In the gym it is hard not to look at the rippling, bulked up behemoths and wonder "are they on it?"
Yet nobody ever talks about steroid use. They may boast about taking other substances for fun on the weekend, but on the roids? Guys are much less willing to fess up about those.
Of course they have been around for decades. The East Germans had a national program, and during the 1990s baseball in the USA was flooded with them. Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, and The Tour de France? Enough said. And most recently, five North Korean female soccer players tested positive, with their defence being some musk deer gland medicine used to treat lightning strike.
So they are everywhere in sport, and yet seemingly nowhere in the gym. I can only suppose that is it because the average gym member has no regulating body or monthly drug tests. So how would you know if someone at the gym was taking a few jabs of this and a few cycles of that?
To find out, the University of California, Los Angeles ran a study on the type of people using steroids. Of 500 users surveyed, almost four out of five users were non-athletes taking them for cosmetic reasons. Almost 15 per cent admitted to unsafe practices such as needle sharing and reusing needles, and 99.2% of all users reported side effects.
The acne, hair loss, mood changes, decrease in the size of testicles, and the breast development is just the start of it – roid rage and the permanent (internal and external) damage to yourself and others is where steroid abuse can really start to take its toll. Then there is the fact that they are illegal, and have to be passed in sneaky vials and concealed packages in overseas mail bags.
I cannot comprehend the risk that so many Jersey Shore wannabes take on in the quest for a swollen six pack – like the unfortunate case of the Sydney personal trainer who attracted a Facebook fanbase for his muscle photos, and was then charged for possession of steroids.
It’s easy for us normal-sized people to scoff, but what if I was offered $5million for the next Hollywood superstar role and had to get beefed up in six months? Would I attempt to sneak a bit of the muscle juice to get those fast results? Hmmm. I would probably think about it, just like some of those who took part in the UCLA study.
The documentary Bigger, Faster, Stronger poses this very conundrum, portraying the story of steroids from both sides. And I have to say, it has pushed me back on the fence. Are they bad for you? Yes, we all know they can be. But like many drugs, from caffeine to alcohol to cocaine to aspirin – while severe usage can be very bad for your mind and your body - small medicinal doses can also be beneficial.
While it's a given that drug abuse always ends ugly, this great doco leaves the ‘how bad are steroids’ argument for the viewer to decide on.
We know one Hollywood star who sticks by performance enhancing drugs, and Sylvester Stallone wasn’t so sly when he was caught smuggling 48 vials of it into Australia for its anti-aging effects. So could Sly be right? Could some performance enhancing drugs improve the life of a man as he approaches his 50s, 60s, and beyond?
Maybe. But it’s a very different health debate than the case for using steroids as an essential ingredient of a gym workout.
And for most of us, Hollywood isn’t likely to come knocking anytime soon.
Do you have any experience with steroids? What do you think about their use in gyms?