Did Arnold Schwarzenegger Use Steroids? Separating Fact from Fiction Regarding Arnold and Steroids
Oct 8th, 2011
Perhaps more than any other bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger is looked up to as the pinnacle of bodybuilding prowess. Because of the incredible amounts of well-defined muscle mass that Arnold was able to build, it was long suspected that Arnold was a steroid user.
Schwarzenegger removed all doubts in 2005 when he admitted to using steroids in the following statement:
“I will not speak for my colleagues but I will write about my experience with tissue-building drugs. Yes, I have used them, but no, they didn’t make me what I am. Anabolic steroids were helpful to me in maintaining muscle size while on a strict diet in preparation for a contest… I did not use them for muscle growth, however, but rather muscle maintenance while cutting up.“
My purpose in writing this article is not to defend Arnold as being a clean bodybuilder, but rather to flesh out the facts regarding his success as a bodybuilder and provide some insight as to what benefits he actually received from supplementing with anabolic steroids.
Let’s start with a brief introduction on how Arnold began his weight lifting journey…
Arnold’s formative years as a beginner bodybuilder were spent learning the training techniques of Reg Park, a power-lifter with an incredible physique. Many people don’t realize that Arnold began lifting weights as a power-lifter at age 15 and didn’t gain an interest in competitive bodybuilding until years later.
This specific sequence of going from being a power-lifter to competitive bodybuilder was a key element of Arnold’s success as a bodybuilding champion, as I will explain in just a moment.
Like everything else that Arnold has set out to do in life, he found great success as a power-lifter. From 1966 to 1968 Arnold won two weight lifting competitions and one Strongman competition.
Importance of Arnold’s Training Progression
I mentioned that Arnold’s progression of starting as a power-lifter and then moving on to being a bodybuilder was an integral part of his success as a champion bodybuilder. Arnold explains why power-lifting was so important to his success as a competitive bodybuilder by quoting the bodybuilder that he looked up to most, Reg Park, in his book The Education of a Bodybuilder:
“Reg Park’s theory was that first you have to build the mass and then chisel it down to get the quality; you work on your body the way a sculptor would work on a piece of clay or wood or steel. You rough it out – the more carefully, the more thoroughly, the better – then you start to cut and define. You work it down gradually until it’s ready to be rubbed and polished.“
Let’s think about what he is saying here…
Reg is using the analogy of a sculptor starting with a large mass and then chiseling it down to be the exact size and shape that they desire it to be. Keep in mind that the end result will always be smaller and contain less mass than the starting material.
So, according to Reg Park (on the right), the key to building a body that has massive well defined muscles is by spending some time and effort making the initial mass as big as possible and then chiseling away the fat until what is left is a cut and polished physique.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Most bodybuilders get their start eating modest amounts of calories and performing sets consisting of 10-12 reps. They may build small amounts of muscle and get a toned physique, but they never build the 250lb+ base required for chiseling out an Arnold-like physique.
Arnold and Steroids for Preventing Muscle Loss
The problem for any serious bodybuilder comes when they begin cutting calories and focusing on fat loss. When the body is in a state of caloric deficit it is inevitable that you will lose at least a small amount of muscle mass. Because competitive bodybuilders want to build as much muscle mass as possible before competing, they will typically spend as much time as they can eating and training with the sole focus of gaining size.
This means that they will wait until the last minute to start cutting fat to get in competition shape which forces them to use extreme dieting techniques that result in losing a greater amount of muscle mass than more conservative nutrition approaches that could take 6+ months to get them in competition-ready form.
In order to combat the losses in muscle mass that will inevitably accompany the strict diets that Schwarzenegger would follow to shed fat when prepping for a contest, Arnold would use a modest amount of steroids as a way to prevent the catabolic effect of his diet and maintain all of his hard-earned muscle mass.
Now, I realize that this is still cheating, and I would never try to argue otherwise. However, I feel that there is a significant distinction between the small amounts of steroids that Arnold was using to prevent muscle loss compared to the massive doses of steroids and growth hormones that are used by today’s competitive bodybuilders to get freakishly huge.
In fact, the naked eye can make out the noticeable differences between the type of steroid use that Arnold participated in compared to that of a modern day bodybuilder. The picture below will illustrate my point:
This picture is a vivid illustration of the vast differences between the type of preventative steroid use that Arnold supplemented with and the high volumes of steroids being injected into today’s champion bodybuilders.
Note the extreme size in Ronnie Coleman’s quads, his wide waist and bloated belly. Arnold’s appearance is much more natural with quads that are proportionate to the rest of his body, a small waist and a natural concavity in his abdominals.
It is also important to note something which cannot be easily measured by the eye – Ronnie Coleman is 5’11″ and competing at a weight of 305lbs while Arnold’s highest competing body weight was around 235lbs at a height of 6’1″. No amount of training volume, training frequency, training techniques or genetics could separate these two guys by 70lbs of muscle mass. The difference is that Ronnie Coleman is pumped up with high volumes of steroids and HGH.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Still Inspires Me
Did Arnold use steroids? Yes!
Even if it was only for a small portion of the time, Arnold has admitted to being a steroid user and will always have to live with that stigma. That being said, Arnold’s use of steroids was not a rampant attempt to get as big as he could as fast as possible and he still mostly relied on a controlled nutrition and training regimen to get the physique that we have all grown up admiring.
As Reg Park would surely agree, I would argue that the base that Arnold built as a power-lifter in his teenage years has a lot more to do with his incredible muscular size and definition than his occasional use of small doses of steroids.
What do you think?
I invite you to join in on the discussion regarding Arnold Schwarzenegger’s steroid use by using the comment box below.
If you would like to learn more about Arnold’s training and nutrition regimen as a competitive bodybuilder, you need to check out my article on Vince Gironda. Vince is the trainer that had arguably the greatest influence on Arnold as he made his transition from being a power-lifter to becoming a competitive bodybuilder.
The Iron Guru – Vince Gironda’s Training and Diet Routines That Were Used to Build Some of the Most Impressive Natural Physiques Ever Seen