Steroids are the new scapegoat; people are willing to blame steroid use for just about every possible adverse outcome experienced by anyone who has been a user.

Steroids are quite likely bad for users and steroid use can most-definitely be considered cheating for those involved in sports. The public debate over steroid use has been heated and emotional. The media, possibly because they feel guilty that they ignored this obvious problem for the better part of 4 decades, seems to want to make up for lost time by over-hyping every steroid-related story that hits the news wires.

Despite this new-found interest in covering steroids-in-sports stories, the media hasn’t gotten much better at reporting the facts. Misinformation still rules the day with regard to what these substances do, can do, might do, etc. The hyperventilating aside, there isn’t all that much detailed science to tell us how bad steroids are. The difference between steroid use and steroid abuse is vast and to discuss the effects of these drugs without making a distinction between the two groups is to give in to the hysteria. The data doesn’t provide a picture of the physical damage done by steroid use. We certainly don’t have any meaningful data to tell us steroid use leads to suicide or any catastrophic psychological disorders.

We have plenty of anecdotal evidence that steroids are bad, but there are anecdotal stories that show the opposite. That’s the problem with anecdotal evidence, my story can trump your story. Do a Google search and see how many actual studies you can find that give you a concrete picture about the physiological and psychological effects of steroids.

My position isn’t that steroid abuse doesn’t cause damage or doesn’t/cannot contribute to early death. Steroid use and abuse – and the behaviors and other decisions associated with its use – doesn’t occur in a vacuum. The scenario that we’ve been fed is BS, the modern day version of Adam eating the forbidden apple; the choirboy athlete gets a taste of the demon steroid and turns bad immediately.

Nonsense.

Steroid use is evidence of a screwed up decision making process. The popular narrative that steroids are the Bogeyman that causes all other problems resonates partly because people don’t want to think their kid can make a series of horribly bad choices that have disastrous, catastrophic results. Also, too many parents don’t want to believe that they are in any way – big or small – responsible for the bad decisions made by their kids.

I am a parent of three young boys who play sports, have coached thousands of kids over the past 20 years and am very concerned about this issue. I know if my sons or one of my players turned to steroids, or other illegal performance-enhancing drugs, I would assume a part of the blame. Frankly, if my sons ever turn to steroids or other drugs I will have totally failed them as a father. How many people are willing to take this responsibility? Unfortunately, over the past three decades parents have been looking for some family-external reasons to explain their kids’ bad behavior (By the way, it is not politically correct to tell kids they behave badly. Too judgmental.). Call it the,”Not-My-Kid” syndrome.

Recently Brent Musburger – legendary sports journalist and broadcaster – told a group of journalism students that he thought steroids might be able to be used by athletes – effectively and safely – under the supervision of qualified medical personnel. Cue the obligatory hue and cry.

While Musburger’s comments can be criticized, it’s not for his position that steroids could be used by athletes under a doctor’s care. Actually, it’s quite clear that athletes have been successfully using steroids, both with and without doctors’ help, for years, and Uncle Brent can be taken to task for not recognizing the obvious. Maybe he was afraid to go all out and say that many athletes have been successfully using steroids for years and now it might be time to level the playing field for everyone. Give everyone equal access so they can get equal benefits.

Exponentially more athletes are getting away with PED use than have gotten busted. Do you really think Brian Cushing and Shawne Merriman are the only linebackers in the NFL who have used? Do you really think all those who stood on the podium during the last Olympics were clean? What Musburger proposed – and it will never, ever in a gazillion years happen – is to allow medical professionals to determine whether steroids should be used. He said, “Let’s go find out. What do the doctors actually think about anabolic steroids and their use by athletes.” That’s a better and more honest suggestion than most of the waste-of-time drug screening/prevention programs we’ve had to listen to over the years.

Any time a kid dies it’s a tragedy. And suicide must be unfathomably worse for a parent to endure. But people who want to say steroid use causes suicide are ignoring the reality, and the dynamic, of how and why kids make decisions in general, and specifically bad decisions.

Another problem is that kids are allowed and encouraged to idolize athletes.

It would be ludicrous for someone to make the point that their son, who wanted to be a coach, became a depressed, beer-swilling drunk who crashed his car because Mike Ditka, Jim Mora, Dennis Greene and Brian Billick do Coors Light commercials. And yet we accept this line in the steroid use argument.

Using steroids is both a selfish and self-destructive decision. Selfish because your self interests come before everything else. Self-destructive because the position that you can accomplish your goals based on your own hard work is abandoned; this aspect is far more insidious. Athletes have gone to great lengths to hide and deny their steroid use rather than promote, defend or even justify it for precisely this reason. Steroid use is antithetical to the goals of competition and sport. The damage done by the decision to use steroids occurs immediately and is likely to be just as much of a problem, and harder to overcome, as any possible physical or emotional damage from the drugs themselves.

This headline is timeless.

Regardless of the year, the news that a Tour de France winner tested positive for steroids, or any other banned substance, is about as shocking as the sun rising every morning or Lindsay Lohan entering rehab.  I’m sorry, that’s a cheap shot.  I shouldn’t put the rising sun in the same category as a falling star…Wow, that’s bad, too.  Ok, I’ll stop now.

So here we are, once again, this time talking about Alberto Contador, a three-time winner of the Tour de France.

According to news reports, Contador tested positive for clenbuterol, also known as “clen” by the drugs’ closest friends.  Here’s the statement released by Contador’s people, “The experts consulted so far have agreed also that this is a food contamination case, especially considering the number of tests passed by Alberto Contador during the Tour de France, making it possible to define precisely both the time the emergence of the substance as the tiny amount detected, ruling out any other source or intentionality.”

The list of Contador’s experts has not been made known as of this point in time, nor have we been given a clue as to the other possible “source or intentionality.”

I find it interesting that these cyclists – and any athlete who tests positive – always manage to inadvertently eat contaminated food that contains the kind of banned, anabolic substance that enhances performance.   Remember Shawne Merriman of the San Diego Chargers?  He had the misfortune of using a protein powder that was spiked with all kinds of banned, potent muscle building agents.  Anyway…

Clenbuterol is a synthetic bronchodilator that is prescribed for asthmatics and is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Clenbuterol has a reputation of being both anti-catabolic and anabolic in animal studies, which makes this steroid quite desirable for the kind of guy who would want to do well in the Tour de France.  Clen also stimulates your beta-2 receptors; this allows you to burn more stored fat than you normally – naturally – would.

So what this means in simple language is that clenbuterol is both muscle-sparing and muscle building – great for recovering during a grueling competitive event – while allowing the body to use more of its stored fat for fuel.  This is a great deal for any athlete.

So like I said, isn’t it so crazy that a Tour de France winner would have the amazingly dumb luck to inadvertently eat food tainted with precisely the kind of steroid that could improve their performance?

Brian Cushing, the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, has been suspended for failing a drug test, allegedly testing positive for hCG. hCG is human Chorionic Gonadotrophin and is commonly used by drug cheats when they are coming off a steroid cycle because it helps to stimulate the body’s natural testosterone production.  A drug cheat needs to stimulate their testosterone production because using exogenous testosterone (external to the organism) shuts down the natural production of this hormone.

But all of this is a distraction from the real issue.  The real issue is that people have to stop being surprised, become more skeptical and stop being gullible.  Stop being surprised when athletes fail steroid tests.  Be skeptical when a 165-pound high school kid turns into a 220-pound high school senior, 250-pound college senior and a pro athlete who adds muscle well past the time when physical maturity ends.  Don’t be gullible to think that there are some secrets to training and nutrition that continue to be “discovered” and that are responsible for creating the physical specimens that grace the fields of competitive sports.

There are no real training, nutritional and supplement secrets.  Performance enhancing drug use is the secret. The training hasn’t changed appreciably over the past 50 years, and while diet and supplementation has improved from what it was a half century ago, nothing has really changed in the past 20­­­­-years to explain the massive growth of our athletes.  So don’t believe the nonsense that elite athletes and trainers know things nobody else knows.

Nothing, that is, except steroid and human growth hormone use.  The other drugs these athletes get popped for are part of the overall drug regimen they use.  There aren’t just two, or three or ten drugs used by the drug cheats.  Human growth hormone was being used over 20-years ago, well before 99.99% of the population had even heard of it.  So it stands to reason that in the year 2010 athletes have moved on and are using the next generation of substances, substances that 99.99% of the population hasn’t heard of yet.

So Brian Cushing failed a drug test and got caught cheating.  Big deal, get used to it.

Here is a list of reasons as to why HGH – right now – is the ideal drug for athletes.  With the latest edition of the steroids in sport scandal that involves professional athletes from Major League Baseball, as well as other sports, people need to understand why these supplements are desirable to pro athletes.

And you won’t get this kind of info if you depend on the mainstream media and sports news outlets…

Body builders have enjoyed the benefits of human growth hormone, used in conjunction with a variety of other anabolic agents, for over 20 years but only in recent years have legit athletes started to catch on to this “better” kind of performance enhancing drugs.

1)       Human growth hormone provides a potent anabolic effect; it builds muscle.  Without turning this into a biochem lesson – especially since that’s way over my head – suffice to say that HGH increases the body’s ability to synthesize protein, and that this allows for muscle tissue to be built.  Human growth hormone use produces the holy grail of all anabolic benefits, hyperplasia.  Hyperplasia is the permanent increase in the amount of muscle cells.  Over the years there have been many steroids that were alleged to result in creating new muscle cells, but HGH is the substance that actually delivers this incredible benefit. HGH also increases the size of existing muscle cells.

So with HGH you have a situation where the size of existing muscle cells are increased AND a permanent creation of new muscle cells.  So a person could go on a cycle of human growth hormone therapy, which would create new muscle cells that remain after HGH therapy stops.  The longer the person remains on this regimen the more new muscle cells will be produced.  This person would then have more muscle than he did before the therapy and reap all of the performance benefits that come with increased muscle even after the end of therapy.

Additionally, human growth hormone has a positive strengthening affect on connective tissues such as ligaments, tendons and cartilage and at an accelerated rate. Old injuries will heal and these tissues will be strengthened which can potentially minimize future injuries as well.  There is no doubt that human growth hormone therapy is being used in conjunction with the surgery and rehab of professional athletes, which has had the effect of getting athletes back on the field quicker than ever. These connective tissue benefits make HGH much more attractive than the use of old school steroids, as steroids only positively affect muscle tissue, while having a negative effect on connective tissue.

2)      HGH provides metabolic benefits such as helping the body burn more fat than usual, and serves as a protein-sparing agent as well.   HGH administration triggers the release of fatty acids from fat stores and the body winds up burning more fat than carbohydrates to meet energy requirements.  This is why athletes on human growth hormone can have extremely low levels of body fat while maintaining extremely high levels of muscle mass.

Without drugs, there is a kind of equilibrium between body fat and muscle mass.  If body fat is too low a person’s muscle mass will decrease as well.  HGH also has an anti-catabolic effect (protein sparing), which means that muscle protein isn’t broken down during periods of intense exercise or in the case of calorie restriction.  This anti-catabolic effect means that athletes can recovery quicker from competition and training.

3)      HGH is legal and can be acquired and administered by a physician, and as a result, the intelligent athlete can use medical privacy regulations to avoid the spotlight. The dose at which HGH is effective is small, which minimizes risk and – in most cases – allows the physician to avoid breaking any laws or breaching any ethical standards.

Additionally, due to the stresses of professional sports there is a very good chance that most – if not all athletes – would test for low hormonal levels during their season.  This means HGH can be administered in order to normalize an athlete’s levels.  This kind of therapeutic dose can provide enormous benefits to an athlete during their season. This is an important distinction to make.  If an athlete does test for low HGH levels – which most would or could – this is a case of using HGH as it is intended and not abusing it.

There are doctors all across the country that are openly practicing this kind of medicine.  One could argue that these doctors are incorrect in their uses of HGH, but this argument doesn’t seem to hold any more weight than the counter argument that there are no appropriate “off-label” uses of HGH. These are the major reasons as to why HGH is so popular among athletes.

There are other reasons as well, but this is enough for now.  And it is worth noting that testosterone when used in similarly appropriate doses, in conjunction with HGH is an extremely potent supplement cocktail from which all athletes would benefit greatly.

Remember, this isn’t an effort to rationalize or justify the use of HGH and testosterone.  I am simply recognizing and pointing out reasons why athletes – or anybody who works out for that matter – would find these substances so desirable.   What I will say is that when you understand what these drugs can do for athletes, and understand the nature of risks involved with playing professional sports – especially football – the case can be made that some supplementation may be appropriate and even necessary.

Baseball statistical maven Bill James published a paper last month detailing his thoughts on the steroid in baseball issue, and wrote that he was, “finally ready to say what I have to say about it.” James makes some good points along the way, but overall his 4-page missive is a mess of inconsistency, flawed logic and bad information.

When James’ paper was first made public, I read excerpts of it in a couple of wire service stories that had the effect of making me think James had done good.  As a matter of fact, I told a couple of colleagues that I thought James had made some good points.  However, when I read the full text I was more than surprised by the approach taken by James.

James starts off with the statement that, “The use of steroids or other Performance Enhancing Drugs will mean nothing in the debate about who gets into the Hall of Fame and who does not.” Nothing like starting off with a bold statement to make your position clear and get people’s attention.

The problem is that James follows this opening salvo with his analysis of steroids, “Steroids keep you young. You may not like to hear it stated that way, because steroids are evil, wicked, mean, and nasty and youth is a good thing, but…that’s what it means.  Steroids help the athlete resist the effects of aging.”  James goes on to look into his crystal ball to tell us that in the future not only won’t steroids disappear from our culture, but that “everybody is going to be using steroids or their pharmaceutical descendants.”

According to James, not only will steroids assume a Soma-like status because,

Doctors are going to routinely prescribe drugs that will help us live to be 200, 300 or 1000

In 40 or 50 years every citizen will take anti-aging pills everyday

People in the future will look back on the users from the steroid era as being pioneers and not rule-breakers that cheated to gain an advantage

Our children and grandchildren are going to be steroid users and will view the banning of PEDs “as a bizarre artifice of the past”

James’ argument that steroids and other anti-aging drugs will be used regularly and his view of the future are as off base as is statement that, “The argument for discriminating against PED users rests upon the assumption of the moral superiority of non-drug users.”  This declaration is frightening as it clearly implies that those who follow the rules are not morally superior to those who break the rules.

The statistical expert has gone off the rails and lost all credibility.  But it gets worse.  In the ensuing paragraphs James favors us with these gems.

A steroid user will get elected to the Hall of Fame and then acknowledge he used steroids

Some players who used steroid will get in which will open the floodgates so all users get in

Compares the attitudes towards rule-breaking PED users with the attitudes about sexuality on television of a generation ago.  I am not making this up.  You have to read this to believe it.

Dick Allen is going to get into the Hall of Fame

Andy Pettitte is probably getting a plaque in Cooperstown and when he does, “he is going to speak up for Roger Clemens.”  I am not making this up, either.

Click here to check out part two of my review of Bill James’ paper, “Cooperstown and the ‘Roids.”

Baseball’s preeminent statistical expert has gives us his thoughts on the issue of steroids and baseball and there’s a lot to talk about as a result.  This is part two of my look at his paper titled, “Cooperstown and the ‘Roids.”

James gives us this mind boggling passage, “The discrimination against PED users in Hall of Fame voting rests upon the perception that this was cheating.  But is it cheating if one violates a rule that nobody is enforcing, and which one may legitimately see as being widely ignored by those within the competition?”  This is another, “Wow!” moment. As in, “Wow, WTF is he talking about? Where has he been!”

James doesn’t seem to remember that the league wasn’t able to/didn’t test for steroids until recently, and cannot and will likely never be able to test for human growth hormone. Furthermore, regardless of whether or not the league has the ability to test for every PED, if MLB states that the use of these substances is prohibited, any player who uses them is breaking the rules.  James also doesn’t bring up the fact that not one baseball player, and to my knowledge, not one athlete has come out and admitted to using steroids and/or said that using them during the years when everyone was doing it, wasn’t cheating.

As a matter of fact, players have gone to great lengths to hide their usage from the authorities, their peers and fans, from wagging their fingers in denial at congressional hearings to telling people they didn’t want to talk about the past.

Towards the end of the paper James mentions how Will Clark was a great player who was historically under-rated because, “his numbers were dimmed by comparison to the steroid-inflated numbers that came just after him. Will Clark in the pre-steroid era, was a much better player than Rafael Palmeiro.”

James goes on to say that he would not argue with a person who did not support a player for the Hall of Fame because he was a steroid user and, therefore, a cheater. We writes that Will Clark has a “right to feel cheated out of a fair chance to compete for honors in his time, and, if you chose to look at it from the standpoint of Will Clark, I don’t think that you are wrong to do so.”

James writes that he doesn’t believe “history will look at this issue from the standpoint of Will Clark.”  The sad thing is that Bill James is one of the few people in the position to prevent/correct this injustice.  Who better to “man up,” and make the case for the non-cheaters than the leading baseball statistician of all-time?

It’s sad that a noted expert like Bill James chose not to take a stand and call PED users cheaters.  I don’t say this because I believe Clemens, Bonds, Sosa, McGwire and the rest of the lot are cowards and cheaters and want a guy with James’ stature to be on my side of the argument. I say this because James didn’t provide any provocative *cough* rational *cough* arguments to support his position, but takes the easy way out and says PED users will get in simply “because.”

Before reading this paper, if I had heard that Bill James had made the case for why steroid users should be baseball’s Hall of Fame my first thought would have been, “Great, I can’t wait to see how he makes his case.” Rather than provide a thought provoking lesson, James serves up a muddled, bordering on incoherent, collection of “arguments” that adds nothing to the debate.

Depending on the news account, the NBA’s Rashard Lewis failed a performance-enhancing drug test for elevated testosterone levels and/or elevated levels of DHEA, a hormone precursor that has been shown to increase testosterone levels.  Lewis attributes this failed test to the use of an over-the-counter dietary supplement powder that he used to make shakes.

The OTC supplement is one of the oldest excuses in the book and is designed to allow the user to plead ignorance and come across as an innocent and aggrieved victim.  If Lewis really failed a performance-enhancing drug test for this reason we should expect that the name of the product be made public.  According to Lewis’ story, he used a powder to make shakes and the DHEA was contained in this product.  An Internet search for DHEA supplements yields countless results for DHEA in tablet and capsule form but not in a powder form.  The dosage of DHEA in these supplements range from 5 to 100 milligrams per serving.

Research on the effectiveness of DHEA has been mixed.  DHEA appears to be beneficial for some members of the elderly population with a variety of daily dosages from 25 to 100 mg per day.  One study that gave subjects 100 mg per day saw no increase in lean muscle mass or change in urological parameters.  Other studies have shown DHEA to provide certain benefits.  There are some questions as to the safety of DHEA supplementation.

Despite the fact that DHEA is a precursor to testosterone – it provides the raw materials to produce testosterone and a host of other hormones in the body – there is no understanding as to exactly how it works.

Lewis’ excuse is sketchy for a variety of reasons.  Without knowing the name of the supplement there is no way to fairly assess his story; there is no way to know the amount of DHEA contained in the alleged over-the-counter supplement.  Research indicates a daily dose of 100 mg of DHEA doesn’t change urological parameters, so it’s reasonable to question Lewis’ excuse that this unnamed powder contained enough DHEA to result in a failed drug test.  It’s suspicious that I haven’t been able to find the type of supplement Lewis claims is responsible for his failed test after doing a basic Google search and checking some of the major supplement web sites.

News reports are that Lewis was flagged for an increased testosterone level but there’s no indication that OTC-style DHEA supplementation can increase testosterone levels to this extent.  Without knowing the parameters of the NBA’s drug testing program – what does the league consider “elevated,” what testosterone/epitestosterone ratio does the league use, at what level is a player considered to have an elevated DHEA level – the Lewis story is incomplete and makes no sense.

In this era of heightened skepticism more details are needed before Lewis’ supplement excuse can be deemed credible.

David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Bernard Kohl, Shane Merriman, Rodney Harrison and the rest of the athletes who have failed drug tests are guilty of “Athletic Plagiarism.”

Athletic Plagiarism is when an athlete uses illegal/banned/designer performance-enhancing drugs (PED), or any legitimate drug in an illegitimate way.  The definition of plagiarism is, “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”  In academia, journalism and the world of publishing, plagiarism is the ultimate sin.  Plagiarists get thrown out of school, lose their jobs, credibility and any awards that they may have won as a result of this form of cheating.

Athletes who use PEDs are guilty of the same sin and should be treated similarly.  Roger Clemens‘ drug use allowed him to garner headlines, win awards and be considered by some to not only be the greatest pitcher of the generation, but of all time.  He redefined the idea of a power pitcher and a dominant pitcher.

But Clemens’ performance and his 354 wins are an illusion. Plagiarism.  He used drugs to give him what others have done naturally.  He got the credit that others truly deserved.  His performance set the standard, but this performance was based on unauthorized use of drugs and portrayed as being the result of his hard work and natural gifts.

The accomplishments of all other pitchers – contemporaries like Greg Maddux (355 wins) and those from the past – were relegated to the shadows of “the PED Rocket.”  Clemens became the pitcher to which all other pitchers were compared.  Until we know better Greg Maddux should be recognized as the greatest pitcher of this generation, and perhaps of all-time, for if he doesn’t get ensnared in this scandal he will have excelled against PED users.  But that’s a different argument for a different time

Hitters like Bonds, Ramirez, McGwire, Canseco and a litany of other drug cheats not only reaped rewards and stole the thunder of other players, their successes no doubt encouraged other players to plagiarize via PEDS. These players changed the course of the game the way Clemens changed the way pitchers were evaluated.  Power was in; speed, agility and fundamentals were out.  “Small-ball’ took a backseat to the long ball, and guys like Craig Biggio, Will Clark, and other guys who hit 15-30 home runs naturally lost money, fame and roster spots to these athletic plagiarists.

The argument used by the defenders of Clemens, A Rod, Manny and the other cheaters that these players were great without steroids and should still be in the Hall of Fame, is specious. Anyone who supports and forwards the idea that an athletes’ plagiarism – and its effects – is isolated or limited to a few months/handful of games cannot be taken seriously.  This argument/defense is as ridiculous as that of the person who gets caught cheating on a test and says, “But I only cheated on question 13, I did the rest myself!”

With every at-bat and every pitch thrown these players – and the others that haven’t been named/caught, but that exist – affected the outcomes of games, pennant races, the evolution of the way the game is played, the salary structure, the entire financial structure of sports and adversely affected the integrity of the game in a manner far worse than Pete Rose’s gambling ever did.  And we all know his story.

Drug cheats/athletic plagiarists put their personal pursuits ahead of everything that they should have respected, and as a result disrespect their profession, the world of sport, their peers and predecessors who didn’t cheat, and took credit for work that wasn’t theirs.

World record performance in the 100-meter dash and climbing hills in the Tour de France are related and may be a starting point to design a better way to detect performance-enhancing drug use.  In the meantime, I’ll be skeptical of greatness.

It’s become commonplace to hear accounts of world-class sprinters covering a 100-meter course in 9.9 seconds; 9.9 or faster has been run 96 times over the past 2 decades.  Take one-tenth of a second off this time, run a 9.8, and it’s only been done 16 times by four different guys; Maurice Greene (twice), Asafa Powell (seven), Usain Bolt (five) and Tyson Gay (twice).

Back in the late 1980s when Ben Johnson ran the first sub 9.8-second 100-meters, he knocked almost two-tenths of a second off the existing record and won the Gold Medal in the Seoul Olympics’ 100-meter final (he ran a 9.79).  Turned out he was fueled by Stanozolol and stripped of his Olympic title.  Since then, Justin Gatlin and Tim Montgomery have run similar times and held the World Record and also have had their times nullified due to failed drug tests.

Testimony provided as a result of the BALCO scandal by mastermind Victor Conte, track coaches and track athletes revealed a glimpse of the performance parameters of the world’s fastest men. The prevailing wisdom was that doping was necessary in order to run world-record neighborhood times.  Conte has been steadfast in his belief that track and field athletes, and sprinters in particular, owe their success to a steady diet of performance-enhancing drugs (PED).

Without even getting into women sprinters, and what we know about outstanding performances among baseball players and how drugs played a major role, there are more than enough reasons for people to be skeptical of outstanding athletic performances.

Now I’m going to shift gears and talk cycling.

While it’s not a major sport, cycling has developed a cult following in the United States and in many nations across the world.  Cycling is a sport that has been rife with doping, and was the first sport to really delve into the high-tech areas of performance-enhancing drug use and extraordinary medical interventions.  Even for an iconic figure like Lance Armstrong, the specter of PED use both follows and overshadows all that he, and other cycling champions, has accomplished.

PED use has so tainted the sport of cycling that this year’s winner – Alberto Contador – had yet to take his perfunctory victory ride in the final stage of the Tour when former Tour winner Greg LeMond questioned the issue of the “cleanliness” of his performance.

LeMond opined in the French newspaper “LeMonde” that, “What is one to make of Contador’s record setting speed on the climb to Verbier? According to Antoine Vayer (My Note: Former cycling insider and anti-doping advocate) and his recently published calculations he would need a VO2 max of 99.5 ml to do this effort. As far as I know, this is a number which (sic) has never been recorded by any athlete in any sport. This value corresponds to the oxygen needs required of many recent Tour de France winners’ performances in mountain stages and time trials. This is like a gorgeous Mercedes sedan from the showroom showing up for an F1 race and being competitive or winning. It just doesn’t add up, show me what is really under the hood.”

To put the climb performance in perspective, Contador covered 5.3 miles (8.5 km) with an average slope of 7.5% in a hair under 21-minutes, which means he averaged over 18.5 miles per hour (30 kmph) up a series of steep hairpin turns.

Much of the discussion that has come about as a result of LeMond’s column, the majority of which is in cycling circles, involves questioning the motives of Antoine Vayer and the math behind his methods.  Matters of VO2 Max, efficiency, power output and the like are way beyond the attention and interest spans of the vast majority of sports fans, but they do serve as a jumping off point for the discussion that Greg LeMond has started.

Calculations and formulas aside, LeMond is on the right track when he brings up the notion of questioning outstanding performances that greatly overshadow current and historical norms.  LeMond is not some desk jockey sniping away at real athletes without the benefit of knowing what it’s like to be the best in the race.  He is a Tour de France champion.  He knows when something just doesn’t look right.

Critics of the LeMond/Vayer school of thought, that power output calculations can be an indication of doping, have questioned Vayer’s calculations based on Contador’s 2009 Tour performance.  However, Vayer published a piece earlier this summer in which he details his 3-point plan.

  • Verified Doping (410 watts): Covering more than 400 meters at a world-champion level of athleticism, without getting tired and after five hours of effort
  • Miraculous Doping (430 watts): Raising your leg by one meter, with 45 kilos [= 99 lb.] attached to it, more than 2000 times without faltering, after five hours of effort
  • Mutant Doping (450 watts): Riding a bike at 10 km/hour up a slope of 10% steepness (which does not exist in France) while towing a cargo of 100 kilos [= 220 lb.], after five hours of effort

To understand the energy output required to reach the 410 watt level, the 400-meters would have to be covered at a rate of 9.7 seconds per 100-meters, or the world’s fastest 100-meter run, run four times after 5 hours of effort.  Now you know why I started out talking sprinting.

Vayer also provides some context to this issue of the production of power. ”Since the beginning of the 1990s, the products or methods which oxygenate blood, combined with all the other toxic medications described ever more fully by former “champions,” have permitted [race] leaders to produce on their two wheels an amount of power, expressed in watts, almost double that of a donkey of the beginning of the century pulling a load (250 watts), and equal to that of a steam-engine before the invention of mechanical propulsion.”

The LeMond/Vayer position is a valid one, in that there are limits to human performance even among elites, and that extraordinary performances can be indications of PED use.  Once you accept this position – that there is just so much work a human can do – details with regards to the calculations and formulas can be hammered out. Just as we know that baseball or football players cannot continue to add noticeable amounts of lean muscle mass, naturally, as they age, the amount of power a human can produce is finite and knowable within reason.

Athletes themselves have given us the reasons to question great performances and cannot blame anyone but themselves for the heightened sense of skepticism that exists among fans and journalists.

Despite reams of evidence to the contrary too many personal trainers and consumers still think bodybuilding is a valid method of training.  There are no such things as “bodybuilding secrets.”

Actually the secret of bodybuilding isn’t really a secret; anabolic drugs – steroids, human growth hormone, insulin and a whole host of other illicit chemicals – are responsible for creating the “sport” of bodybuilding.  Without drugs, bodybuilding would have never attracted the attention of the American public.

For all the showmanship and bravado possessed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, without steroids he wouldn’t have given us, “The Terminator,” “Conan the Barbarian,” or the iconic “Pumping Iron” in which he displayed the persona that catapulted him to fame.  This isn’t meant to denigrate what Arnold accomplished, but to point out the stark reality.

No drugs, no Arnold, no bodybuilding, no Muscle & Fitness magazine, and the multi-billion dollar Hulk that is the fitness industry is a 97-pound puny weakling by comparison.  The fitness revolution initiated by Arnold and his steroid-taking Muscle Beach behemoths allowed bodybuilding to stake out the territory that bodybuilding occupies in the land of legitimate fitness.  Amazingly, almost 40 years later many personal trainers still employ the antiquated and flawed techniques favored by the anabolic using pioneers with their non-drug using clients.

Thankfully the mainstream has started to turn away from bodybuilding, also known as “reductionist training.” Members of the highest levels of the fitness profession never really embraced the methods of bodybuilding, which breaks down the movements of the body in to component parts.  Using machines and exercises to isolate/exercise one muscle group at a time, and following a split routine for workouts, is incredibly wasteful and counterproductive.

In a quest for bigger biceps and triceps, well-defined abdominal muscles and other appearance-based goals people still search the Internet for bodybuilding secrets.  The answers provided by bodybuilder-types are flawed, the exercises recommended don’t deliver on the promised results (without the drugs pro bodybuilders use) and the quest for other secrets continues.

The never-ending search for secrets – and in effect short cuts – is thanks to the flawed bodybuilding premise, that an improved appearance equals improved performance.  It isn’t sexy and it doesn’t sizzle, but there are no secret ways to build muscle, build fat free mass, burn fat, tone muscle or do any of the other things you can find when doing a Google search for “bodybuilding secrets.”