One professional body builder says, "Most of the time I can tell a drug physique; the body is more vascular and there is a puffy look to the tissues and the abdomen. I would say that 80% of the time I can tell who's on drugs and who isn't."
Tom Minichiello, who operates Manhattan's Mid-City gym, says, "Everyone knows about what I call the synthetic body builders, or the drug users. I have kids who come into my gym and immediately look for the Dianabol—they think it's something you can buy anyplace."
As one builder comments, "There aren't too many of us that wouldn't rely on the comforts and technology that our society provides for us. None of us wants to do without if we can have, whatever is available that will help make life easier. Besides, since no one is willing to talk about the problem of steroids honestly, it's never going to get out in the open so we can find a solution to it."
Builders sleep, eat and drink body building. Many train in certain gyms where 99% of the people working out are also into body building, and some even go so far as to segregate themselves in an entire environment of body builders, such as Venice Beach in Southern California. In such a closely knit and interdependent community, whatever is used by one builder quickly becomes common knowledge. For the competitor, anything he thinks will make his muscles the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger's (five times Mr. Olympia, six times Mr. America) is immediately placed at the top of the list of training aids. Yesterday it might have been a diet of raw eggs and liver, today it's protein supplements and Dianabol.
The men who have the current winning look are builders like Schwarzenegger, Serge Nubret (who claims he has never taken steroids) and Ferrigno. In the '50s and '60s champions were men like Tony Sansone, Steve Reeves, Jack Dillinger and Bill Pearl. Pearl and Sansone were thick but lacked the density and massiveness of Nubret and Ferrigno. If someone like Bill Pearl, who was Mr. U.S.A. in 1951 and came back in 1971 to win the Mr. Universe contest, were to enter the Mr. America contest this year, it is very unlikely he would place.
The difference in the looks of the two eras is inherent in the terms "separation" and "definition." Separation involves two different muscle groups, while definition concerns the same muscle group. In the upper arm, for instance, if the deltoid and the biceps are clearly seen as two distinctly different muscle groups, a builder is said to have good separation. If, when looking just at the biceps, one can almost see the point of insertion of the heads, it is great definition. Pearl, for example, had good separation and just the slightest definition. In comparison, the bodies of Ferrigno and Schwarzenegger have not only good separation but also great definition.
Possibly the easiest way to confirm the changes in the appearance of builders is to check the photographs in the muscle magazines of about 10 years ago, when drugs were not used to the extent they are today. Then take a look at the current issues of Muscle and Iron Man.
Another method is to observe the builders' physiques during and after competition. The action of the steroids is such that to get the best results a builder must be a heavy user while training for competition and then refrain from taking the drug after the contest. Because the steroids tend to inflate their muscles, according to one builder, "about six weeks after competition the muscles of someone using drugs will deflate almost as rapidly as a punctured balloon."
A metabolic internist who treats body builders in the New York City area says, "Those taking Dianabol realize that the drug only allows them three years of hard competition and then the good effects, in terms of increasing muscle mass, begin to fall off. The body reaches a point where it does not respond as it did initially. Body builders know when they decide to take the drug that if they don't make it in three years, they won't."
For those on top, or pretty close to it, the decision is simple: if they want to win, they have to use the drug. For younger builders just starting out, the decision becomes a bit more difficult: Should they use it, and, if so, when should they start? Most young builders realize that sooner or later they will be obliged to take steroids along with their handfuls of vitamins, and a great many are having trouble rationalizing the decision.