Is Steroid Use Big In Crossfit?

by John Romano T-Nation

Here’s what you need to know…

•  The author has worked with bodybuilders, elite athletes, CrossFitters and regular people from all walks of life. He helps them build muscle and perform better, both with and without the use of performance enhancing drugs. When needed, he also helps them beat drug tests.

•  CrossFit as a sport is an incredible spectacle of fitness, strength and endurance. It’s also one of the best ways to conjure up nagging injuries. That makes it one of the best candidates for PEDs around today.

•  A drug test is an IQ test. Only idiots fail them. And the CrossFit Games has a porous anti-doping program.

•  Man will seek any means to increase his performance, especially when money and fame are on the line. The “sport of fitness” is not immune. CrossFitters who think otherwise are naive.

“To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.” – Mark Twain

CrossFit emerged as an almost instant adversary to bodybuilding. Clearly my career has centered more on bodybuilding than CrossFit, so naturally I was in the bodybuilding camp when the bodybuilding vs. CrossFit campaign took off. However irrational the dichotomy is, one thing is for sure: CrossFit and bodybuilding have more in common than not. And, like it or not, that includes drugs – the performance enhancing variety.

Those of you who’ve followed my career know what I’m going to say. If you’re reading me for the first time and are a CrossFitter, you’ll probably have steam coming out from under both sides of your $95.00 CrossFit dry-cool ball cap by the time I’m done, because I’m going to tell you that it’s my informed opinion that your pristine sport is loaded with performance enhancing drugs.

What qualifies me to say this? Well, for nearly three decades I’ve made a decent living not only writing about steroids for bodybuilding magazines and books, but also prepping athletes for competitions using steroids, selling steroids, smuggling steroids, making steroids, prescribing and monitoring steroid use, beating drug tests, appearing on TV, in film and on radio talking about steroids… Let’s just say I know a thing or two about steroids. Based on what I’ve read out there relating to CrossFit and steroids, I feel very un-egotistical stating that I know a lot more about steroids than most CrossFitters.

I’m not anti-CrossFit. In fact, I’ve dedicated about 2,000 square feet of my gym to CrossFit. So, take from this what you will. I’m stating here what I believe to be the empirical truth. The only problem with it is whether or not you can handle it.

The Fittest on Earth?
Before I talk about steroid use in CrossFit, it’s only fair that we agree on what CrossFit actually is. Not what it is according to Greg Glassman, who would probably define what he created as a strength and conditioning system built on constantly varied, functional movements executed at high intensity… because that’s really not what it is. CrossFit’s definition is clearly fashioned to convince the public that CrossFit is gentleman’s territory with an emphasis on intellect. They even go so far as to call themselves the “fittest athletes on earth,” with trite battle cries such as “our warm-up is your workout!” Not to mention pious enough to contend that CrossFit is better able to promote muscle growth than conventional bodybuilding, with Glassman going as far as to say, “People say that a scientist has proved that CrossFit works, and my reply is that I don’t need a scientist to tell me that CrossFit works; just look at the people.”

I could just as easily, and with equal guile, say that I don’t need proof that CrossFit is rife with steroid use, just look at the people. But I’m not going to go there. To me, “looks” are ambiguous. There’s no science behind Glassman’s words even though his scientist says there is. How do they know what they perceive to be muscle growth induced by CrossFit – to a superior degree than bodybuilding – wasn’t attained with PED use? The truth is, no one knows.

What we do know is that there are far less taxing ways to build muscle. The only real proof we have so far today that indicates CrossFit does anything is the profound number of injuries it produces. According to the science, if you really want to hurt yourself, CrossFit works. Granted, it’s an incredible spectacle of fitness, strength and endurance, but what it really has proven itself to be is one of the best ways to conjure up some really nagging injuries. That alone makes it one of the best candidates for PED use in existence today.

Now, because CrossFit is a “game” or games, and its origin is in America, it’s only natural that the political correctness of “fair play” and “even playing fields” – not to mention pristine symbolism to our precious youth – be paramount when played on the PR machine. I’m actually surprised, with the late emergence of CrossFit in the modern lexicon, that the liberal political machine – designated to prepare our youth for abject failure in the real world – even permits anyone to win. Just so long as everyone has fun, right?

Of course not, and since that’s clearly not the case, CrossFit has to stand the litmus test of other sports as dictated by mother nature, because human nature is to cheat – especially when large amounts of money, fame and exposure are at stake. And, because a faction of CrossFit is by all reasonable accounts a professional sport, it is not immune to the foibles of all professional sports. This includes the fair assumption that many of its competitors, especially those at the elite level, are using banned, illegal, performance enhancing drugs.

An Even Playing Field?
This undoubtedly conjures up images of drug testing and disgraced champions who got caught with their pants down and a pin in their hide. The overall public discourse must always focus on fair play, sportsmanship, following the rules, and may-the-best-man-win crap. Unfortunately, the belief in these antiquated and post-modern displays of moral turpitude rank right up there with belief in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

First of all, there is no such thing as an even playing field. If your great grandfather was hammering in railroad spikes for a living or working a plantation without pay, you’re going to have a far greater physical advantage, genetically, than if your great grandfather was a mohel. As racist as that statement may sound, it’s true. Genetics is the great un-evener of the playing field, not PEDs. As long as humans from varying backgrounds play sports together there will never be such a thing as an even playing field.

PEDs for Recovery
As far as steroids making the playing field incongruous, however, I’d go as far as to say that CrossFit is probably the poster sport for steroid use because of the drugs’ profound effect on recovery. Does enhanced recovery affect performance? You bet it does. Contrary to what CrossFit thinks, its sport is probably the number one sport in the entire world to reap the greatest overall benefit from steroid use because of the drugs’ affect on recovery. That alone is reason enough to believe that a large number of practitioners use them.

Why? When you ask a high-end CrossFit athlete what he did for his rest day, it’s not unusual for him to respond, “I didn’t take one” or “I ran a half-marathon,” or, “I did a recovery row.” Such commentary leaves one to ponder, are these people super human or super stupid? Taxing your body to such a degree is one of the best reasons to get on gear.

Train three times a day, never take a day off, make yourself equally proficient at a hundred different exercise moves, do Fran in under 2:30 and expect to carry on like this for decades? How can a human body endure like this? Well, you know, if it does it’s probably not the Wheaties. And therein lies the rub. Bodybuilders are A-okay with the giant pink elephant in the room. But, just mention any word that is suffixed in “-one” among the CrossFitteratti and fifteen lawyers get on an airplane. Why such an uproar over the most obvious of observations?

On top of the recuperative and performance enhancing effects of such drugs, anyone who knows anything about performance enhancement will tell you that CrossFit has a porous anti-doping program, with testing a donkey could pass. Couple that with the Kool-Aid drunk constituency that really, really believes that CrossFit athletes are superior and you have the greatest veil of deniability when accusations of PED use arise. That’s not to say that there aren’t reasonable CrossFit people who agree that steroids have infiltrated their sport. Top CrossFitter Dan Bailey has stated that he doesn’t believe all the male CrossFit Games athletes are clean. He also said in a 2013 interview that beating the tests would be “totally easy.” [Editor’s note: CrossFit has expanded out-of-competition, unannounced drug testing for 2014, for what it’s worth.] And some female CrossFit Games athletes are already sniping at one another with veiled accusations of drug use.

However, the hardcore cult members of CrossFit just don’t want to admit that steroids have any part in their beloved way of life. To wit, three-time Games competitor Lucas Parker says, “This is my stance on steroids and other performance enhancing drugs: I am against PEDs, because they can provide ‘false validation’ of ****ty training protocols.”

Really? I can’t imagine that trying to become equally proficient at a random assemblage of over 100 different moves can’t produce anything but ****ty training protocols, regardless if anyone takes steroids or not. That statement is just plain stupid. He does, however, believe that CrossFit is too young for steroid use. Its youth and random assemblage of difficult moves leaves how to train for CrossFit a mystery. Once we know how to train for CrossFit then we can use drugs. Another insanely stupid statement. Regardless, if or when PEDs should be used in CrossFit, the idea that they are – or could be (should be) – leaves open the insanely stupid concept that drug testing is going to even the playing field.

The idea that drug testing, even Olympic drug testing, is an effective deterrent ranks right up there with just saying “no” as an effective means to keep kids off drugs. The notion that passing a drug test means that the athlete is clean is a fallacy. A drug test is an IQ test. Only ****ing idiots fail them. Perhaps the greatest testament to this fact is Lance Armstrong – the most tested athlete in the world – never failed a drug test. In fact, most, if not all, athletes have not been caught with those expensive IOC caliber testing protocols. No, instead they had a dime dropped on them. Besides, there are more ways to get around a standard PED test than there are to get around a subway turnstile. You only get caught if you’re stupid.

So, is CrossFit rife with PED use? Let’s forget about the recent outings, accusations of association with known drug dealers, porous drug testing and outright drug busts and put it this way: Almost 30 years ago I embarked upon a sideline of performance enhancement, both with and without banned substances. My teacher was the original steroid guru and author of the very first steroid “how to” handbook, Dan Duchaine. Since then, while my career has centered on journalism, I’ve always maintained a sideline of performance enhancement. I’ve worked not only with professional and amateur bodybuilders (both men and women), but also boxers, MMA fighters, baseball players, football players, wrestlers, ballet dancers, models, policemen, firemen, lawyers, businessmen, anorexics and the obese. And now, since I’ve devoted 10% of my 20,000 square foot gym to CrossFit, I have CrossFit clients as well. I have helped them prepare for competition, reach fitness goals and increase their strength and conditioning.

In every case, my association with these people focused on one of two paths: extract maximum performance without the use of drugs, or help them cheat. The bulk of that activity focused not on the former, but on the latter.

Reality Check
This most relevant manifestation of human nature has been evinced for thousands of years – man will seek any means to increase his performance. You could no more say that athletes would ever stop doing drugs than you could say hookers would ever stop selling blowjobs.

CrossFit, however, tends to rely on a theory wrought with ambiguity. The prevailing “logic” common among the CrossFiteratti? Not only do they contend they don’t know if anyone is using steroids, they also contend that so little is known about CF that no one even really knows how to train for it. So, here you’ve got a guy such as Rich Froning who won the Games three times in a row, works out several times a day, can snatch 300 pounds, do Fran (21, 15 and 9 reps of thrusters and pull-ups) in 2 minutes and 13 seconds, look like a bodybuilder and be as flexible as a ballerina, and yet no one not only knows how to train for this, but they also condemn the notion that the guy is on anything.

I’m not saying he is on anything, but the ludicrousness of this ideology is mind bending, especially when you consider the fact that CrossFit is supposed to be endowed with a more cerebral crowd than the mooks who just lift weights for aesthetic purposes. Some of you more snooty members of CrossFit might like to think that you guys are a higher breed, a more noble character and super human in every way that mere mortals of average sport can only aspire to achieve. As the perceived decedents of Thor, Atlas, Hercules, Zeus and Apollo, the magnitude of CrossFit and its perilously high standers, history could no more allow Cambridge to beat Oxford than it could CrossFit’s entire top tier to be juiced.

But you know what? In the real world nobody gives a rat’s ass about how great you think you are. Reality dictates that we’re all more interested in what the rest of the world thinks, because like it or not, public discourse determines the nature of things. That being the case, if CrossFit is to be played by humans it’s going to be played on an even playing field made even by human nature, i.e., its competitors will be using PEDs, just as they have in every other single sport in the entire world throughout recorded history.

This would be evident from the Olympic menu to the very highest of high-paid pros. Drugs are as much a part of the game as the uniform. The various drug scandals that have erupted in pro sports over the years are not indicative of isolated instances. In every sport the individual is swallowed by the collective when it comes to performance. If one gets caught it does not mean the cheater was caught; it means one of the cheaters was caught. It’s completely naive to think otherwise.

Is this a problem? CrossFit seems to think so. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with concern for the athlete’s health or wellbeing. Given the nature of CrossFit, if the foregoing were a paramount issue, steroids, androgens, and assorted peptides and hormones would be mandatory in CrossFit. The real reason is purely cosmetic. And it’s purely bull**** propagated by the sensationalistic mainstream media which isolated “steroids” from the laundry list of performance enhancing protocols enlisted by today’s elite athletes and went to town vilifying them to the shameful degree that creatine is now being referred to as a “dangerous steroid” in the press.

God forbid the pristine image of CrossFit be tainted by such drugs. But, like it or not, the genie isn’t going back in the bottle. CrossFit is going to have an ever-growing intimate relationship with PEDs and there’s nothing anyone is ever going to be able to do about it.

Doubt me? Then ask yourself this: Why wouldn’t CrossFit competitors use PEDs? If you think you can find an answer different from any other sport where money, prestige and fame are at stake, let me know because I have a bridge I can sell you.


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