by John Romano T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
- The author is one of the world’s top experts on the use of steroids. He unapologetically believes in their usage and teaches athletes how to beat drug tests, including CrossFitters.
- Anyone with the IQ of a chicken breast could pass the CrossFit Games drug test. There are loopholes that can be easily exploited by resourceful cheaters.
- Cheaters do whatever it takes to win. But remember, “whatever it takes” also means they need to be ready to go to extremes to beat the tests.
- Dirty athletes in drug-tested sports have several tools at their disposal: designer steroids that can’t be detected, artificial urine, fast-clearing drug cocktails, and the “duck and dodge” method.
- Even with the best methods, your social game can get you popped. “Administrative positive” basically means you got ratted out. So be nice and keep your trap shut.
Note: This is the second in a series of opinion pieces on the proliferation of performance enhancing drugs in CrossFit, specifically the CrossFit Games. Please note that the specific pharmacokinetics contained herein defer to male athletes. While the loopholes in the CrossFit doping policy are unisex, the chemical side of cheating is pretty much gender specific.
You’re Offended and I Don’t Care
Based on the wildly popular response to my last article on CrossFit and steroids, I thought I’d respond to one of the more popular themes of debate sparked by the original piece.
I’m delving into this topic because more and more of the world is being looked at through rose-colored glasses, and the rosiest of them all seem to be worn by upwardly mobile athletes who also wear at least two pieces of overpriced Reebok dry-cool gear at any given time. My delight is slapping the Kool-Aid drunk back into reality.
What I think – my opinion, based on my experience – is that anyone with the IQ of a chicken breast could pass a CrossFit drug test. But if you think this is going to be a step-by-step tutorial on exactly how to pass the test, you’re going to be disappointed. That’s not the spirit of the article.
If you want me to help you pass your drug test you’re going to have to pay for it just like everyone else – including the CrossFit athletes who come to me. (Gasp!)
Doping Policies for Dopes
The Crossfiteratti are convinced that if any of their god-like constituency would even dare dream of using PEDs they’d wake up and apologize. And to prove that such denial has roots, they defer to a very pretty doping policy designed to make it look like it really proffers an effective deterrent.
At the beginning of their doping policy you’ll notice this trite little entry that defines the purpose:
“CrossFit believes a combination of directed and random drug testing is appropriate for a variety of reasons: to ensure the health, safety and welfare of Athletes; to promote fair competition in sport; to affirm compliance with applicable rules and regulations on drug abuse; to identify Athletes who are improperly using drugs; and to identify individuals and products that may bring disrepute on CrossFit, the CrossFit Games and participants worldwide.
“Furthermore, CrossFit recognizes its responsibility to provide performance-enhancing drug and supplement awareness, and to promote fitness and life choices that are consistent with CrossFit’s models for fitness and health.”
The only problem with such a pedestrian definition of purpose is that it not only foils the tone of the entire document, but it also contradicts itself. First of all, “fair competition in sport” is a fallacy. Beyond all reasonable efforts, there wasn’t even such a thing as fair competition in sport as far back as the days of ancient Greece. So, to even bring that up shows its hoakiness.
The contradictory element is evinced where it says, “…to ensure the health, safety and welfare of Athletes.” There’s more than enough proof to substantiate the fact that if you really want to hurt yourself, then you should definitely do CrossFit. A great many health practitioners will profess this as an undeniable fact, making CrossFit, in their opinion, one of the most injury-prone sports in existence today.
Another undeniable fact is that anabolic steroids have demonstrated – in mountains of studies peer reviewed and published in prestigious journals – that in addition to building muscle mass and liberating fat stores, steroids elicit significant recuperative effects.
CrossFit, known for its demonstrative injury rate, in all good conscience should be promoting safe steroid use and not dressing its windows with a doping policy that has more holes than a thick wedge of Fontina cheese. Ah, but the law, the public image, an idea upon which the gods would frown… If the ultimate stance is a contradiction, it’s best to just avoid the issue like they do in bodybuilding.
I particularly like this little passage: “…to identify Athletes who are improperly using drugs.” And, after they are identified? Then what? “CrossFit recognizes its responsibility to provide performance-enhancing drug and supplement awareness.”
Really? So they’re going to identify athletes who are using drugs improperly and then teach them awareness? Of what, how to do them properly? But then that would contradict: “…and to promote fitness and life choices that are consistent with CrossFit’s models for fitness and health.” You mean, live with nagging injuries resulting from improper training protocols?
Yeah, never mind. Let’s get back to the demon “steroids.”
Cheating: Whatever It Takes
While CrossFit seemed to have tried very hard to emulate the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) anti-doping code it fell short, leaving loopholes through which any number of able coaches could stroll wearing a top hat and twirling a cane.
According to CrossFit’s drug policy:
“All registered athletes are subject to banned substance testing at any point during the year, including random and unannounced testing during the off-season for any reason.”
Sounds severe, doesn’t it? Well, let’s peel back the layers and see where the holes are.
A word of note: For all of what’s involved in slithering around rules, regulations, protocols and drug testing – for large sums of money – every person of indifferent morals (such as yours truly) who does this on any regular and successful basis has their own way of doing things. My way certainly isn’t the only way.
These days there are many crafty coaches and chemists around the globe that really know their ****; I just feel honored to slither among them. My intent here is to open up my particular toolbox and let you see what I have at my disposal, not to proclaim its uniqueness nor to teach you how to use it.
Some of the following may seem a bit extreme. But, remember, if you’re cheating then you have to cheat all out. You can’t half-ass this; there’s far too much at stake.
And, if you’re a level 10 player, protocols are tight, but they still squeak enough to get by. But you have to be willing to do whatever it takes. This should be no problem because you already decided to do whatever it takes to win, including cheat. In so doing, you must also be willing to do whatever it takes to get away with it. You can’t decide to do one without the other.
If you’re not willing to keep a bag packed at all times in the trunk of your car and have enough room on your credit card to drop what you’re doing, head to the airport, and buy the next available ticket to bunghole Egypt then you shouldn’t play this game, because that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“Whatever it takes” in this arena is a serious volley. Which reminds me, you’re also going to need an attorney versed in steroid litigation. I recommend Rick Collins; he’s the best there is.
How the Cheaters Cheat
If we are to follow the CrossFit doping code, there are just a few dimensions of cheating in which an athlete should become adept if he’s to get away with doing whatever it takes to win. Here are a few of them.
Suck or “Retire” to Avoid Drug Tests
According to WADA, and to some degree followed by CrossFit, if you’re an exceptional athlete in your chosen sport, or begin to exhibit marked improvement in your size, strength, and speed, you’re going to be profiled as a “high risk of doping” candidate.
That means you’ll be put in a special pool of other exceptional athletes. You’ll be tested at a minimum of three times in 18 months, or any time they want to test you – which can be a lot. So, the number one best way to minimize being tested is to suck.
If, however, you do not suck, then the best way to pass a drug test is still not to get tested. The best way to avoid that is to announce your retirement right after the CrossFit Games. If you’re retired you’re not included in the testing pool. You can announce your return to competition before the next regional event you plan to enter, or sometime soon before the Games when you know you’ll test clean.
Take Drugs That Aren’t Tested For
The second best way to pass a drug test is to know which drugs on the banned list have no current test to detect them.
CrossFit admits to banning “most” of the drugs listed on the NCAA banned list. Those it does list are many, and CrossFit further admits that the listed items do not constitute a complete list. They’re basically leaving the door open to include any drug they want any time they want, even drugs that have “not yet been named!”
Their only problem with such an ambitious list is that they include several items for which there is no test. So, while they can say you can’t do these drugs, there’s absolutely no way they’ll ever be able to catch you doing them. In essence, they’re relying on the honor system – or your ignorance – to keep these drugs out of competition. If you’re cheating, then this is a license to do so.
Never Take a Drug Test You Can’t Pass
“Knowing” you’ll test clean is critically important administratively as well as for the chemist involved. This is done by finding a lab that will expeditiously conduct a test on your urine sample, or blood, or both and give you the results. It might take a good song and dance, a pile of money or a trip to another country to get your testing done, but it’s something we do all the time.
I would never let a high-profile athlete take a drug test unless we already knew he would pass it. Remember, on our side this is a far simpler process than on the other side. We only need a test for the drug we know you’re taking.
They are testing you for a laundry list of drugs they don’t know you’re taking, so they have to test for quite a few and it’s expensive. It’s also pointless if you already know the answer. In the words of Sun Tzu, “Never fight a battle you cannot win.”
Duck and Dodge the Drug Testers
Now, what about “No advance notice out of competition testing.” This one is my favorite because it sounds so stringent and insurmountable, and rightly so. On the Olympic level this is the most difficult aspect of the game.
It has recently been made even more difficult since WADA added an extra veil of difficulty. High-risk pool athletes are required to provide a detailed quarterly whereabouts report that not only accounts for every day of their lives, where they spend the night, work, train, etc., but also includes a one-hour window where the athlete will be available every day at a specific time and location so that they can be visited by a tester. But, CrossFit isn’t taking WADA’s lead on this one, so you don’t have to worry.
Now, it’s up to the athlete/coach as to whether or not “no advance notice out of competition testing” is a matter of contention. Things could be done in a specific manner that makes the test a non-issue. Just pee in the cup. What you’re taking is either not on the test or there’s not a currently acceptable test for it.
If circumstances are such that you’re taking all or part of what I’ll later describe as the “fast-acting cocktail,” then you’re going to have to buy yourself some time to clean out. You’ll need to shoot for an extra 10 to 15 days from the time they contact you until you finally find your way back from bunghole Egypt and into the presence of a collection officer. This would be an optimum timeframe to make sure you’re clear of everything and pass a “test” test.
If you find yourself in need of that cleanout window, you’re going to have to employ what’s known as the “duck and dodge.” This means that the athlete will take advantage of several gaping holes in the doping regulation to make himself unreachable and out of contact after the first attempt to reach him (usually by phone).
Depending on the timeframe needed, this little charade could go on for several days to a couple of weeks. When the athlete comes back to civilization, all the fast-acting gear he was using will have cleared his system before he shows up to the testing center, where he either will or will not be tested. He will, however, be marked down for a missed test.
Three missed tests in an 18 month period will equate to a doping violation and subject the athlete to ineligibility pending adjudication of the matter. However, if WADA allows for certain excuses to delay out-of-competition testing, then I’m sure your legal council – well versed in drug testing issues – can petition CrossFit to at least follow WADA and excuse the missed test based on any of the following:
Locating a representative. I imagine if you were in such a location where they don’t have such a person, they’d be hard to locate.
Completing a training session. A two-week cross country trek in the mountains of Montana, sorry no cell service.
Receiving necessary medical treatment. Damn if I didn’t twist my ankle in Montana!
Obtaining photo identification. Wallet was stolen while traveling. Can’t get new ID until I get back. Can’t take a drug test without picture ID.
Any other exceptional circumstances which can be justified and documented. An emergency trip to see a dying relative counts and you can document it.
Any decent coach working with an athlete, who he knows has an almost certain likelihood of being tested while on cycle, will have either designed the protocol around substances for which there is no test or are not on the list (as yet undiscovered designer steroids), or around quick-clearing substances. Two weeks is more than enough time to “study” for the test and get a cycle under your belt.
Cycle During the Off Season, Kick Ass During the Season
Successful coaches know that strength, stamina, speed, power, etc., are built during the off season. Endurance and flexibility are noticeably hampered by steroid use. This has been proven with sprinters.
We tested sprinters in the 100, both on and off cycle. The same athletes were faster off gear than on. This is because off-cycle they were lighter and retained less water. Their muscles were more limber and supple, but they retained most of the strength gained while on gear. Lighter + stronger = faster.
Many coaches use this paradigm today. The off season is spent building strength and power, while the weeks leading up to the competition are for honing technique. How many weeks? Not many. While we can get a juiced athlete to test clean in less than two weeks, no noticeable loss of power has been seen for a month or more post cycle.
Bottom line: You can spend the off season getting bigger, stronger and faster with the aid of PEDs, and then go off of them a couple of weeks before the competition, test clean, and still reap the benefits of the gains made earlier in the training season. For this reason, no athlete should have to worry about “no advanced notice in competition testing” because they shouldn’t be on anything detectable during the competition.
The only wild cards are stimulants and blood doping (increasing red blood cells). And of course there are ways around those two categories as well. I’m not going to get into specifics here, but suffice to say if you want to compete tweaked on uppers and oxygenated blood it’s nothing that hasn’t been repeatedly done successfully and quite easily. Just ask Lance, the most tested athlete in the world who never failed a drug test.
Use a Fast-Acting Cocktail
A good understanding of the available PEDs used today, how to use them correctly, how to administer them “creatively” and how the test for them works, reveals several hormones, stimulants and peptides that can be used. They either clear the body very quickly (some within hours) or there’s no approved test for them, or both. This is perhaps the most technical and important aspect of cheating and it’s being employed today on the Olympic level.
However, to employ a protocol formulated from this category in CrossFit is not as difficult a matter. The length of the off season for CrossFit and the jagged training protocols are such that there is great leeway in designing effective PED protocols that will avoid failed drug tests. And I’m not the only one who knows that.
Buy Some Urine
I really love the creativity involved in this area of cheating because it employs the use of some very interesting tackle to deliver the urine to the cup.
The CrossFit doping policy mirrors WADA’s requirement that a collection officer must actually “observe” the urine leaving the body. So, how do we get nice clean artificial urine (yes, you can buy it online) to appear to be leaving the John-Thomas of a dirty athlete?
Well, you have two choices and neither one of them are the best. I’ve never advocated for this manner of beating the test and I’d never dream of plying it on a single one of my athletes. But a surprising number of athletes do take this route, sometimes as an emergency action to cover a foul-up or unannounced in-competition test for which the athlete did not study. So, we might as well talk about it.
The first route to the cup involves a little procedure known as “reverse catheterization.” As the name implies, a catheter is introduced to an empty bladder. Yes, that means you stick a tube in your penis. An IV bag filled with sterile artificial urine, or someone else’s, is pushed in, filling the bladder.
A less extreme route involves a little contraption known as an “incognito belt.” One of the requisites for a urine test is the temperature of the urine. It has to be near body temp for it to be an acceptable sample. Filling you bladder with other urine takes care of the body temp issue.
The incognito belt does the same thing by positioning a bag of urine in a wide belt that snugs the little bag into the small of your back or under your stomach. Eventually, the heat from your body heats the urine. A tube from the bag can be fished out of your underwear and aimed into the cup. But, because these tests are “observed” another devise known as a “Whizzinator” must be employed.
In my opinion, either method is a crap shoot. Reverse catheterization can lead to a failed test because more metabolites were excreted: too much time passed between filling the bladder and emptying it. The CrossFitter may also be looking at a urinary tract infection, bladder infection, perforation, scaring, etc. – not uncommon with this insane process.
As good a job the makers of the Whizzinator did in manufacturing life-like penises of varying ethnic shades, a good collection officer knows all about this. If you get caught using one you’ll be faced with two offences: one for a failed test and one for manipulating the test.
Avoid Getting Ratted Out
Because society has shifted in such a manner that we now produce more pussies per capita than during any other point in history, the doping laws have changed to include a new manner of violating the doping code. It’s called the “Administrative Positive.”
As Lance Armstrong can attest, this is a doping violation leveled against one athlete by the testimony of others. In Lance’s case – and many others of lower profile – even though they never failed a drug test, they were violated by disgruntled former teammates who were either themselves avoiding prosecution (Floyd Landis), or just had it in for the athlete because he was a dick.
You can pass all your tests but still receive a violation because you got a dime dropped on you by a *****. So, the take-home message for the cheater is to keep it to yourself.
There was an old saying made popular during World War II. Propaganda posters were made in an attempt to limit the possibility of people inadvertently giving useful information to enemy spies. One slogan the US ran said, “Loose lips sink ships.” These days, loose lips sink athletes. So, keep your mouth shut.
Don’t Hate the Players, Hate the (CrossFit) Games
Every sport is rife with participants whose competitive nature allows them to freely choose “whatever it takes” to win. Those who are successful at it are also willing to do whatever it takes to get away with it. And these people exist. They exist in CrossFit and are just as prolific in any other sport.
The idea that there’s an effective deterrent to PED use is foolish. Because of the backwards stance on PEDs, by default, coaches today are not only well versed at building strength and ability, they’re also well versed in the use of PEDs and getting away with it.
The collective made that part of the game. That’s just how it’s played today. So, really, you can’t hate the player.