Search Box

Sunday, May 7, 2017

How steroids mold the body

Two nights ago ran an article about Brazilian Nicholas Santos, who at 37 swam the second fastest 50 meter butterfly in history (and the fastest without a tech suit).

The article featured this photograph of Santos:

Does it not seem almost embarrassingly apparent that Santos is juicing? Here's another picture of him from a few years ago:

His body has all the usual steroid signatures: the line between the pecs is well-defined all the way up to his collarbones; his deltoids taper down to well-defined points on the sides of his arms; he has convex trapezius muscles; he has a medical muscle chart level of definition; and he has veins popping out in places you wouldn't expect, like the outside of his right forearm in the top picture.

I'm sure he's passed all the drug tests he's been given, like many notorious juicers in sport. But the dopers are always a step ahead with new designer forms of artificial hormones for which tests haven't yet been devised.

Swimming seems to be a relatively clean sport. I think most of its biggest recent stars -- Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Katie Ledecky, and Sarah Sjostrom -- are all obviously clean. But swimmers who look juiced aren't all that rare. And it's particularly suspicious when the athlete in question doesn't have any other markers for high testosterone levels.

When you see someone like French rugby player Sebastien Chabal, who was obviously hyperandrogenized as he was growing up --

-- big muscles are supposed to be part of the equation. They fit with the Neanderthal brow, the prominent nose, the wide cheekbones and the big bone structure, all of which express a naturally high testosterone level:

And Chabal, though he was listed as being 6' 3" and 249 pounds, doesn't even look overly muscular.

It's far more suspicious when someone who is basically boyish-looking -- meaning, their facial features and bone structure don't reflect their having had a high level of testosterone while growing up -- has abnormal musculature. An example of that would be Adam Peaty, the British Olympic champion and world record holder in the 100 meter breaststroke:

His huge arms simply don't "match" his boyish face and tiny waist. Here's another picture of Peaty:

Note the way his deltoid tapers down to a well-defined point, and the line between his pectorals extending all the way up to his collarbones. Peaty also shows another telltale sign: incredible, almost unnatural definition around the external obliques (the muscle at the side of the abdomen).

Another example would be Ben Proud, who a couple weeks ago tied the second fastest ever 50 meter freestyle in textile:

Proud has the face of a guy who got picked on in junior high, and the body of a cartoon superhero.

I'm not saying Peaty and Proud are unquestionably doping (I think most British swimmers are clean, a statement I wouldn't make about the Brazilians or Chinese). And I obviously don't have proof that any of the three swimmers shown above are taking PEDs. But, the visual evidence is pretty compelling.

Bear in mind that it's awfully hard to develop such chiseled, bulging muscles while swimming six or so miles per day. Daily hard swimming workouts tend to wear one down and result in long, relatively slender, loose muscle, not the kind of muscle which would look at home on a body-building stage. Contrast the swimmers pictured above with the following examples of world class swimmers with more typical swimmers' builds.

Jack Conger, the American record holder in the 200 yard butterfly:

Will Licon, the American record holder in the 200 yard breaststroke:

Clark Smith, the American record holder in the 500 and 1650 yard freestyles:

Ippei Watanabe, the world record holder in the 200 meter breaststroke:

Aaron Piersol, the world record holder in the 200 meter backstroke:

It's virtually impossible to swim the distances required to be a world class competitor and be left with a sharply defined, bulging, body builder-like physique.

One must always allow for the fact that human beings come in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes. But when you see certain patterns, it's hard not to be suspicious. Especially since steroids leave their mark on a body as indelibly as gluttony, or a taste for tattoos.


hooter tooter said...

Seems to me that you're probably correct re the juicers. I don't know much about swimming, but I looked up some swimmers that do weight training, and they don't appear all that chiseled, more on the lean, healthy and functional looking side.

This is what I was looking at:

John Craig said...

Hooter tooter --
That's a good description of what the combination of swimming and weight training does to swimmers. By the way, of the "normal" swimmers I used for contrast, three of them -- Conger, Licon, and Smith -- swim for the University of Texas, which is known for its tough dry land program. (You may have read the first version of this post, before I inserted the pictures of these swimmers for contrast.)

I've followed swimming all my life (I'm one of those pathetic old guys who never outgrew his sport, as I said in a recent post), and at this point, it seems fairly easy to tell what he juicers are. Of course I can't prove it, but the visual evidence is usually pretty persuasive.

Anonymous said...

John, I agree. That level of muscular development is difficult for any body type to achieve; especially for an elite swimmer's genetics and training requirements.
My question to you: Since these guys are so obviously on steroids, are they sociopaths or at least pathological liars to be able to present themselves as legit?
Would their social environment and authority figures reinforcement serve to reduce the level of psychological disorder required to shamelessly pull it off?

John Craig said...

Anon --
I don't think steroids are necessarily indicative of sociopathy. It's one of those things where there's a positive correlation, but that correlation is far from perfect. Sociopaths are more likely to take steroids and lie about it, but I'm sure there've been plenty of non-sociopaths who've taken them. I certainly understand the desire to take them: I'd love to look like that, and be faster (and I'm an old man who only competes in the far-less-serious sport of masters swimming).

I guess you're asking, would all the positive reinforcement they get from their coaches and fans make it easier to lie about it? Hmm....I suppose it could. Not sure it would reduce the "psychological disorder" -- those tend not to change with circumstance -- but the social gratification would certainly give one more motivation.

Anonymous said...

I guess the question would be how much does environment moderate or accentuate sociopathic or other negative tendencies.
How does such blatant lying and fraud in sports affect other areas of the athlete's life.
The few semi pro or pro athletes I've know were notorious philanderers.

John Craig said...

Anon --
I guess the same sot of personality who cheats at sports is more likely to cheat at love. I don't think the cheating in either area causes the cheating in the other area, the person was probably predisposed toward both. Actually, on second thought, I take that back. Let me put it this way: being philanderer doesn't then cause one to cheat at sports. But taking steroids is supposed to make one incredibly horny, with an out of control sex drive, and while under that sway I think a person is far more likely to have multiple girlfriends. I actually think that's what happened with Tiger Woods: he went on steroids, got sex-crazed, and chased all those bimbos simultaneously. I wrote about that phenomenon here:

Anonymous said...

couldn't you find a sports performance, or "optimal performance" medical doctor to write a prescription for steroids and hgh if you really wanted to, john? i say, for the sake of blog material, you try to find a legitimate way to use performance drugs and then see how strong and fast you get. i'm sure all of your readers would be eager to read about the results.

Theres at least one journalist who did just this thing:


Anonymous said...

Here's a better article by the journo who too steroids


John Craig said...

B (Brian F?) --
Interesting articles, thank you, just read them both. I"m sure I could find steroids if I wanted to, either through a doctor or at any gym where serious muscle heads work out. But I'm not interested. "Blog material" just wouldn't be a good enough excuse to cheat at my sport, plus there are all the long term side effects. I'm not saying I'd never go the testosterone replacement therapy route, but I don't really feel as if I need it yet.

I do see some guys in masters swimming who make me wonder, though. I don't think that most of them are taking TRT or Hgh to cheat athletically, they're just taking it for the usual mix of reasons old guys do -- to feel better, increased diminished sex drives, for more energy, and to look better. But a definite side effect is that they do better athletically. And it bugs me.

Anonymous said...

All of the pro swimmers use PEDs. For people outside of the bodybuilding scene it's only visually apparent when someone uses steroids by overwhelming amounts of muscle. It's worth remembering that tiny skinny endurance runners and cyclists get popped for steroids all the time. Tennis has an enormous steroid problem and yet most pros are skinny-fat. It simply isn't possible to prove that anyone is clean judging by a lack of muscle mass and definition.

Steroids don't just slam pounds of muscle on the body. They tend to amplify the adaptation to training that is already taking place due to increased recovery ability. So a runner who doesn't train with weights won't gain any appreciable muscle, no matter how many grams of steroids they take. They will however increase their endurance capacity due to raised hematocrit. Most steroids do not inhibit endurance contrary to the mainstream myth; the increased hematocrit functions similarly to EPO, except with even more benefits. Their endurance training simply doesn't elicit a hypertrophy adaptation, and in fact it inhibits hypertrophy.

The athletes who look like they use steroids are invariably the ones who train with heavy weights and for whom power to weight is everything; sprinters, sprint cyclists, gymnasts. The difference with swimming is that it rewards a slightly higher bodyfat for buoyancy; steroids tend to reduce bodyfat and increase water retention which is exactly what a swimmer doesn't want. Simply put, swimmers will use PEDs very carefully during the training months (deliberately "missing" tests when they know they would fail) but taper off completely for a meet to pass testing and even gain some bodyfat back. This is why often the best swimmers do not look particularly impressive physically. To believe that the likes of Phelps are natural simply because they do not have enormous striated delts is naive.

Also, all countries give leeway to their best athletes. It isn't fair to say that X country is clean but Y country is dirty. I'm sure that American and British testing is far better than the likes of China or Russia, but the likes of Phelps, Serena Williams, Peaty, Farah, Radcliffe, British Cycling... no one in their federations wants to bring them down, so there is a lot of leniency with how many tests they are allowed to "miss" and they will even sweep positive tests under the carpet as they did for Carl Lewis and which I'm quite certain they have done for Bolt considering the fortunes of his training partners who share the same drug-guru coach.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Maybe I'm naive, but I don't think all top swimmers are on PED's. I agree that a lack of visual evidence does not prove innocence; the point of this post was that when the visual evidence is so obvious, you have to suspect juicing. But I think swimming, unlike track and field or cycling is a relatively clean sport. (Meaning, that there are *some* clean athletes.

The other thing is, there are other PEDs beside steroids, like EPO and human growth hormone, and the effects of those are less visible. (A sudden jump in performance at a relatively late age can be suspicious, though.

I also agree that national governing bodies turn a blind eye toward their best athletes, and I've heard about USTAF and Carl Lewis, and I'm sure that was just the tip of the iceberg. But you could have been able to tell Lewis was on something, given that his performances didn't tail off even at age 36. But with Phelps, when was that big boost come? He was a national age group record holder as a kid, was the longest guy ever to break two minutes in the 200 fly at age 14, and at 15 placed 5th in the Sydney Olympic final of the 200 meter butterfly. Was he juicing in some way then? Maybe I'm naive, but I don't think so.

Slaying dumb americans like trump said...

Why don't you make a post about those jacked americans: Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, Lance Armstrong, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, etc? It seems that you're an medium american like homer simpson that would propably say: "Hi everyone, I'm a dumb and alienated american who thinks usa the only worthy country in the world, all others are dishonorable." I invite you to read about imperialism and how americans killed thousand of innocent people and destroyed others countries just because of money and power. And the lovely american companies that explores slave work in countries like china and india. Bu to you, it's better call athletes of other countries of jacked without any proof, like if the dominance of phelps or ledecky without the use of drugs would be very normal. Hahaha, joke.

John Craig said...

Slaying dumb americans like trump --
I'm sure I'm not going to change your mind about anything here, but in fact I have written about Marion Jones:

About American swimmer Dara Torres:

And about Lance Armstrong multiple times:

And, actually, if you type "Lance Armstrong" into the subject bar of this blog, you'll see a number of other posts too. As far as Gatlin and Gay and Montgomery, they've already been caught, what's the point of writing about that?

So, in fact, I don't hesitate to write about Americans I think are juicing, and there are plenty of foreigners I think are juicing I haven't bothered to write about. But my guess is that you're the type who can only find bad things to say about Americans and good things to say about your own countrymen, wherever you're from.

Anonymous said...

He, this fellow is delving into your mind, John. You're not sufficiently self critical of your tribe. Heresy, dude. Let's get some abasement going there, shall we. Fall in line. Your moral superiors expect better from you.

John Craig said...

Anon --
I'll bet that guy was a Brazilian. I like most of the Brazilians I've met, but an awful lot of them seem to be incredibly sensitive about any sort of criticism directed at anything Brazilian (and I started out by talking about Nicholas Santos). I've actually written a couple of posts about that Brazilian sensitivity:

And the funny thing is, as usual, I get accused of what my accuser is guilty of.