This website is, and always has been, about the truth. You are either for the truth or you are not – there is no room here for a third option. This article isn’t meant to condemn anyone, or anything, nor promote anything – it’s simply an objective overview of Crossfit and performance enhancing drugs, written because we strongly believe that nobody else has gotten it right.
If you are dubious about our credentials, and wondering why we purport to “get it right” while everyone else has failed, then this next section is for you. If you already know who we are, feel free to skip ahead to the portion titled Beating the Drug Test. If you’re in the TL;DR crowd, then definately skip ahead – we think the data presented in the section titled So Who’s Using? will stand on its own, regardless of whether your ADD-riddled brain was able to actually get you there.
Who are we?
By John Romano & Anthony Roberts
The first voice you’re hearing (me, AR): I was certified as a Crossfit instructor in 2011; prior to that, I’d been incorporating Crossfit into my training for a couple of years – I first wrote about it in 2009. If you remember the first time Crossfit was referenced in FitnessRx or Muscle Insider, many years ago (before Reebok came on board, and before it was on ESPN2), then you might also that I was the one who helped put it in those pages. What this means, in terms of the expansion of the company, is that I have more experience in Crossfit than most Crossfitters and most Crossfit coaches, plus most box owners. I’ve also played and coached a sport at the collegiate and national level, and am certified as a coach in something other than Crossfit. I’ve written three books on steroids, plus innumerable articles, been quoted by The NY Times as an expert, and had my work referenced in medical journals…. you get the idea. Most of the articles and steroid profiles on a good portion of the largest anabolic steroid websites were written by me – I’m not bragging, I’m simply establishing my credentials to the average crossfitter who may have stumbled onto this article, and has no idea who I am. If you’ve read a steroid profile on Steroid.com, it was probably written by me. The same goes for Isteroids.com, and many other sites.
The second voice you’re hearing, JR, has consulted with HBO, 20/20, and innumerable other news outlets, but you probably remember him from Bigger, Faster, Stronger, or maybe from this 20/20 segment. You might remember him as the senior editor of Muscular Development..or….
Lets get this straight right now – between AR and me, we have almost 60 years combined experience in performance enhancement, specifically with the use of banned and illegal drugs and this includes beating Olympic caliber drug tests. Hence, we can unequivocally tell you that, in baseball, basket ball, cycling, track and field, football, boxing, hockey, wrestling, square dancing, ping-pong and underwater basket weaving, the only participants not using some form of PED’s are the losers – and even they are suspect. You think CF is any different? If you do I have a nice bridge in NY I can sell you.
Almost 30 years ago I embarked upon a sideline of performance enhancement both with and without banned substances. My teacher was the original steroid guru and author of the very first steroid “how to” handbooks, Dan Duchaine. Since then, while my career has centered on journalism, I have always maintained a sideline of performance enhancement. I have worked not only with professional and amateur bodybuilders (both men and women), but also boxers, MMA fighters, baseball players, football players, wrestlers, ballet dancers, models, policemen, firemen, lawyers, businessmen, anorexics and the obese – and now, since I have devoted 10% of my 20,000 square foot gym to functional training, I have those types of clients as well. I have helped them prepare for competitions of all shades, reach fitness goals, increase their strength and condition, and often, that included extracting maximum performance from the use of banned drugs.
So it should suffice to say that until this point, any prior article that purported to tell you anything about steroids and Crossfit, was not written by anybody who had the experience of either myself or John (I’m back – apologies for the mild schitzophrenia in writing here, we promise it will be worth your time). Put more bluntly, every article that even attempted to address this topic with a modicum of authenticity, credibility, or honesty, has failed miserably. Actually, every article we’ve seen on this topic has been a steaming pile of terrible, and that’s being generous…
Beating the Drug Test
Crossfit seemed to emerge with an almost instant juxtaposition to bodybuilding. Clearly my career has centered more on bodybuilding than Crossfit, so naturally I was in the bodybuilding camp when the bodybuilding vs. Crossfit campaign took off. However irrational the dichotomy is, one thing is for sure, Crossfit and bodybuilding have more in common than not. And – like it or not – that includes drugs: the performance enhancing variety.
There’s no sugar-coating the following fact: We’ve helped people beat drug tests. We’ve studied the most current drug tests, we know what’s in play, where the learning curves are, we know what’s trending in the sporting community, and what new drugs are coming down the pipeline from China and elsewhere. Simply stated, we can help anyone, in any sport – including Crossfit – use performance enhancing drugs and not get caught. Again, we’re not bragging, we’re trying to let you, (perhaps) a first time reader, see where we’re coming from. We know without a doubt that steroids are already in Crossfit, because instructors have already been arrested for dealing them. So that’s an irrefutable fact.
The idea that drug testing – even Olympic drug testing – is an effective deterrent ranks right up there with just saying “no” is an effective means to keep kids off drugs. The idea that passing a drug test – even an Olympic drug test – means that the athlete is clean is a fallacy. A drug test is an IQ test. Only fucking idiots fail them. Perhaps the greatest testament to this fact is Lance Armstrong – the most tested athlete in the world NEVER failed a drug test. In fact, most, if not all, the recent accounts of athletes having to bow down in reprisal from drug use have had a dime dropped on them. They have not been caught with those expensive IOC caliber testing protocols. There are more ways to get around a standard PED test than there are to get around a subway turnstile. You only get caught if you’re stupid.
This undoubtedly congers up images of drug testing and disgraced champions who got caught with their pants down and a pin in their hide. The overall public discourse must always focus on fair play, sportsmanship, following the rules and may the best man win crap. Unfortunately, the belief in these antiquated and post modern displays of moral turpitude rank right up there with belief in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
Now, because Crossfit is a “game” or games, and its origin is in America, it is only natural that the political correctness of “fair play” and “even playing fields” not to mention pristine symbolism to our precious youth be paramount when played on the PR machine. I’m actually surprised that, with the late emergence of CF in the modern lexicon, the liberal political machine designated to prepare our youth for abject failure in the real world even permits anyone to win. Just so long as everyone has fun, right? Of course not and, since that’s clearly not the case, CF has to stand the litmus test of other sports as dictated by mother nature.
Until this year, The Crossfit Games have employed a very porous testing protocol. There was no off-season drug testing and no random tests. What this meant, in practical terms, was that you could use anything that didn’t have long lasting metabolites, virtually year-round: testosterone injections, hGH, and whatever pills you could get your hands on – oxandrolone/anavar, fluoxymesterone/halotestin, Oral-Turinabol (the stuff the East Germans used), etc…anything. If you’re familiar with all-star baseball player Alex Rodriguez, who’s been caught more than once using performance enhancing drugs, and his latest suspension (remember, he didn’t test positive, he got dimed out), you know that one can still compete in virtually any sport and be using his stack (and still test clean):
- Testosterone @ 10% strength, transdermal cream, the grandfather of all anabolic steroids
- Testosterone (Troches)-19% strength oral lozenge
- Human Growth Hormone – you know what this is
- CJC-1295 – an injectable petide that stimulates hGH and IGF-1 release
- GHRP – another injectable peptide that stimulates hGH and IGF-1 release
- IGF-1 – an injectable compound that is thought to be the primary metabolite responsible for the anabolic effects of growth hormone
Note: If you say – or even think – an athlete doesn’t use PEDs because his/her Christianity prohibits immoral behaviour, we’d kindly remind you of the fact that a disproportionate and substantial portion of Catholic priests have molested kids, which surely is more of an affront to God than using steroids (if we were to allow the Judeo-Christian God as a premise in this discussion – which we will not). So for everyone who sought to invoke the name of Christ as a defense for someone, you can stop reading right now.
Who does the Testing?
Dan Bailey, perennial top-finisher at the Crossfit Games, says that he believes people are using steroids, and that nobody is perfect. We agree. He also wants the powers-that-be to step up their game with regards to drug testing. We don’t agree here – because we don’t have any problem with PED use. But we also disagree because the company doing the testing is…let’s say…a bit shady. And their results are…or can be…let’s say misleading.
Crossfit has their testing done by a private company with a very official sounding name: The National Center for Drug Free Sport. That company has also been widely criticized for a variety of reasons (discussed below).
“The work by Drug Free Sport and similar companies could be used to mislead fans,” says Dr. Don Catlin (the scientist who busted BALCO up), while Dr. Charles Yesalis says that working with Drug Free Sport “gives… plausible deniability.” Also, they cater the drug tests! So you might hear that Drug Free Sport is doing drug testing for XYZ University Athletics, but the truth is that the University is only paying to test for marijuana. Or they’re testing for street drugs but not PEDs. Or they’re only testing for certain steroids. Or, or, or…and this is how people are mislead. Drug Free Sport says they’re doing drug testing for the local dodgeball tourney, but they’re really just testing for dope and not PEDs. Depending on the deal they’ve worked out, and we’ve seen this at various universities, collection of the specimin can be handled by a coach, and not a representitive of the testing agency. And I’m sure that no coach would ever let a clean athlete piss in the cup for a dirty athlete, just because there’s no oversight. Are you getting the full picture here? Drug Free Sport is a half assed testing organization.
At the $150 testing option, they’ll test for “every substance” on the WADA list of anabolics. For $80, you can get a test for +/- 20 substances (and for $20, you can get a ZJ).
Beating the Drug Test part II
Anabolics represent 1/9 categories on the official WADA list – the various hGH and IGF related peptides, like the highly potent ones listed above, are not in that category. Neither are masking agents. Hence, Drug Free Sport doesn’t test for masking agents or peptides. Plus, you get a minimum of several hours of warning before you’re expected to piss in a cup (more than enough time for a masking agent, etc…). And they don’t test for anything outside the actual list of anabolics. So right here, we’ve given you the formula to beat them- either use a masking agent to hide whatever steroids you feel like using, or stick to peptides, or anabolic steroids that aren’t on the list (or share metabolites with those which are) – and of course stuff like fast acting testosterone, which they’re not going to be able to detect at all, nor has anyone, ever, been able to.
As for offseason testing, all you need to do is say, right after the ‘Games are finished “I’m not competing this coming year” then say “I changed my mind” and register at the last minute – that gets your name out of the random pool and gets you a minimum of half a year to juice your brains out. Hypothetically.
Are The Crossfit Games clean? Science says probably not. Without claiming any particular “inside knowledge” (of which we have plenty), we’ll defer to science, and in particular, a peer-reviewed study that examined bodybuilders in the presteroid era, and attempted to put a number on the maximum height/weight ratio that someone could achieve, drug free. What these scientists did, essentially, was examine bodybuilders who trained in the pre-steroid era, look at their physiques, and set a cut-off point at what they’d achieved naturally, using the Fat Free Mass Index (FFMI) formula. Let’s take a look at the abstract for that study (you can skip this part too, it amounts to the authors saying that, stastistically speaking, people with an FFMI of 25 or more are probably juicing) :
Fat-free mass index in users and nonusers of anabolic-androgenic steroids.
Kouri EM, Pope HG Jr, Katz DL, Oliva P.
We calculated fat-free mass index (FFMI) in a sample of 157 male athletes, comprising 83 users of anabolic-androgenic steroids and 74 nonusers. FFMI is defined by the formula (fat-free body mass in kg) x (height in meters)-2. We then added a slight correction of 6.3 x (1.80 m – height) to normalize these values to the height of a 1.8-m man. The normalized FFMI values of athletes who had not used steroids extended up to a well-defined limit of 25.0. Similarly, a sample of 20 Mr. America winners from the presteroid era (1939-1959), for whom we estimated the normalized FFMI, had a mean FFMI of 25.4. By contrast, the FFMI of many of the steroid users in our sample easily exceeded 25.0, and that of some even exceeded 30. Thus, although these findings must be regarded as preliminary, it appears that FFMI may represent a useful initial measure to screen for possible steroid abuse, especially in athletic, medical, or forensic situations in which individuals may attempt to deny such behavior.
Mow, let’s take a look at the unadjusted FFMI formula in a bit more detail…
How to calculate fat-free mass index (FFMI) and fat mass index (FMI):
So who’s using?
This leaves us with the question of “who’s using something banned?” The study above puts the cutoff at 25, above which (e.g. 25.1, etc…), the scientists presume that the subject has used anabolic steroids or some form of Performance Enhancing Drug – although they note that pre-steroid era Mr.America winners (presumably the most muscular man in the country) had a mean of 25.4 – so let’s see who has an unadjusted FFMI of 25+, in the top ten finishers from last year’s ‘Games, according to their profiles on the Crossfit Games site. Let’s assume that human genetics haven’t radically changed since the 1950s (aka the pre-steroid era), ok?
A score over 25 doesn’t mean they were juicing, it just means that according to the study above, and according to these scientists, there is a high degree of probability that it’s not the Advocare…if you’re unfamiliar with FFMI, as a reference, Barry Bonds had an FFMI of 28 in 2002 (according to the book Game of Shadows) - that’s a year he is known to have been using anabolic steroids, when he set a major league record for walks and hit his 600th homerun, and one year after hitting 73 in a single season, breaking Mark McGwire’s record.
Bodyfat will be a guesstimate, but let’s be honest here and say that we’re talking mid single digits for most men, although we’ll pad their chances for coming up clean with a very high 9% body fat estimate, which typically means that abdominal muscles are fairly visible. And we’re willing to concede that maybe the good doctors at Harvard who devised this test are a few percentage points off, and pre-steroid Mr. Americas had a mean of 25.4, so why don’t we (just for fun) set our own cutoff point at 26 and not 25, and see what shakes loose?
So if we go “by the book” and assume that the study above is correct, and that a FFMI of 25+ is indicative of probable steroid use, we’d have to flag all but one (Ben Smith) in last year’s final ten. If we give them a wider margin and assume that 26 is a better number, because the study understated our potential, then we’re at 50% (these ten athletes averaged out to a 26.02 FFMI, over half a point higher than the mean score for pre-steroid Mr.America winners). Much has been made of three-time champion Rich Froning’s amateur baseball career, so (just for lulz) we’ll compare him and his colleagues to some well-known ball players, as it feels somewhat appropriate:
In terms of unadjusted FFMI, Froning’s score of 26.4 is the same as Baseball’s Alex Rodriguez*, while Neil Maddox scores .1 higher than Jose Canseco, and Marcus Hendren scores .1 lower than Roger Clemens. If we used their “adjusted” FFMI score (normalized to a 1.8 meter man), we’d have Froning at 26.1 (which is .3 lower, while for comparison Rodriguez would go up .6 to an even 27), Bailey drops to a 25.2 (lower) Khalipa to 28.2 (still .1 higher than Marc McGwire or Manny Ramirez), Hendren goes to 25.9, Bridges at 24.3 (lower), Anderson at 26.3 (higher), Panchick hits 25.4 (lower), Maddox drops .1 to 26.8 (now .7 lower than the 6’4″ Canseco), Fisher goes up to 25.2, and Ben Smith actually stays the same. If we use “adjusted” FFMI scores only when they skew lower, and accept 26 as our cutoff point, we would still end up with 40% of the top ten meeting (our hypothetical) criteria for presumptive steroid use – even assuming higher bodyfat and less lean tissue than they obviously carry.
(*above, for the baseball players, we are still using 9% bodyfat, presumptively, and generally these players’ heaviest weights, i.e. when they were known to have been using performance enhancing drugs – if they were fatter, obviously, their scores would go down considerably)
We’re not presuming that anyone is using steroids, we’re simply trying to put some science into a conversation that’s been going on for the past few years. For comparison, the top Crossfitters in the world are statistically very close to the majority of baseball players who have been caught juicing. For comparison, the ubiquitously clean Yankees skipper, Derek Jeeter, scores a 22.3 FFMI, or a 23 adjusted.
If we assume anyone bigger than Eugen Sandow (for whom the Mr. Olympia trophy is named, or perhaps anyone bigger than Barry Bonds (at a minimal half point higher) is a juicer, and set our cutoff at a FFMI of 28, then we’re still looking at Jason Khalipa (Fun Fact: Khalipa’s sponsor, Progenex, has ties to a now-indicted steroid kingpin – listed on their rather impressive list of corporate crimes and criminals). At the risk of sounding repetitive, Barry Bonds had an FFMI of 28 when he set the major league record for walks and hit his 600th homerun, one year after breaking the single season homerun record – and Jason Khalipa has an FFMI of 28.5 (or 28.2 adjusted)…higher than Barry Bonds at his most juicetastic.
You can never go Home
Clearly, we can point to bodybuilder Eugen Sandow as extreme outliers in terms of what can be achieved naturally (again, probably about a 27 FFMI), and in fact was achieved before steroids had been invented. Perhaps that’s a better cutoff for extreme outliers…27/27.5? Then again, we can only name a handful of people who had, in the course of history, ever achieved that level of unassisted muscularity…after the midpoint of the last century, perhaps the early ’60s, we were never really sure what had built the physiques of the era. This is why the study above only examined bodybuilders until 1959. After that, although the doses were minimal, drugs were in play.
By the ’80s, bodybuilding saw a marked increase in its drug testing dialogue. Between the passing of the Anabolic Control Act, Ben Weider’s noble quest to convince the IOC that bodybuilding should be in the Olympics, and the egregious deaths of several of its high profile constituents, the powers that be wanted to sanitize bodybuilding’s image and focus on drug testing bodybuilders in accordance with the IOC.
For the bodybuilders involved, their new pursuit was not figuring out how to extract the most performance within the rules, but rather, how to cheat. Very shortly after it started, the “natural movement” in bodybuilding died. By the early 90’s, concomitant with the criminalization and scheduling of steroids, bodybuilding became the first “sport” to promote a “natural division” that tested for PED’s, along with the other “regular” divisions that either said they were testing but didn’t, or just plain didn’t test. My most detailed adventures with Duchaine at this time involved either of two paths: how to extract maximum performance and not break the rules, or how to cheat. At that point, ESPN stopped covering bodybuilding shows, and to their only foray into the world of televising non-tested events is the World’s Strongest Man competition, a headache which the Pennsylvania House of Representitives is about to condemn formally, due to the lack of testing. You might have noticed that the Crossfit Games has been taking over the airtime formerly given to Strongman…which took over the airtime that bodybuilding used to have…
The old adage of “if you’ve seen it you can’t take it away” was conspicuously at the root of the movements collapse and disappearance from ESPN. Once the audience saw a 250 pound Mr. Olympia they weren’t going to be happy with a 213 pound Mr. Olympia. That’s why, when 250lb Lee Haney retired, we got Dorian Yates at 260lbs, and not Shawn Ray at 198lbs.
However, the most relevant manifestation of human nature has been evinced for thousands of years – man will seek any means to increase his performance. You could no more say that athletes would ever stop doing drugs than you could say hookers would stop selling blow jobs. Soon after it started, the word “natural” in bodybuilding became something I promoted as being phantasmal. There was just no such thing. Then we watched Mr. Olympia gain 47 pounds from one contest to the next. Bodybuilding became the poster sport for radical and wide spread drug use, far surpassing even the most radical of actions prior to the “natural movement.” But drug use is obvious in every sport, if you know how to look.
Examine yearly performances for most sports, and you can plot a course that mirrors drug use. When a test was developed to detect EPO, we saw endurance athletes taking longer to complete their races. When out of season testing started in the Olympics, we saw reduced performances at the very next Olympic Games. Guess what happened in 1989? The Olympics started testing for PEDs in the offseason. Guess what happened to performances (like women’s shotput)?
A study published in the journal “Drug Testing Analysis” has established that when a new drug emerges that can’t be tested for, everyone gets better in every sport…when a test is developed, everyone gets worse. This is exactly why drug testing didn’t work in the microcosm of bodybuilding, and it doesn’t work in the macrocosm of sports. (*We stole those charts from the study we just linked to)
This would be evident in any sport, some more than others, but from the Olympic menu to the very highest of high paid pros, drugs are as much a part of the game as the uniform. The various drug scandals that have erupted in pro sports over the years are not indicative of isolated instances. In every sport the individual is swallowed by the collective when it comes to performance. If one gets caught it does not mean the cheater was caught, it means one of the cheaters was caught. It is completely naive to think otherwise.
But remember, while we’re talking about Crossfit, we’re also talking about every sport on the planet – and we’re just not saying anyone has used steroids, or will use steroids, in Crossfit and/or The Crossfit Games, we’re saying that no sport is 100% clean, and no sport ever will be. There have been zero positives in the Men’s and Women’s divisions and only a few (for banned but legal-at-the-time dietary supplements) in the team competition. Still, if one wants to make the claim that Crossfit is dirty, or that we know Crossfitters at the ‘Games are using steroids, then the burden of proof necessarily falls on the one making the claim. There’s never been a failed doping test to support such a statement, and if a claim can be asserted without evidence, then it can be dismissed without evidence. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, which means they get caught using…therefore we’re not saying anyone is caught, or anyone is guilty. What we’re saying is something different, i.e. that statistically, based on the physiques we’re seeing, according to the study we’ve cited, there is a high probability we’re seeing chemical assistance. Probability does not prove guilt…it’s not conclusive proof. We’re also saying that the testing company isn’t very good, and that the tests themselves are easily beaten. Put that all together and what do you get?
The end of our article.