Tuesday, January 29, 2008

So when will we get rid of steroids?

I just finished reading the book "Steriod Nation" by Shaun Assael and to say that it was an eye opening look into the use of steriods in the past 30 years would be a huge understatement. I'm not here to give a review but to give you a short answer to the question posed by this title based on what I've learned from this book: Not any time soon.

It's not a simple matter of stricter testing or more testing. Tests are only as good as the person doing these tests. Urine samples are fed into a machine called a gas-chromatography/mass-spectrometry Machine . This machine heats urine up to several hundred degrees and this machine in turn reads the chemicals that are in the steam. It's up to the scientist or doctor to be able to look at these chemicals and tell what they are. Some steroids, such as dinabol or stanozolol, are very easy to spot. Other's chemical signatures, are more difficult to spot. Some resemble other hormones, such as birth control pills. In essence, it's just as important to be a good detective/investigator as it is to be a doctor or scientist. Otherwise, something can be missed. This is what people like BALCO's head steriod sylists Patrick Arnold was very good with getting away with.

One of the sporting world's best steroid hunters, Don Catlin, was very good at spotting steroids. One time, he was able to catch a notorious doper in the Cyling world not because of what he did see but what he didn't see. This is where being a good investigator comes into play. She had practically NO testosterone in her body, which is highly unusual even for a woman. This is how he discovered that she was using the latest, greatest "undetectable" steriod. Still, he had a bit of trouble making a case. Charges like this can, at times (not this time however), be hard to stick because the tests so cutting edge that the lawyers will argue that such a positive test amounts to an experiment and not sound science.

There has been a call for a system in pro sports in which an athlete gets a through bloodwork to measure all of their hormone levels on a regular basis. This information is then stored in a file so if an athlete's testosterone ratios change radically, it can be used as a sign that this person is using steroids. Would it surprise you that this ideal is wildly unpopular in the sports world?

Still, there's another problem. Many of these "youth clinics" or "anti-aging clinics" are really just a front for people to get steroids for performance enhancement. They won't go overboard and give out Lyle Alzado amounts of steroids. Instead, they'll measure testosterone levels in the client's body by comparing the testosterone to it's precursor, epitestosterone. Positive tests for testosterone are often found because the ratios are outside of a legal range (usually 6 to 1). If the client is only 1 to 1, they'll administer only enough to bring them up to the legal ratio. Had Floyd Llandis had modestly high ratio rather than the 11 to 1 he pissed hot for, he may have gotten off by claiming to have naturally high testosterone levels.

So, from the investigative level, doping is very hard to catch. The even bigger problems are HGH and Insulin. They have no reliable tests for either yet. New drugs come out all the time, requiring a keen eye to spot them. The biggest problem of all though is that the sports world doesn't want to catch anyone. Random testing is a pariah in sports. Corruption leads to lost paperwork needed to match sample numbers to actual names and other dirty tricks. Rarely to the doper-hunters get the facilities they need to do their work. They are given little consideration in law enforcement because they are seen as less of a problem than harder drugs such as cocaine or herion. As a result, prison sentences are much lighter for steroid users and dealers.

The reason is simple: pro sports make huge money when athletes use steroids. In spite of the scandal involving baseball, attendance has done nothing but go up. The increased size and strength due to steroid use by NFL players lead to its rapid increase in popularity in the 1970's. Lance Armstrong was long suspected of doping. Did anyone watch or care about the Tour De France before him? The sad truth is that the world LIKES watching doped-up players.

The only way that we'll ever get rid of steroids in pro sports is when the audience gets sick of it all and stops watching and buying tickets to pro sports. Catching them doing it is a tough game that even the best have a hard time winning. It has to become unprofitable for pro sports to feature steroid-laced athletes. So far, the exact opposite has happened. So, steroids in sports will be around for a long time.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Baseball, Steriods, and What it means to us

In case you haven’t noticed, my blogs are often written a month before I actually publish them to my web site. This gives me the time to revise as I see things differently, given my observations and experiences. In this instance, the Mitchell Report, I can look back on it with a clearer mind, free of the hype and the newness of the topic. It gives me the opportunity to look at it more objectively and with less emotion.

I’m far from shocked by the findings of this report. We all know that there is a cancerous amount of performance drug use in Baseball. It’s been around for more than 20 years now. How some of us have reacted to it says a lot about us. For a while, many of us simply ignored it and gleefully watched Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds’ bodies explode in size and turn doubles into home runs. Sports are a form of entertainment at their root. They are an escape from real life for a few hours.

Special people inhabit sports: Athletes who can do what the majority of us can only dream about. They have talents that are superhuman and its part of the escape. In that regard, its easy to see why we overlook the steroid use. It’s part of the façade. This is an arena populated by special people doing special things. It’s only natural that they have a special body to do these things with.

The trouble is there is a dirty reality that ends up hurting us. These people make up what people consider the physical ideal. This inevitably sends the message that steroid use is fine. Most of us know otherwise but in our minds, we have a hard time separating a steroid ideal from a natural one. They have been around for so long now and in so many minds, that’s what it takes to look and be strong.

Ultimately though, it also says something else about us. We see strength, health, and athleticism as things that you get from drugs. So, what we end up with is a culture driven to a look that will ultimately kill us should we try to achieve it. Nobody needs reminding about the side effects of steroids. What often escapes the glare of the public eye is the steroid abusers are dropping dead well short of the average human’s life expectancy. A half a century ago, the bodybuilders routinely outlived the average human. Our image of what it takes to be strong doesn’t bring us into line with what it takes to be healthy anymore.

That cuts into one of the cornerstone principles of the fitness movement since its infancy. The whole idea behind getting into shape was to become a healthier and stronger person. The early pioneers didn’t see these as separate endeavors. After all, what good is having one without the other? They are two traits of the physical ideal that demand balance. We need to remember that and realize that the physical ideal today doesn’t do this. Once we do that then we can move forward with any kind of worthwhile solution.
Inspiration can come from some unlikely places. I didn’t think that I’d be as moved as I was when I got this boxed set documentary series about Navy SEAL training as I was. It was around the time that I first got serious about my exercise and it came at the right time. It really forged some of the strong opinions about physical training that I have to this very day and taught me so much about getting real results out of it.

Evolutions are an expectation for each trainee in BUDS class. Improvement has to happen regardless how tired the trainees are or how much harder training gets. As I watched this, something occurred to me. These guys crank out pushups even after little or no sleep. The trainers know the signs of injurious physical breakdown and most of the time, those who claimed to be nearly there were not. It was all in their mind. It got me thinking about when I trained. How many times did I say that I was too tired when I really wasn’t that tired? Could I have cranked out 15-20 minutes of SOMETHING?

More often than not, the honest answer was yes. Even one time when I flew an overnight flight flight to Tuscon, Arizona, slept 3 hours, and pulled weeds out of a man-made wetland for 10 hours I still had enough gas to exercise for 15-20 minutes. If there is one thing that the Navy SEALS know it’s that the mind is what is keeping people from performing the task that needs to be done, not the body. The body is a wonderful thing that can take a remarkable amount of stress if ran by a mind that will make it do so.

There’s the problem: we sell ourselves short. We take the lazy route. We come up with excuses why we can’t exercise. I admit that the regimen and training protocol of the SEALS (and my example, for that matter) are extreme but it demonstrates a point: How often are we really too tired to do anything? I’ve said it before that to get fit requires a level of commitment that many can’t or won’t comprehend. That’s what holds them back from getting into great shape. Don't let it hold you back. Dig deep and get something done, even when you don't feel like you have it in you.
I’m not going to sell out by saying that you need equipment in order to exercise. The truth is, and always will be, that you don’t. Still, I use some equipment occasionally. It adds different angles and challenges to my workout that I don’t normally get from other exercises. It’s called variety. So, in no particular order, here are some of the tools that I use to exercise.

I like the ab wheel quite a bit. It adds quite a bit of difficulty to working out my abdominal muscles. This is one great way to add some high intensity to the repertoire. It’s also a very complete abdominal exercise, oblique muscles included. It can be a very difficult exercise though and progression shouldn’t be rushed. Frankly, you don’t need to rush it. Even in its easiest, knees on the ground flavor, it’s still tough.

I find new uses for rings all of time. I initially made them for pullups but then I decided to add a length of rope down to the ground and started doing pushups off of them. They are ridiculously tough. When you put your weight on them, they just want to swing away from you. So, you have to contract your pectoral muscles far more than you normally would. These make for a brutally intense pushup. While you’ve got the rope on the rings, you can do rows off of them. Dips are also possible, although quite difficult as well.

The pushup bars have some great utility too. For those who have trouble with sore wrists can benefit from using pushup bars. The bars straighten the wrists out as well as adding more range of motion, making the pushup more intense on the serratus and rhomboid muscles. They could be used on handstand pushups as well.

I've even messed around with balance and bosu balls. These both challenge your balance and force you to use a lot of stabilizer muscles. I've just barely gotten into using these on a regular basis. I'll keep you posted on any experiments in the future. I can say that pushups on the balance ball while using the perfect pushup are brutal.

If you've got some money in your wallet and feel like splurging a bit, give a few of these a whirl. Just remember, these are nice but not necessary. Not by a long shot.

Cheat, Don't Lie

Like everything else that I’m interested in, I like to read magazines about things that deeply interest me. I subscribe to at least four magazines in addition to buying another 5 or so off the magazine rack. Fitness is no exception. Unfortunately, these magazines are deeply part of the same fitness establishment that drives me crazy with so much inane advice that is so counterproductive to overall health and strength.

Examples of this are fitness magazines that give out cocktail recipes. Sure, they’re using nutrient-rich veggies and fruits in the mix but its still an alcoholic drink. Or, the suggestion that, “the occasional slice of pizza or bowl of ice cream is actually good for your diet (Men’s Health, February, 2008). The sex-drenched articles could be left out, as far as I’m concerned too. I could keep going but I’ll just limit myself to why these annoy me so much and why I think that they’re wrong.

The notion of healthy alcohol is laughable. I’m sure that some alcoholic drinks are better than others but this is like saying that you’d rather get shot in the chest with a .22 than a .45 because it’s a smaller bullet. Both are bad for you, even if one is going to do more damage. Alcohol is a liver poison and there is where the problem lies. Your liver is a magnificent, multi-purpose organ that does many things for your body, including metabolizing all of the carbohydrates and fats that enter your bloodstream. A healthy liver is essential for fat loss and maintaining a healthy weight. When you drink, you damage your body’s energy distribution center. No amount of fruit or vegetable juice added to booze is going to change that.

Just as laughable is the idea that junk foods are somehow going to help you maintain a good diet. I cheat and eat foods that I’m not supposed to, just like everyone else. I refuse to believe that it’s doing any good for me though. Eating that way is a setback to overall fitness. The question is whether the setback is great enough to show a noticeable impact on it. I know that I could eat far more junk than I do and still maintain a healthy bodyweight, along with decent health and strength. Many others aren’t so lucky. I have a friend who, after two kids, will notice jeans getting tighter after only two days of bad eating. Put it this way: Non-smokers don’t celebrate quitting by lighting up a cigarette. Why should you celebrate newfound health and strength with a meat lover’s pizza and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s?

Now it doesn’t have a lot to do with obtaining strength but it absolutely has something to do with overall health and that’s your sex life. Men’s Fitness, September 2007 featured an article on open relationship marriages. This risqué, promiscuous sex advice just puts you in danger of getting an STD, it’s just that simple. No protection or testing is going to save your ass if you sleep around. This could easily cover another article so I’ll delve into this more in a future article.

The bottom line is that we all cheat a little and do thing that are counterproductive when it comes to maintaining health and strength. What is important that we don’t do is lie to ourselves and say that it is okay. Ultimately, what gets people is getting into the habit of saying that this little bit is fine. Habits are crucial to health and strength. By always telling yourself that this little bit is fine then you end up with a dozen or so little things that, added up, kill your progress. Before you know it, you’re unhealthy and weak. Figure out what your tolerances are for these cheats, moderate accordingly, and be honest with yourself.

Perfect Pushup Review

I have to admit here to being wrong on the Perfect Pushup. I initially doubted that these devices had merit. In the past year or so, I’ve seen a number of people in the strength training world admit that the pushup is neglected as a legitimate exercise and some even go so far as to declare them a better chest builder than even the vaunted bench press. The trouble for the exercise world, as I saw it, was how do you make money off an exercise that didn’t require equipment to sell? I saw a possible answer in the Perfect Pushup: make a rotating handle for pushups and call them the Perfect Pushup. That title somewhat implies that the normal pushup is somehow imperfect. It made me skeptical, especially since they retail for a steep $40.00.

I could see some merit in the concept. Muscle fibers in the body aren’t all arranged in the same manner. Some get arranged in a parallel manner. Others are circular. The shoulders are laid out in a pattern known as multi-pennate. In this arrangement, the fibers look somewhat like a feather, wrapped together in a spiral manner. This means that the contraction isn’t straight; it’s a spiral-like movement. So, a rotating of the shoulders during the pushup movement engages the shoulder muscles in a much more direct and intense manner. There is more deltoid fiber used. Still, I just felt like it might be a gimmick.

Since I figured that I had no money to lose if I got these rotating handles as a Christmas gift, I placed them on my Christmas list. I got them on Christmas and tried them out the next day for my shoulder and chest workout. Frankly, the potency of the pushup stunned me. The DVD that came with them claimed that they’d drop your rep count by about 1/3 and they were on the money. With my feet elevated two feet, I managed only 20 reps rather than my normal 30-35. They really drained out my shoulders by the time I went do my handstand pushups. I can say without a doubt that the concept of rotating the shoulders during a pushup will create a more difficult pushup.

Are the Perfect Pushups worth it? I wasn't 100% sold at $40.00. They are a well-made tool. The handles are comfortable. They don’t feel flimsy at all. The handles rotate very easily on their ball bearings. The rubber grip on the bottom is very non-slip, even on hardwood flooring. The 17 minute DVD was certainly helpful too. I guess in there are far more foolish ways to spend two Andy J’s, especially in the fitness world. I didn't have to worry about that an apparantly, neither do you. I've been hearing that they're dropping down to only $20.00. I would buy them for that price for sure.

I will say this: The idea of rotating the shoulders during a pushup is definitely valid. My shoulders were worked considerably more with the rotation than without. I use these things very frequently when I workout these days. I am officially converted and reccomending the Perfect Pushup.