by Mike Arnold
What is the best way to minimize health risk, while also maximizing one’s progress in terms of muscular development? When it comes to steroids, this is a topic which has been breached more times that can be remembered, with all sorts of useful suggestions & recommendations being proposed over the years. Today, we are more informed than ever regarding steroid application, as well as the associated health risks and the steps we should take in order to minimize/prevent physical harm from occurring.
However, one aspect of steroid administration which has remained amazingly consistent is the manner in which we approach steroid use as a beginner and on through the advanced stages of physical development. Typically, we are taught that the safest and most effective way to go about achieving our muscle-building goals is to start slow, while gradually increasing our dosage and/or number of compounds employed, as the cycles go by and growth becomes more difficult. On the surface, this approach appears to be sound. After all, since higher dosages are more likely to lead to side effects, why use more than is necessary to initiate growth? While this makes sense when evaluating the situation from a short-term perspective, it neglects looking at the bigger picture and ignores significant factors, such as adaptation.
Let’s take a moment to look at an alternative approach…one which assesses the issue of health from a long-term outlook. Specifically, let’s look at the subject of “hard-core” steroid use as a beginning AAS user and attempt to demonstrate why this approach can potentially result in a reduced capacity for physical harm over the long-run, while supplying a greater amount of muscle growth over an equal period of time, in comparison to the gradual (traditional) approach utilized by most steroid users. At first glance the “sprinting method” (utilizing higher dosages & multiple compounds right up front) appears to be anything other than less risky, but if we cease looking at the issue of steroid use on a cycle by cycle basis and look at the accumulative effects of AAS over a steroid user’s entire cycling experience, one’s initial views may be altered in favor of this approach.
In order to understand why this particular method can result in a reduced potential for physical harm, we must first become aware of some of the most important risk factors involved when using AAS and how they affect the various system(s) of the body. Two of the most influential factors responsible for determining long-term harm with AAS use are 1) length of use (total number of years steroids are employed) and 2) total drug intake (the amount of steroids administered over the individual’s lifetime). In general, the more steroids an individual takes during their lifetime and the more years they use them for, the greater the likelihood of experiencing unwanted, serious side effects. Drug choice is also a significant determinant, but drug choice can be controlled regardless of approach, making the issue irrelevant in this context. At this point you might thinking…”OK, I agree with that, but how does heavy steroid use right out of the gate make a user any less likely to experience serious side effects in the long-run?” This is a good question, so now would be a good time for me to more accurately clarify my position before moving on.
It’s no secret that most steroid users are not looking to become the next Mr. Olympia. Hell, most steroid users don’t even compete. The typical steroid user would be quite happy to build a level of muscular size which is seen on the builds of their favorite WWE wrestler, a pro football player, or an impressively built amateur BB’rs who may not be at pro-size, but one whom the general public would still recognize as a “BB’r”. Therefore, in this article I will not be addressing those BB’rs who wish to “turn pro”…because let’s face it, those who are pursuing that path are going to have to use a shit-load of drugs anyway, leaving them with no choice but heavy drug use for most of their BB’ing journey. However, for those steroid users who would be happy to build and maintain a physique akin to what was described above, then this article is for you. When it comes to building an impressive physique, there is more than one way to get the job done and it doesn’t have to involve several years of slowly increasing the dosage and gradually adding more and more drugs, in order to get there.
At this point, we’ll look at an example of this alternative cycling approach and compare it against the more traditional style of cycling. First, let’s examine the traditional approach. Often, such an individual will kick-off their 1st cycle with one…maybe two compounds and dose them fairly low. The “test only” cycle at 500 mg/weeks would be considered a common 1st cycle, so we’ll use that as a starting point. With this cycle, the typical BB’r might gain around 20 lbs, on average. After PCT (assuming it was properly implemented), this person would likely end up keeping around 50-65% of their gains, so if I round it up to 65%, he would have built 13 lbs of muscle after all is said and done. For a 2nd cycle, let’s say he uses 500 mg of test and 500 mg of EQ. At this point he might gain back the 7 lbs he lost, plus an additional 8 lbs on top of that. After PCT, again assuming PCT was implemented correctly and he kept a full 65% of his gains, he will have added about 22 lbs of muscle above what he started with.
As you can see, there is already a trend developing, in which each successive cycle is adding less muscle tissue than the one before it. On a 3rd cycle, he may run Test & EQ as he did previously, but add in some D-bol at 30-40 mg/day for 4-6 weeks of his cycle. This time, he may gain back what he lost from the 2nd cycle and add yet another 5-7 lbs of new mass. By this point, gains retention is usually no better than about 50%, so after losing about half of what he gained from that cycle during his off-time, he will end up only a few pounds heavier than his last cycle.
Things only get more difficult from there, with both the total amount of gains, as well as gains retention diminishing with each successive cycle, despite an increase in total dosage and number of compounds employed. If the BB’r continues following the traditional cycling approach, before long he will start losing “everything” he gained from each cycle during his off-time, even though the amount of drugs used may be considerable.
When a BB’r reaches this point, he has normally already been using AAS for several years and is using fairly large dosages of AAS with minimal return, so he has one of two options. He can either reduce the amount of time he takes off in-between his cycles, so that his body does not have time to break down all of the new muscle tissue he built during his cycle…or he can continue doing what he has been doing; just blowing up and then shrinking back down following each cycle. All BB’rs, if their development exceeds a certain point, will eventually come to the place where they can’t maintain their new gains post-cycle. The only solution is less time off and continuing to increase the dosage as time goes by.
In the end, while following a traditional approach, the BB’r above could easily spend 6-10 years doing 25-30 cycles to end up 50-75 lbs heavier than when he started taking AAS. He will be MUCH bigger…no doubt, but by this time his total steroid intake will be large and his total amount of “ON” time will be substantial. Remember, two of the most important risk factors in determining long-term harm are the total amount of drugs used and how many years they are used for. In order to gain a more thorough understanding of the role these factors play in regards to health, let’s look at some of the various bodily systems negatively affected by AAS and how this potential damage takes place. We’ll start with the cardiovascular system.
We all know (or should know) that cardiovascular damage is usually the most significant health risk a steroid users faces, not only because the cardiovascular system is essential to life and irreplaceable, but because the damage builds up over time and can be difficult to repair. The 3 most important cardiovascular health markers are blood pressure, lipids (cholesterol), and hematocrit. Steroids have the potential to adversely affect all three, often to an extreme degree. With all of these health markers, the longer they stay out of range, the more damage that is done. Having elevated BP for 10 years is MUCH more injurious than having elevated BP for 3 months, for example. Hematocrit is no different, as elevated hematocrit will additional place stress on the heart, with damage accumulating as time goes by. It also acutely increases the risk of developing a blood clot, which could travel to the heart, lungs, or brain, causing instant death or severe physical impairment. In terms of cholesterol damage, the cardiovascular system suffers minimal harm if our lipid profile is severely disturbed for only a few months, but long-term alterations is an entirely different story, leading to hardening of the arteries and possible pre-mature heart attack and/or stroke. The bottom line is that the more time these health markers spend out of range over the course of a steroid user’s lifetime, the more likely the individual is to suffer cardiovascular harm.
When speaking of AAS and their effects on these health markers, it is relevant to note that high-dose use does not “necessarily” impact them any more severely than low-dose use. For example, even a moderate dose of Anavar can drop good cholesterol into the teens or even single digits within just a few weeks of use. This can happen with any oral steroid. On the other side of the coin, if a BB’r were to run a heavy-dose cycle, he should not expect his good cholesterol to drop any lower than that, as it doesn’t get any lower than the single digits. In other words, even low doses of oral steroids can lead to maximum alterations in one’s lipid profile over a short period of time.
In terms of blood pressure, heavy usage generally has a more profound effect on this health marker. Fortunately, elevated BP can often be significantly mitigated through proper supplementation and intelligent drug choice, making one’s AAS dosage less of a deciding factor when attempting to keep blood pressure within a normal range. As for hematocrit, larger dosages of AAS also tend to elevate this health marker more than lower dosages of the same steroids. However, through the consumption of a compound called naringin, which is naturally found in grapefruit, hematocrit levels can usually be normalized, regardless of dosage. In addition, staying well hydrated is a simple, yet crucial component when it comes to maintaining proper hematocrit levels. Lastly, periodically donating blood can effectively lower hematocrit in an acute manner.
As you can see, dosage does not necessarily have to play a prominent role in determining cardiovascular health risk, as proper planning can drastically reduce the risk of experiencing adverse alterations to these vital health markers. For example, someone who has been experiencing elevated BP, cholesterol, and hematocrit for 8-10 years on lower-dosed cycles is going to be at a much greater risk for heart attack and/or stroke compared to someone who has experienced similar, yet intermittent alterations to these health markers for only 2-3 years with higher dosages.
Another major organ which has the potential to be significantly affected by steroid use is the liver. It is important to note that liver strain is caused almost solely by methylated steroids and while most methylated AAS are orals, some are injectable, such as Winstrol. However, the deleterious side effects associated with methylated drugs can be diminished through responsible administration coupled with preventative care, leading to acceptable liver function in almost all cases. Oftentimes, the toxicity risks of oral steroids are blown way out of proportion, especially by the online BB’ing community. This is due primarily to a propagation of ignorance, in which factual data is trumped by the comments of uninformed posters, who then spread these same fallacies to other members of the BB’ing community. Yet, despite the toxicity exaggerations posted online, serious liver issues are rare and typically only occur in cases of extreme irresponsibility and/or negligence. A far more pressing issue with oral AAS use is their ability to negatively impact the lipid profile, making them the #1 contributor of heart disease among steroid users. As mentioned previously, this side effect can be largely circumvented through proper planning and adequate preventive care.
As we have seen above, dosage need not play a central role in determining the degree of risk when referring to the above mentioned health markers. However, intelligent application and the implementation of specific safety measures is a requirement, if we wish for this to remain the case. By taking these steps, we cannot eliminate all risk, but we can certainly reduce it greatly, allowing for a beginner to make more rapid gains without assuming significantly greater health risk to those bodily systems. We also went over an example of the traditional cycling approach and how a BB’r might progress in their development when adhering to such principles. With that said, I propose that by utilizing a back-wards approach, in which the user starts off with larger dosages and a more diverse array of complimentary compounds, that a steroid novice can ultimately achieve his muscle-building goals over a much shorter period of time, while minimizing the long-term health consequences inherent to the process.
Now, I am sure this sounds great to those who are contemplating making the jump over the world of AAS or to those who have just recently begun using steroids and are impatient to try the super-cycles of the “big guys” they read about online. However, before you get your hopes up, let it be known right up front that this method is not suitable for most novices, as the typical novice does not possess the requisite knowledge necessary for extracting an acceptable amount of gains from this method, in order to make it worthwhile. For those who embark on such a path ill-suited, the end-result will almost certainly be only a slight increase in gains compared to the traditional style of cycling, accompanied by significantly greater side effects. Those who desire to use this approach properly will require clear-cut goals and more often than not, a level of competence & knowledge which is beyond their years in terms of nutrition, training, and AAS…not to mention a chronic emphasis on the maintenance of all vital health markers.
Check back in shortly for Part 2 of this article: AAS use: Diving right in or taking it slow? Part 2