Steroids and High-Volume Training: The Facts

Why the Pros Always Do Well With High Volume

PEDs and high-volume training go together like peanut butter and jelly. One enhances the other. Here’s why.

Can you train like a competitive bodybuilder? If you’re not using PEDs, it’s probably not in your best interest. Not only do steroids increase your body’s response to training, they actually change your physiology. Because of that, what works for enhanced lifters might not work for you.

Let’s put this out there right now: A higher volume of work will lead to more growth for those on steroids. (By high volume, think lots of sets of many different exercises for a muscle group in the same – usually long – workout.) Those who aren’t on steroids benefit more from training systems emphasizing lower-volume, higher-effort, or progressively heavier loads.

Natural lifters can still do volume-based training and get results, but it’ll need to look much different (much lower volume) than what the juicy pros use.

I’m not saying that steroid users won’t also benefit from low-volume, high-effort, and load-based work. Steroids and other PEDs will give you greater gains regardless of training style. But because of the way they work, steroids are more beneficial (and thus work even better) with volume-based training.

Here’s why:

Reason 1: Greater Slow-Twitch Fiber Growth

An interesting fact came up during my discussion with PED expert Broderick Chavez: Steroids have a greater effect on the slow-twitch fibers. Steroids make these poorly responsive (to hypertrophy) fibers grow a lot more. The proportion occupied by the slow-twitch fibers increases significantly over that of the fast-twitch fibers. Steroids even increase the conversion of fast-twitch fibers into slow-twitch fibers (1, 2, 3).

Then why are steroids making people stronger? Aren’t fast-twitch fibers better for strength? Absolutely. Keep these things in mind:

  • Most steroids have a strong effect on neurology, improving the capacity of the nervous system to recruit the muscle fibers and have them produce a high level of force (especially the DHT class).

  • Another neurological effect of some steroids is an increase in acetylcholine recycling, which increases acetylcholine levels. This can further increase strength and power production as well as motor learning.

  • Some steroids, especially the more androgenic ones, also significantly increase the sensitivity of the beta-adrenergic receptors. This makes you a lot more sensitive to your own adrenaline, which potentiates muscle strength.

  • Gaining muscle, even if it’s in the slow-twitch fibers, will make a muscle stronger.

But that’s also why steroids often seem to lead to more muscle growth than strength gains and why it’s easier to naturally reach close to world-class levels of strength than world-class levels of muscle mass. It’s also why we often see a skinny ectomorph completely morph into a different individual on PEDs, while the more naturally muscular mesomorph just becomes a bigger (sometimes only a bit bigger) version of themselves.

Now, if you compare the more traditional, high-volume training approach with the effort-based and load-based approaches, you can easily see how that training style would involve (or rely more on) the slow-twitch fibers.

Fast-twitch fibers are recruited only on an as-needed basis. And the need to recruit them can come from:

  1. Moving a heavy load.

  2. Reaching a fatigue level in your sets that makes the effort required high enough to need the fast-twitch fibers.

  3. Doing explosive movements.

The first condition, load-based training, relies on heavy lifting but also on effort-based work, which typically sticks to 5-8 reps (sometimes up to 10) per set, which is also heavy.

Plus, going to failure leads to the recruitment of fast-twitch fibers (condition two), which further explains why effort-based work targets the fast-twitch fibers more.

To the last point, a higher volume of work – especially with fairly short rest periods – is more suited for slow-twitch and intermediate fibers, which have a much higher fatigue tolerance than fast-twitch ones.

Yes, steroids increase gains from all types of resistance training. But they can maximize those benefits with high-volume training more than any other style.

Reason 2: More Protein Synthesis = Better Damage Repair

Muscle damage is caused by the leaking of calcium ions during muscle contractions. So, the more (fairly intense) contractions you have in a workout, the more muscle damage you create. In other words, high-volume training leads to more muscle damage than lower-volume work.

If you’re using steroids, you increase protein synthesis and nitrogen retention a lot more. That means you can repair more muscle damage while still having enough left to build a lot of muscle.

Too much muscle damage hurts muscle growth if you’re a natural lifter. That’s because the protein synthesis needed to repair the damage isn’t used to add new tissue (muscle growth). When you’re natural, the total amount of protein synthesis you can create is limited due to your natural level of anabolic hormones. The amount of protein synthesis you can create is limited; if you use a large proportion of it to repair the muscle damage, you have less left to build muscle.

That’s another reason why high-volume training benefits steroid users more than effort-based training might.

Reason 3: Increased Muscle Insulin Sensitivity and Glycogen Storage

Steroids increase intramuscular glycogen storage due, in part, to higher insulin sensitivity. Besides contributing to the muscles looking bigger and fuller, this is beneficial for high-volume training, which requires more glycogen than low-volume work, or for heavy work that relies more on the phosphagen energy system.

Reason 4: Reduced Risk of Training Burnout

Steroids make you more sensitive to your own adrenaline by increasing the sensitivity of the beta-adrenergic receptors. This means steroids can counterbalance burnout by increasing the sensitivity of the beta-adrenergic receptors.

Training burnout, or what most erroneously call “overtraining,” is due to the desensitization of the beta-adrenergic receptors. You lose strength, power, motivation, drive, and energy by being less sensitive to your adrenaline. Even your endurance performance drops.

When it comes to training, this is caused by an excessive adrenaline level. When it’s too high for too long (or too often), you overstimulate your receptors, which become less sensitive.

Cortisol levels heavily influence adrenaline levels. Cortisol increases the conversion of noradrenaline into adrenaline. The more training volume you do, the more cortisol you release because of a higher need to mobilize stored energy. Cortisol increases energy mobilization. If you’re natural, you’re more likely to burn out from a high training volume.

What’s the Point?

Proponents of effort-based or lower-volume training say that you can’t look at how pro bodybuilders train because steroids allow them to tolerate higher volumes of training and gain more from volume.

Volume proponents counter by pointing out that high-level bodybuilders who use effort-based training are also on steroids, so it’s still a one-to-one comparison.

It’s not. Those doing volume-based training benefit more from steroids. And the amount of volume used by elite bodybuilders is likely too high for natural lifters to gain maximally. But, again, this doesn’t mean natural lifters can’t gain muscle with a volume-based approach. It just means the amount of volume they use needs to be a lot lower for them to get the benefits and avoid burnout.

Volume-Based Training: The Smart Approach

If you enjoy high-volume training, you can still do it and get results as a natty. You just need to program it correctly. My Hypertrophy training system contains a block of properly programmed, high-volume training.




  1. Dimauro, J., Balnave, R.J. & Shorey, C.D. Effects of anabolic steroids and high-intensity exercise on rat skeletal muscle fibres and capillarization. Europ. J. Appl. Physiol. 64, 204–212 (1992). Effects of anabolic steroids and high intensity exercise on rat skeletal muscle fibres and capillarization | SpringerLink

  2. Markus Czesla, Gaby Mehlhorn, Dirk Fritzsche, Gerhard Asmussen, Cardiomyoplasty — Improvement of Muscle Fibre Type Transformation by an Anabolic Steroid (Metenolone), Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology,Volume 29, Issue 11, 2989-2996, (1997)

  3. Noirez, P., Ferry, A. Effect of anabolic/androgenic steroids on myosin heavy chain expression in hindlimb muscles of male rats. Eur J Appl Physiol 81, 155–158 (2000). Effect of anabolic/androgenic steroids on myosin heavy chain expression in hindlimb muscles of male rats | SpringerLink


Call me old fashioned, and I know I’ll catch hell for this… But I can’t bring myself to even use steroids… not judging those who do use… to each there own, but I myself won’t use them.


Steroids work, period.
Low Volume or high, low frequency or high, it doesn’t matter.

The above shows that steroids alone, with no working out, can yield better results than working out without steroids. Of course working out AND steroids is far superior BUT the fact that you can take steroids and NOT workout and get better gains than those that workout and do NOT take steroids, shows how incredibly effective they are.

They simply work, regardless of training protocol.


I agree, and I mentioned it in the article:

“Yes, steroids increase gains from all types of resistance training. But they can maximize those benefits with high-volume training more than any other style.”


“Steroids and other PEDs will give you greater gains regardless of training style. But because of the way they work, steroids are more beneficial (and thus work even better) with volume-based training.”


It still amazes me how well steroids work. I don’t think that people (lay people) grasp that.
One wonders what the future can hold…

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Great article. Question though. Is the article distinguishing between exogenous testosterone and anabolic steroids? Maybe I’m wrong, but while I consider testosterone supplementation/TRT (above normal range) a PED, I don’t think it’s technically an anabolic steroid.
I have seen many people take testosterone and not workout, and while they get healthier, they aren’t improving more than all naturals who are lifting regularly.
However, I do agree that someone taking an anabolic steroid (say dianabol or tren) can literally do nothing and get stronger and more muscular than the all-natural who’s hitting the gym.

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Interesting point about the slow twitch fibers. Any thoughts on how that affects the look of a muscle? I thought I remember reading something about how slow-twitch fibers are congregated closer to the origin point of a muscle. Would explain the 3D delt effect - more slow-twitch fibers located higher up on the muscle, near the clavicle/acromion

The study referenced above used Testosterone as the PED. Testosterone is anabolic, and it is a steroid (due to structure), so it is an anabolic steroid (as opposed to non-anabolic steroid) though normally that term is applied to synthetic versions of testosterone and derivatives. If you are seeing “a lot” of people using testosterone but not training, I’m assuming you are referring to TRT. In their case, a deficiency is being treated, so it isn’t “Supraphysiological” doses, and the recipients are not “normal” men.

Agree it’s likely not very supraphysiological, but TRT practically seems to push people at least slightly above “normal” (whatever that means, which is a different question) relatively speaking.
Using an example, the 55yr old on TRT whose blood levels are 800ish, isn’t sitting around and getting stronger and more muscular without working out, than the 55yr old whose blood levels are 400ish but is in the gym consistently lifting.

One can get into a lot of semantics with this. Most definitions of AAS seem to exclude Testosterone from AAS classification.

It doesn’t really matter. We know it is a PED. What the experts want to call it doesn’t matter to me.

Nuance is missing here. Short term, maybe, long term no way. The gains in size were likely a lot of water in the no exercise and testosterone group (the testosterone and exercise group likely had a good portion of the muscle increase as water as well). A good portion of the strength increase was likely because of the extra water too. Once that water is put on, the no exercise and testosterone group will stagnate in strength and size quickly. They won’t keep gaining like the training and no testosterone group.

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One could, but I was responding to someone in particular who asked about Testosterone.

Did you miss "though normally that term is applied to synthetic versions of testosterone and derivatives. " ?

Probably. I have no doubt that once “saturation” is met, then the gain would stop.
The point I was trying to make is how incredibly effective anabolic steroids are.
Remember, the study used only Testosterone. As we know, there are far more effective anabolics out there.

What matters (in the case of HRT) is if the individual is getting stronger and muscular relative to where they were before, which research shows happens. I included one example, but there are a bunch of examples.

Holy crap! In that first study, they dosed those guinea pigs with 600mg TE per week! Back in the 80’s when I competed, I never used over 300mg of any long ester test per week in any cycle I did over 12 weeks, though a complete stack involving two or three compounds did approach a gram a week total. And most of my peers thought I was a heavy user. Even when I was using just test on TRT up until four years ago, I still got great response from just 200mg per week. Interesting that no significant changes in mood were reported by any test subjects. I always felt on top of the world when on.

This is where I disagree to an extent. Yes, they work. I think a lot of people have misconceptions about what they will do for average people at moderate doses.

There is a bias that can form because we (people in general) identify certain individuals as steroid users, but miss a lot of the steroid users in general. We are identifying the ones with great genetics, and or the ones taking huge doses practically year round, etc. I believe this group is smaller than the group we don’t identify as steroid users.

Moderate use of steroids won’t turn even a guy with somewhat above average genetics into a freak IMO. How you define moderate and freak are subjective, but I classify it as basically nobody questions if you’re natural. Moderate would be under a gram a week of AAS taken less than half of the year. These guys will typically look good if diet and training is good. They will look like they lift, but it won’t be an automatic, that guy is saucing when you see him in public.

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An excellent article @Christian_Thibaudeau! I have personally fared well with a low volume high intensity approach combined with strength work. High volume is a question of definition, but I suppose you can tolerate more volume if the intensity is kept lower.

You mention explosive work as a trigger of growth - Are we talking hill sprints here, or specialized techniques in the gym (or both)?Can you please define. I have recently added sprints on a weekly basis - which made my strength in squats proceed further.

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I agree, and I’ve always considered them cheating. Now, if someone is open about their use, that’s fine. But to pretend that you are superior while on the sauce when you’d be average as a natural is not right.

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Old fashioned? I’d say it’s common sense.

It’s not hard to wreck one’s hormone levels, often irreparably. And for what, a couple pounds of mostly temporary extra muscle?

Then there’s the issue of underground labs.
You probably don’t know what you’re injecting into your veins. The few studies I’ve seen over the years always paint a dark picture. Today’s Sarm teenies use a blend of whatever steroids their dealer had on hand.

Finally, the vast majority of steroids were not intended for bodybuilding- not quite sure any of them were except Turinabol. They were made for bulking up lifestock or providing older ladies with more robust Os femoris. Real life long term effects, especially when stacking or upping dosage are either unknown or turn out to be (ie in animal experiments) quite grim.

Most casual lifters use steroids because we live in an age of narcissism and loneliness, a nasty combination.
To be completely fair, it’s different If you’re a pro athlete. In that case, to use or not to use is just part of business strategy.

/sermon, I hope you guys stay all healthy and strong.
Great article, btw.

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What I find interesting here, is that all the biggest dudes I know (who are on gear) have gotten the best results from HIT (Dante Trudel, Scott Stevenson, Jordan Peters, Paul Carter style).

Personally, I have grown more from HIT style training than anything else.

@Christian_Thibaudeau To what level of intensity would you say the working sets of this proposed High Volume Training regimen would need to be performed, in order to out-perform its High Intensity Training counterpart?
RPE8-9 for most sets?