I have heard that you can get just as big by using supplements as you can with the ‘other stuff,’ steroids, GH, insulin, etc. How much longer would you say it takes? I am 21 now and hopefully want to go from 200 to about 275. Let’s say I could do that on drugs in 3-4 years. How long without drugs?
Sorry to break it to you, but I’m not here to blow sunshine up your ass. You could get bitten by a vampire (hopefully a hot chick vampire) and live another 500 years and still never be as big without drugs as you can without them. Steroids are very powerful compounds that are specifically designed to change your physiology and allow you to gain and maintain far more lean muscle mass than a human being was ever meant to have. And like any powerful drug, steroids, GH, and insulin can all have unwanted side effects. But since I have yet to meet many 21-year-olds that had any concern whatsoever for their future health and longevity, I’ll drop that side of the issue. More importantly, steroids are much harder to get these days, and the vast majority of what you can find in the USA is produced by ‘underground’ laboratories. These are produced in locations that can range from perfectly sterile facilities to some dude’s bathtub. A recent random test of the most common underground products found that one in five contained dangerously high levels of heavy metals like lead and mercury. But wait, there’s more! The Federal government of the USA has been conducting a ‘war on drugs’ since the Nixon administration. This war has largely failed because top producers and distributors of narcotics like cocaine and heroin are very well-funded, well-armed, and extremely aware of how to avoid capture. Their methods are sophisticated and they often have various law enforcement personnel on their payroll (bribed) to ensure that their business continues to flow smoothly. More recently, the war shifted to a much easier target to hit successfully: steroids. Dealers are typically small-time and not particularly savvy in the ways of true criminals. They do far too much of their negotiating and sales online, where the Feds are constantly looking and listening in. And the law knows that when a person gets busted for steroids, they will roll right over and inform on the next guy up the chain or even willingly cooperate to set more people up, just to avoid jail time. The steroid trade is not made up of hardened, vicious criminals and thugs – more like a bunch of guys that like to lift super heavy and be bigger than anyone else at their gym. What I’m getting at with all this is that steroids may indeed allow you to grow to a size that you wouldn’t ever reach with legal supplements, but OTC products will still deliver very noticeable effects. And the best part is, they are much safer and definitely a lot less risky to buy and use. If your health and your freedom are things you are willing to take risks with, then do what you like. If you want to grow more gradually and build a physique that the average person would still consider enormous and impressive, stick with supplements. You are very lucky to be bodybuilding in an era when supplements are actually effective, and there are a couple companies out there like Gaspari Nutrition that spend the time and money to develop products that do indeed deliver real results.
What’s better, pyramiding up or pyramiding down? I seem to hear a lot of conflicting opinions on this subject.
I have done both many times. In my younger years, I had a policy for certain bodyparts of warming up and then beginning with my absolute heaviest weight and going down from there as the sets went on. Chest and shoulders were the two muscle groups I always did this for, because I wanted to be able to use the heaviest dumbbells or loaded barbell that I could. I found that if I pyramided up, my top weights were never as heavy as they could be otherwise. For example, say I was doing incline dumbbell presses. The way I would typically have done it would be to warm up with 50 x 8, 75 x 5, and a final warm-up of 95 x 2. I never believed in expending a lot of energy on my warm-up sets, as I also felt that would take away from my potential top working weights. My work sets would look something like this:
140 x 6, 120 x 8, 110 x 8
If I would instead pyramid up, my work sets might look like this:
110 x 12, 120, 10, 140 x 4
Instinctively, I knew that starting out with a top weight on exercises like squats or deadlifts was not such a bright idea. On those I always would pyramid up. The few times I didn’t had an unusually high incidence of injuries, so I learned quickly that it was probably best to not continue that practice. As the years went by, I slowly began to experience more and more joint pains in the shoulders and elbows, which led me to question my habit of starting out heavy on presses. Eventually I started mixing it up and only doing that about half the time. But back to your original question: which is better? For a bodybuilder, I don’t think it makes much difference. You stimulate the muscle either way, and gradually working up to heavier weights is a safer way to go about it. Yes, that will likely mean you are sacrificing just a little more weight you could have used, or a few more reps you could have gotten. As long as you are pushing hard and giving it your best effort, I don’t think that matters. I do wonder now if my shoulders (diagnosed in 2008 with arthritis in both and a large bone spur on the left side) would be in better shape if I had simply done the standard pyramiding up sequence all along. Who’s to say? If you do choose to start out heavy and pyramid down, make damn sure you warm up thoroughly first. Don’t make the weight jumps too drastic, either, such as 50 pounds for one warm-up and then 100 for the next. And employ good form. Respect the fact that you are able to handle that heavy weight and never forget that you are a flesh-and-blood human being that can get injured if you’re not smart and careful. If you go around too long thinking you’re Superman and nothing can harm you, I can guarantee you that your body will bring you down to reality sooner or later. By all means train hard, but do it intelligently too.