One thing constant in the sport of powerlifting is that no lifter likes to accept that another person could be stronger than they are. There's always an excuse: Well, he's a weight class above me. He's been training longer than me. He takes steroids!
The final excuse is the most common. The most popular way to discount another lifter's success is to claim that he takes more, or stronger, performance enhancing substance than everyone else. Is this really accurate, though? How often are steroids the defining factor of a lifter's success?
For today's Table Talk, Dave discusses the concept of a "natural ceiling" or of maximizing genetic potential. He begins by responding to the following question:
"What is the potential of a raw natural lifter? You've talked about taking steroids as your ace card and I'm extremely close to a 500-pound bench without drugs. I have a hard time believing that people have bench over 600 pounds naturally. What are you thoughts?"
Dave's short answer to the question is that there has almost certainly been lifters bench 600 pounds or more drug-free — and the lifters you believe must be using drugs may not be. Even Dave, with all of his time in the sport of powerlifting, has made assumptions about the drug use of other lifters, only to find out he was wrong. There have been times that Dave was fully convinced a lifter was using drugs, only to find out that they weren't.
Specifically, Dave has had many all-time top one to three lifters approach him and say, "Hey, I think it's about time that I try to go on." Many times this happened, Dave felt like the lifter was being dishonest and was surely already using drugs, only to find out that they finally went on and put 600 or 700 pounds on their total in the following six months. Because of this, Dave always believes a lifter when they say that they're natural.
He also shares the story of two lifters he knows personally (but allows to remain anonymous) who were setting all-time world records, who Dave knows for a fact were drug-free. These two lifters didn't want to say that they were drug-free because they didn't want to deal with everyone thinking they were lying.
So what's the point of all this? People with the right genetic potential can lift unbelievable things without using performance enhancing substances. Assuming that someone is using drugs just because they can lift more than you is a big mistake. In the sport of powerlifting, Dave still believes that most lifters are drug-free — and if you disagree, look at the top 100 lifters list and look at what the number 50 guy or the number 100 guy is lifting. If you don't believe these numbers are achievable naturally, powerlifting isn't for you.
Dave's final point is that most lifters overestimate the impact of drugs. A lot of people believe they change everything for a lifter or will immediately take you to the top of the sport. There is no performance enhancing substance that will take a shitty lifter and make him a great lifter. If you want to really reach the top, every other part of your training and recovery will be more important than the drugs. Furthermore, if you believe you've reached your genetic potential, it's very unlikely that you have. Your natural ceiling is not easy to reach. Is your training perfect? Are you doing everything possible for recovery? Did you peak optimally for the meet? There are always other areas to improve.