Natural Championships. That’s better than trying to start another splinter organization.
Do drug-free physique athletes need to use different training methods? Well, drug-free athletes don’t recover nearly as quickly, and nutrition is much more important for us. Drug-using bodybuilders can train more frequently and cut calories more dramatically when preparing for shows without losing muscle. Fortunately, a number of guys out there are giving solid guidance to natural bodybuilders—like Paul Burke, Eric Broser, John Hanson, Layne Norton and Joe Klimczewski. Although they don’t compete, both Steve Holman and Jonathon Lawson have amazing drug-free physiques—especially considering Steve‘s advanced age—and their training methods are tried and true. The training and diet for a drug-free athlete is not that different, but it does have to be carefully managed.
We, as proponents of the drug-free bodybuilding lifestyle, just have to keep getting the word out that you can build an impressive body without chemical enhancement. To that end I plan to keep competing as a drug-free bodybuilder. I plan to keep promoting my fully drug-tested contest to give athletes a chance to participate on a level playing field. And I plan to continue writing about natural bodybuilding. We have to keep expanding drug-free opportunities within the NPC/IFBB, and we have to keep presenting natural bodybuilding in the mainstream bodybuilding media.
So, Steel Leopard, keep the fire burning in the U.K. and over the Internet. Maybe I’ll get to meet you when I guest-pose in Dorchester in August.
Editor’s Note: See Dave Goodin’s blog at www.IronManMagazine.com. Click on the blog selection in the top menu bar. To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to TXShredder@aol.com. IM