There’s a fascinating article written by performance enhancement drugs (PEDs) gurus John Romano and Anthony Roberts titled, “Steroids, CrossFit, and The CrossFit Games: Who & How“. The TL;DR is a) these guys are experts on PEDs, b) drug tests are very easy to beat, c) testing agencies are mediocre at best, purposely negligent at worse, d) every major sport (including the Olympics) has steroid users, e) given some formulas (that are backed by research) that look at musculature on a man’s frame, CrossFit competitors fit the mold of steroid use. I suggest reading the article as it expands on each of these points significantly.
I’ve written various steroid articles in the past, but as much as I’ve studied anatomy, physiology (including endocrinology), I still don’t understand the mechanism of PEDs well. The most recent article I wrote on it is, “Lance Armstrong, PEDs, and Naivety” (a very good article to compliment Romano and Robert’s above). I’ve accepted this statement as fact: “Most athletes in high level sports are using PEDs. The ones who aren’t are probably losing or are the minority.” The Romano/Roberts article above even points to studies that show specific time periods of increased performance in a given sport and how it correlated precisely with a new PED on the market. To think of this as merely a correlation without causation is, as I say in my own article above, naive.
Why would CrossFit be any different? The winner of the CrossFit Games wins at least a quarter million dollars, and that doesn’t even include follow-up endorsement deals or CrossFitters throwing money at them to attend shitty seminars and “learn their secrets”. I’m not saying they bullshit their way into victory with PEDs, but pointing out that CrossFit fame has significant rewards. (I’m also saying that successful CrossFit competitors are typically bad coaches, but that’s neither here nor there).
My personal opinion of PED use is that it’s none of my fucking business. I believe that the swift movement towards social liberalism will lead to the legality of PED use in the same way that marijuana is legal in some states. This poses a variety of additional questions, like the government inevitably wanting to regulate them (they can’t and won’t), and how it could increase the overall safety of PED use among lay-people. (Remember that scene in Minority Report when Tom Cruise gets a back-alley-abortion-style eye surgery because it was illegal?)
To continue my opinion, if most athletes are using PEDs and the tests suck, then what’s the point? When I wrote the Lance Armstrong article above, my friend Eva Twardokens, a two-time winter Olympian, called me immediately expressing her displeasure. She has a disdain for cheaters in sport, and I completely understand the argument, especially from the perspective of a non-using competitor. Unfortunately for non-using competitors, the rest of everyone else will be using. And they’ll probably be the winners.
Eva at least made me think about my stance. She lambasted Armstrong while I called him a hero in the article (for other things in life like fundraising). I’ve seen my friends lose in national competitions to guys who were quite clearly using. But I also have friends who save lives or kill the enemy while use testable or non-testable PEDs to increase their performance at work. I see both sides, and I’m not sure I really care.
Fairness is an illusion anyway. Forget all of the tangible elements that make a person who they are and look at intangibles. For example, not everyone has the same will to succeed, so why treat them all like they do and make futile attempts at putting them on the same level? That question has more than one meaning.
The truth is…life ain’t fair. No matter what regulation you put on it, folks will not follow it. I’m not making a case for anarchy, no rules, and no government, but I’m making a case against the naive mindset that sport preparation is, or should be, fair. The internetz have talked for years about PED use in CrossFit. It’s likely some of those guys were or are using. And I don’t blame them.
Let’s go back to the Romano/Roberts article. I thought that the linked study was really neat. It basically looked at non-using bodybuilders from the pre-steroid era and compared them to PED-using bodybuilders in the early steroid era and applied a formula based on their lean body mass and height to gauge whether they were likely using steroids or not. (Something like this should be used instead of the bullshit BMI). It found that at least half of the top ten male finishers at the CrossFit Games would fit a classification of PED use. After all, the non-using bodybuilders from the linked study were the most muscular men in the world.
I thought this was interesting, so I plugged my own information into it. The cutoff, according to the study, was anything over a 25 was flagged for steroid use. They increased the cutoff to 26 for the sake of an argument that benefits the CrossFitters (read their article if you don’t know what I’m talking about). In any case, I estimated my body fat at a conservative 10% (it’s usually more like 9%) and used a 210 lbs (this is my lowest). So that puts me at 85.905kg for lean mass (note that I converted to kilos) and my height is 1.8288m (6 ft tall), and my value was 25.69. Without adjusting for a 1.8m man (which I am close to), and according to the study, I am flagged for potential PED use, and I have never used.
Aside from feeling really cool about having a comparable muscle-to-frame ratio as former Mr. Americas, I found this is interesting. I am much more conditioned than a normal lifter, but I am not nearly as conditioned or adapted to high volumes as the guys finishing in the CrossFit games. However, most of the top ten finishers from the CF Games have a higher value than I do (Jason Khalipa has a whopping 28.5).
Romano and Roberts did not directly suggest that these guys were using PEDs; their goal was to point out that the conditions exist where it is likely they are, whether you’re talking about widespread drug use in sports or the fact these guys fit the mold for PEDs users.
All I’m saying is that it’s naive to not make the assumption.