For as long as man has roamed the earth a muscular physique has been a point of high admiration; simply examining the work of the ancient Greeks can easily support this fact. While muscularity and a toned shape has always been admired the competitive nature of bodybuilding and what we perceive to be bodybuilding today can be traced back to the late 1800’s and the father of it all Eugene Sandow. Commonly referred to as the “Father of Modern Bodybuilding” Sandow was one of the first to use his physique as not only a means entertainment but a means in-which to make a living. From feats of strength displayed with a lean muscular physique, Sandow would soon discover he could parlay his new found fame into modern business world. From promoting shows similar to the ones where he was the eye of display to producing the first mass produced line of weight lifting equipment, Sandow not only found wealth and fame but an iconic status as well.
Sandow’s success was so great that to this day the top bodybuilding show in the world, the Mr. Olympia rewards the winner with a bronze trophy in the likeness of Sandow himself; it is the same trophy Sandow commissioned made for the very first competitive bodybuilding show in 1901. As Vince Lombardi is to football so is Eugene Sandow to bodybuilding but what does this have to do with steroids? We can confidently say Sandow did not use synthetic anabolic steroids, after all, they were not available until the late 1930’s but there were other similar methods available at the time. During the life of Sandow it was not uncommon for a competitor of any sport to supplement with animal testicular extract; did Sandow partake, we don’t know but we do know that what Sandow started is what has led to where we find ourselves today.
The competitive nature of bodybuilding started by Sandow, while new and exciting for many would remain largely socially unpopular by the masses for the next several decades but soon that would all begin to change. By the 1940’s synthetic testosterone was highly available and by the 1950’s one of the most popular steroids of all time would rapidly hit the shelves in the form of Dianabol. These were the first two anabolic steroids made available and athletes of all sports would begin to use them heavily but it was bodybuilding that perhaps owed the biggest debt of gratitude. Through the 1950’s and 60’s we would begin to see physiques of a far more impressive nature; bigger, better and more well-defined. With the emergence of such bodybuilders as Steve Reeves, Reg Park and Clarence Ross for the first time in history bodybuilding begin to gain some legitimate notice in the 1950’s and the following decade would prove to be even bigger.
By the 1960’s, while still a more or less underground sport the athletes were truly reaching remarkable levels of conditioning and size; by this time steroids were as available as water from the tap and the good news for the athletes was they were 100% legal. Legendary bodybuilders such as Sergio Oliva, Dave Draper and Larry Scott were displaying physiques unlike any had ever seen but once again, the 1960’s would pale in comparison for what was to come.
In 1968 the face many associate as the reason they themselves found their way into bodybuilding finally arrived in the United States. Known as the king of bodybuilding and in most circles as the gold standard, if anyone ever put bodybuilding on the map it was in-fact Arnold Schwarzenegger; not only did he bring it to the masses but to this day he is the face of the sport.
During Arnold’s era, most commonly known as “The Golden Age of Bodybuilding” this would in-fact be the true dawning of serious steroid use in the sport and it would continue to grow from there. You’re most basic steroids could be found during this time, many that are the most popular today were just as popular in Arnold’s time. It was during this golden age when bodybuilders would talk very openly about their steroid use, it was not uncommon to see steroids passed around openly right on the gym floor. No, these men did not have an understanding of the hormones like we do today; they simply understood that they worked and worked well.
By the time the 1980’s rolled around bodybuilders were bigger than ever and thanks to Arnold and company the fan base had grown more than anyone could have ever expected. However, it would be during this period of time that steroids would really begin getting negative media attention, so much so that the laws surrounding them would begin to strengthen their grip. Even though the grip would strengthen the use of steroids would continue to rise and inevitably lead to how we perceive bodybuilding today.
From 1990 to the present day we may aptly label as the “Modern Age.” During this time we have seen bodybuilders grow past what anyone thought humanly possible; so much so that the father of bodybuilding Eugene Sandow looks like an ordinary man in comparison. Much of this transformation is due to increased steroid knowledge, understanding how the hormones react and how best to utilize the reactions with training and nutrition. However, while steroids and the knowledge of has considerably grown many credit other performance enhancing drugs as playing just as much of an important role; most notably Insulin and Human Growth Hormone.
Since the time of Arnold the bodybuilding fan base and overall popularity would continually grow; through the 1990’s while it seemed poised to really garner heavy attention, by this time the use of steroids had been so damagingly publicized and demonized that much of what was gained would soon be lost. Since that time competitive bodybuilding has been stuck in a cycle of highs and lows but never reaching the popularity it was once so close to having. Many blame steroids for this fact; many people blame that without a personality like Arnold on the scene steroids are all anyone can see.
It should be noted and you may find this fairly interesting when you really sit down and think about it; as steroids have always been used in all sporting competition and as their use has grown in bodybuilding so has it in all of the major sports we enjoy every day. So why is it bodybuilding gets so much of the negative attention, why is this what steroids are most commonly associated with if it exists in all sports? The only way we can answer these questions is to examine the role of steroids in bodybuilding and the sport itself.
In general terms it is one of the simplest things we can define for its true definition is in the name itself; bodybuilding is simply the pursuit of building the body. While this is rather a simplistic view, although correct on the surface there must be more to it to give it a specific purpose in-terms of competition. In this case, in its true form to define bodybuilding is to build a physique that is modified beyond its original state, one that is enhanced in muscularity and definition. The extent one takes this modification and enhancement will largely be dictated by their desired end goal but under its competitive aspects the most highly developed and defined wins and if steroids can help you reach this end goal and they will, it shouldn’t be too hard to see why they are so heavily used.
"Is bodybuilding a sport" it is a question that has been asked many times and because steroids are such a major part many emphatically state “no.” However, this logic is riddled with holes for if steroid use or the lack there of deems a competition a sport then no sports would exist at all. The other argument and it is the sounder one, is that since there is no athletic competition on stage it is in-fact not a sport; but is this a truly correct assumption?
Bodybuilding is unique from most other forms of competition; while sports such as baseball and football take place on a field, the sport of bodybuilding takes place in the gym; the stage is more or less a point of display where rewards and accolades are handed out, much like the locker room is for a winning baseball team. Granted, there is the posing aspect of competition that does take some athletic ability; if you’ve never posed you’d be surprised how difficult of an endeavor this is to undertake. However, the posing, while important is not nearly as important as the physique in-terms of how it exist, therefore we can again point towards the gym as where the competition really is.
True, all athletes in all sports train in a gym and then compete on a field or arena but bodybuilding is much different when it comes to in the gym training. Other sports are in the gym to increase function; muscular contraction, muscular sculpting and defining are of no concern where as for the bodybuilder it is the only concern. The gym is where he throws his fastball; it is where he executes his strategy and implements his action. So is bodybuilding a sport? If you define it by the rules of competition then absolutely but if you’re dead set on all sports must be played on a field that’s fine too but the more important question is how do steroids truly factor in?
By no means are steroids an absolute necessity to competitive bodybuilding; you can build a good physique without them and compete if you so desire. However, if an awe inspiring physique is what you desire and you’re not a fan of steroids we have some bad news for you; it’s not going to happen. Steroids are to bodybuilding as the bat is to baseball; by the very nature in-which we define competitive bodybuilding steroid use must exist. True, we could change the definition, we could change the criteria of competition but does this really help anything, especially when we consider the professional level? One of the most important aspects of professional sports, all professional sports is that the competitors are far superior to the average man; do you want to go to a baseball game where only 60mph fastballs are thrown or a football game where a Hail Marry is 20 yards?
Of course not and the same can be said of bodybuilding; no one wants an average man standing on stage; most of us can see that when we stare in the mirror. The entire purpose of competitive bodybuilding, especially professional is to display physiques unique and powerful, unattainable by the average man or most any man for that matter. In order to achieve this end steroids must be used but guess what, those NFL games you love watching, do you believe these players have increasingly enhanced speed and strength by evolving magic? Think about that for a little bit and tread lightly before you bash bodybuilding for its steroid use and compare to your own favorite sport.
While steroid use is a necessity to competitive bodybuilding, especially at the professional and high amateur levels it is not the end all be all. Steroid use will not replace sound training and by no means will it replace smart nutrition. The stronger the grasp one has on nutrition the stronger and more efficiently they will be able to maximize their steroid use and parlay that into a more successful competitive pursuit. Further and this cannot be overstated; competitive bodybuilding relies very heavily on your genetic structure as well as your own genetic response to steroids. Some individuals will simply do better than others because their genetic makeup is superior in that regard and some will respond at a higher level from anabolic steroids. Normally, those who have a stronger genetic structure prone to muscularity without steroids will respond in a superior way. Is it fair, maybe not but that’s life.
Regardless of where your own genetics and response levels fall, as powerful as they are steroids are not magical and they cannot take a genetically inferior physique and turn it into a top pro bodybuilding competitor. However, with the right genetic structure steroids will provide the finishing touch needed to reach above and beyond normal results. Even so, even if you possess average genetics steroids can and will greatly alter your natural state but only to a degree. To truly be one of the great ones you will need to possess not only sound knowledge of all aspects but far superior genetic structure even without steroid use.
A great deal of what we know about steroids is derived from competitive bodybuilding; all of it, of course not but there is a debt that is owed. Moreover, as we have discussed, what we know and understand of anabolic hormones has in many cases led to a better understanding of how our muscles work, how our hormonal structure and function is laid out and in within these understandings we have found ourselves wiser in-terms of general health and fitness. A great deal of what we see today in popular culture is owed to steroids and competitive bodybuilding and since the two go hand-in-hand many aspects of fitness can trace their roots to competitive bodybuilding.
Thanks to competitive bodybuilding we have seen an explosion of a more health and fitness aware society; the gyms where we exercise were built by competitive bodybuilders, the exercises and routines, the basic nutritional principles we understand were all first discovered and perfected by competitive bodybuilders; without them there is no fitness craze. Nevertheless, because of the negative attention they are given and the manner in-which they are often perceived, steroids have always been viewed as a major sore on the competitive sport yet without them the competitive sport would not exist as it does and we wouldn’t understand the things we do.
The truth of the matter is competitive bodybuilding represents the base and root form of many things admired in popular culture. The bigger than life action heroes of the silver screen, they owe their existence to bodybuilding; professional wrestling, how we utilize training for sports such as football and baseball, boxing and for the most part all competitive sports, they owe much of their existence in their present form to bodybuilding. The macho muscular identity many men aspire to, its roots are largely founded in bodybuilding and what’s perhaps most interesting of all is in each of these aspects steroids are a major part of the game. Our desire for things that are bigger than life, in all aspects of life, while some of them are unique unto their own many have roots that run long and deep in a connection with bodybuilding and steroids as a whole.
There is a constant argument that seems to always inevitably exist and it is based on a desire for things past. Many believe competitive bodybuilding has already seen its pinnacle of success and that a downward spiral or stagnant state is all that is left. This is common with most things in life and many times it’s a matter of opinion but there are also always facts that cannot be ignored. Compared to the “Golden Age” competitive bodybuilding is bigger than ever; the fan base is larger, the shows are bigger, the industry has surpassed a dinky make a couple bucks field into an industry worth mind-boggling amounts.
While the fan base has grown as has the industry as a whole, so have the athletes and you bet, many times this is painted in a very negative light, largely due to steroid use and the perceived evil it holds; but does anyone really care? The sport, while still a generally underground sport in many ways is bigger than it has ever been, by this simple logic, even though some may complain, the use of steroids has done nothing to hinder bodybuilding at all.
Bodybuilding by its very nature is an unnatural pursuit; our bodies have no desire to change and they absolutely have no desire to pile on massive amounts of muscle. We are creatures of a naturally stagnant nature and while our natural state will vary from person to person, regardless of who we are this natural state exists. To change this natural state we must force our bodies to act and perform in an unnatural manner, we must force it to grow and define but to truly rise above normal, hormonal help must exist. Yes, you can absolutely be a natural bodybuilder and build a good solid physique beyond your natural state; you can achieve this without the use of anabolic steroids. However, a true freak of nature, a man far beyond average in terms of muscularity will not achieve this without the use of steroids and if he hasn’t achieved this there is no competitive sport of great interest. Chris Bell once said steroids were as American as apple pie; well, for competitive bodybuilding it is the pie and as long as the muscle game is played many people will inevitably want a piece.