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.
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:
Moving a heavy load.
Reaching a fatigue level in your sets that makes the effort required high enough to need the fast-twitch fibers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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