We have a problem in competitive bodybuilding, a big one, and too many of us are in denial. To be fair, I was in denial until recently. Matt Porter? His situation was hereditary. Dallas McCarver? He choked on his food, or it was from insulin, or anything other than steroids. Andy Haman? He had triceps surgery—an infection or something not related to steroids. John Meadows? It couldn't have been steroids. Phil Hernon? Do steroids cause kidney problems? Mike Matarazzo? It must have been all of that red meat he ate. George Peterson? He passed away at the hotel right before the Olympia; it must have been diuretics. He hadn't used diuretics for the show yet? Well, it couldn't have been from steroids.
The thoughts above have been my thoughts. They may or may not be correct. They might be related to steroids, related to genetic issues, existing or hereditary health issues, or any other reason that you or I may know absolutely nothing about. Hell, my sister passed away in her sleep at 29-years old; she certainly didn't use steroids. The problem is that every single one of the bodybuilders I listed above has admitted to using steroids at some point in their bodybuilding careers. Whether they abused them, used them "responsibly," cycled on and off, did blood work, took precautions, I have no idea. All I know is that they used them for long periods of time, and they died long before they should have. This last sentence cannot be argued whether you believe they died from steroid use or not.
Let me be very clear on something so that those of you who are pissed off and defensive after only reading the last two paragraphs will understand: I support adults using steroids. I feel that adults should do what they want to do if it doesn't negatively impact other people. If you have the right to get drunk or smoke pot, you should have the right to use steroids. You don't have to agree with me, but it's my column, and my job is to give my opinions. I am quite sure that if you disagree, you will let me know in the comment section. My point is that I am not against the use of steroids, and I am not the type of person that would tell other people what they can and cannot do. I don't judge any of the people I listed above. In fact, I have a lot of respect for every single person that I listed. I am convinced that steroid use in bodybuilding is a huge problem that will only worsen unless something changes.
I do not believe that bodybuilding federations are responsible for controlling steroid use. It is not the responsibility of prep coaches, either. The decision should be the sole responsibility of the individual. If I don't want to die from jumping out of an airplane at 10k feet with a parachute strapped to my back, I should probably not get in a plane, climb to 10k feet, and jump out of a perfectly good airplane. However, just because I would never jump out of an airplane, I believe others should have the option. As individuals, we need to be damn sure that we are clear about the consequences, and most just don't get it.
The following are my opinions based on being in this sport for 37 years, competing for 30 years, and using steroids for the vast majority of those years.
My life will be cut short, whether directly or indirectly, from steroid use. I denied it for years, but I have come to grips with this in the last few years. I denied it like the large majority of competitors deny it. Though testosterone use is healthy in small doses, most of us are not using the small amounts that have demonstrated positive health results.
The amount of muscle we carry is not healthy. The heart has to work harder, whether the added weight is muscle or body fat. Being muscular and lean at 220 will put more stress on your heart than being muscular and lean at 180 or 190 pounds. When bodyweight goes to 250 or even 300 pounds, the stress is even more pronounced. Many of us are arrogant, and we have ourselves convinced that we somehow offset the negatives of steroid use because we work out. I don't know how many times I have heard someone say, "I don't drink; I don't smoke; I eat very healthy; the only thing I do is use steroids." Yay for you. I did the same things, and I accept that I will die sooner than had I not used steroids as long as I have used them. Finally, I'm realistic and honest with myself.
Whether taking diuretics for competition or not, anything a competitor does to eliminate water from the body to "get harder" makes the blood more viscous. If a competitor is using steroids, his blood is almost always more viscous already. Combine the two, and I can't figure out how more competitors aren't dying than are dying now.
You don't have to agree with my opinions. You are free to do whatever you want and take whatever you want. Again, I support your right to do that. At the same time, I want to be fair by telling you that too many of us are putting our heads in the sand and denying the risks associated with steroid use. You might not be there yet, but as more people die, especially if it is someone you are close to, you will feel the impact and hopefully question what you are doing.
I know what I have done. I see the impact it will likely have. Every single night since John Meadows passed away, I put my head on my pillow, and while staring at the fan blowing in my face, I make sure to sleep on my left side with my head and shoulders as elevated as possible while still being comfortable. Why? Because you are less likely to have a heart attack sleeping on your left side. Before I go to sleep, I look straight into that damn fan and think to myself—every single night—that I might not wake up in the morning. It's a hell of a thing to be reminded of...
Ken “Skip” Hill has been involved in the sport of bodybuilding for almost forty years and competing for twenty-plus years. Born and raised in Michigan, he spent 21 years calling Colorado home with his wife and their four children. Four years ago, he and his wife traded the mountains for the beach, relocating to South Florida. His primary focus is nutrition and supplementation, but he is called upon for his years of training experience, as well. He started doing online contest prep in 2001 and is considered one of the original contest prep guys (when the bodybuilding message boards were still in their infancy). Skip’s track record with competitive bodybuilders is well-respected, and he also does sport-specific conditioning, including professional athletes.