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Starting Strength in the Real World


Social Media is Lying To You

by Carl Raghavan, SSC | October 01, 2019

social media selling images

Social media is lying to you. Experienced lifters know this. Yet the lie is so seductive that it can lure even the most logical of minds away from the truth. And the truth here is simple: abs sell and power bellies don’t. Social media features plenty of fitness content. Some people are selling programs, some are offering supplements, others are hawking clothing or even seminars. But the bottom line is always the same. They want your money, and they’re drawing on their looks – not their expertise – to make you part ways with your hard-earned cash.

Let me ask you this: if you’re looking for nutrition advice, would you seek out the guy with the pot belly? Or would you go to the guy with the rippling eight-pack? If you’re looking for help with your squat, would you go to the girl who barely has the strength to put a 45 lb plate on the barbell, or the one who squats 600 lbs? I know how most people would answer. Yet the guy with the belly might be a genuine expert in his field, and the girl struggling with the plate may have helped someone break a world record. Whether we like to admit it or not, we can all be misled by first impressions. You may be fat and you may be weak, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re talking about. I do my best to bear this in mind as I move through life: until I actually hear bullshit, I try not to judge a book by its cover (unless they can’t squat for shit, of course – I do have standards).

Social media, however, is all about the cover. As Instagram and YouTube have grown increasingly popular, more and more people in the fitness industry are creating highly successful and lucrative platforms showcasing their content and viral personalities. Having millions of followers is not a testament to expertise – it just means you’re entertaining to watch (after all, it’s not as though the average follower on Instagram even knows what a correct squat looks like). Social-media influencers make money by peddling an image, not by providing knowledge. They insinuate that if you follow them – take their advice, eat their diets, do their workouts – you too will have washboard abs and a suspiciously orange tan. Okay, and what’s wrong with that, you might ask? Why can’t you let these poor people eat their kale in peace? Well, this is why: because there might be more going on behind the scenes than ab curls and protein shakes.

For those in the know, it’s an open secret that the weight room is riddled with performance-enhancing drugs. Testosterone (test), Anavar, human growth hormone (HGH), Dianabol (D-bol), insulin and ephedrine are the most common. Many of these belong to the family of drugs colloquially known as steroids (aka roids, juice, and gear), which are used to promote muscle strength and size. Steroids have been a staple of the lifting community for years, but back in the day they were never discussed. Now it’s all people talk about on internet forums. Self-proclaimed experts are dropping knowledge bombs left, right and center. The problem is that it’s all bro science. Why? Because PEDs are illegal, and therefore have not been properly researched in the context of performance. We have very few rigorously conducted studies on how they actually affect the human body. It’s this knowledge gap that has created the black-market buzz. What do these drugs do? What don’t they do? What’s the best stack to take? People are desperate for information. A stack, by the way, is the term for the combination of PEDs taken in the same cycle, and a cycle is the span of time you take PEDs before going back off them. A typical cycle is twelve weeks, or so I’m told.

The elephant in the weight room is that naturally strong physiques look different than juiced physiques, and sadly the Insta-juiced profile is easier to sell. Not that it started with social media. If you’re like me and you grew up in the eighties, you were probably obsessed with action stars like Arnie and a certain wrestler who likes people to smell his cooking. This is how a lot of men want to look. We associate these physiques with action stars, the toys we had growing up, and our favorite comic-book characters (mine was the Silver Surfer). Natural lifters will still look good – definitely better than they did before they started training – but the world is greedy and wants it all. People want to be big, lean, and strong, with a triple backflip and fifty handstand push-ups, all inside twelve weeks. This is what Instagram promises, but it’s just not something a natural approach can deliver. Joe Average – that’s you, by the way – cannot hit big numbers and get leaner and leaner year after year. If that’s what you’re seeing from your favorite Instagrammer, then it might be worth wondering whether that person is on steroids.

Now, the issue isn’t steroids per se. The issue is when people claim to be natural when they clearly are not. Most of your heroes won’t be actively screaming from the mountaintops that they’re juiced up, and the consumer is usually not informed enough to tell when something dodgy is going on. Someone who has been in the iron game for a while can usually smell bullshit from a mile away, but it’s not in anyone's best interest to start calling people out – you could always be wrong. So instead these jacked Adonises are left to sell their programming and professional consultation services to the general public, who are voluntarily paying this “expert” for information that supposedly applies to the general public. Their clients are not seeing beyond the tip of the iceberg: they don’t know what PEDs these lifters, coaches and influencers are on. They don’t know about the time they were rushed to the ER with kidney failure, or the many injuries they’re riddled with. These strength gods have a dirty little secret hiding underneath the waterline, and it’s not very Instagram-friendly.

Let me level with you: I don’t know much about the technical side of PEDs, and that’s by choice. I’ve always been reluctant to learn about that aspect of the industry – I don’t want to risk being associated with the Dark Side. But whether I like it or not, PEDs are here to stay, and it’s a more complicated issue than “natural = good, steroids = bad.” Many people take a very one-sided view. They think taking steroids is straight-up cheating. I honestly think it’s a gray area.

A disclaimer: my own training and that of all my clients is natural – or “natty”, as we like to say in bro-ology. Most of my clients are novices, and they don’t need to be dabbling in steroids. When you’re starting out, your focus should be on training, and of course getting lots of sleep and good nutrition, not what stack is best for strength or how fast you can get it out of your system so you’re “clean” for your piss test. Training is about pushing your physical limits and using your natural abilities to become a better human. If you haven’t been training hard for ten years and gained a substantial level of natural strength and muscle, then you haven’t ingrained into your mind and body the habits you need to take you to the next level, where PEDs might help you. Worry about doing your best with what you’ve currently got.

This isn’t to say that there’s no reason to take steroids. I might consider it when I’m in my late thirties or early forties. A man’s testosterone levels plummet as he gets older, so it’s understandable that he might decide to compensate for that. Hormone replace therapy (HRT) is often prescribed by doctors. Common practice on the black market, however, is to take ten times the natural dose – ten times. The first cycle of steroids tends to work the best, hooking you in, but the temptation is then to take more and more. Not only does this not work in practise, but it significantly increases the health risks of taking PEDs. A lot of experienced industry figures advise against them – and if a person who has done PEDs for years is telling you not to, then maybe you should take that as a warning sign.

So if you’re following someone on social media who’s shredded 365 days a year, eats barely a grain of rice for lunch, does 100+ BJJ sessions a week, is a first-time parent, hits world-record barbell lifts on a regular Tuesday and still has time to post the salad they ate on their last six-week holiday, it’s probably too good to be true. The link in their bio will not make you look like them and it won’t give you their lifestyle. They want your money so badly they’re willing to sell you lies. So stop being a twat, take a step back, and ask, “Are you even natty, though?”


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