Myths about building muscle
February 12, 2018

Myths about Muscle: Reality vs the Freak Show

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There are a lot of crazy myths about muscle.

Women in particular seem to be negatively affected by it. Have you ever heard a woman say she wouldn't touch a weight for fear of looking like a man? 

To be certain there are women like my wife who know differently and hit the weights with gusto and with no side affects at all -- except trimming fat, looking sexier and feeling healthier.

But lots of people are avoiding a tremendously healthy practice thanks to disinformation and utter nonsense. For that, we can of course thank the internet, that great purveyor of fake stuff and junk.

To be sure, there's also some ugly truths out there. Steroid abuse has transformed some bodybuilders, both Male and Female, into bizarre looking freaks. And on top of that, there's a weird subculture in web-world that likes to take a photo and blow it up with photoshop type programs. These muscle nerds worship the pretend creations with fervor.

And when you ask Google something about bodybuilding, all of this gets mixed together and could easily leave you with the impression that merely touching a weight might transmogrify you into a monster.

So, let's clear it up. Here's the not-so-skinny on what is real and what is pure fantasy and myth. Using photos pulled from Google searches...

This is what Natural looks like

Ladies first. Here are a few photos gathered from the web that show real, natural women who train hard. The first shows how training can trim fat and reshape the body. The next examples show natural competitors in dieted-down contest shape. They all look great and healthy.

Fat loss, body re-shaped

63 years old in 2013

77 years old in 2014

Next the Natural Guys.

These photos also come from the web. These are natural bodybuilders who train hard and eat right -- but don't take steroids. Notice that while they are muscular, they are not freakish in proportion. In other words, they look strong, but not like a Marvel comic book character.

Not Natural Guys

Staying with the guys for a minute,  the first photo juxtaposes a current era steroid monster vs a mostly-natural bodybuilder from the old-school Muscle Beach days. The second photo shows a legendary hardcore steroid monster from the current era vs. a natural bodybuilder from today.

Notice how the two natural guys on the right of each photo look pretty comparable -- even though these photos were taken several decades apart. Of course, the two steroid monsters look pretty comparable to one another, too. But they are both from the modern era and definitely not natural.

The Freaks

Here we go, full bore into the Freak Show.

Let's start with the ladies again. Remember, these are extreme examples of human beings who have changed their body chemistry with heavy drugs and hormones. There are many sad stories about these women. Some basically become men thanks to all the added testosterone. Deeper voices, enlarged private parts, facial hair, body hair and more.

There is a subculture in bodybuilding that believes anything is worth the added muscle, consequences be damned. It often leads to a tragic end.

Let's look first at the case of a famous female bodybuilder as she was at the start, then after taking heavy drugs and finally what she looked like after it all came to an end. None of these photos are doctored. The obvious moral -- don't do drugs.

Before steroid use

At the height of steroid use

After it all came crashing down

Staying with the ladies, let's look at some extreme female bodybuilders who use lots of steroids and god-only-knows what else.

Before and after heavy steroids use

Before and after even heavier steroid abuse

On steroids, then after stopping and returning to normal size.

The Really Freaky Super Freak Show

Here's where the ride gets wild. There will be some photos upcoming that you may find a tad revolting, if you haven't already had that reaction.

Starting with the silly side of the freak show -- photo manipulation or 'morphing.'

Why do these guys -- it's almost universally guys -- do this hobby?  I'm no shrink, but it seems to have obvious ties to a desire to be dominated by gigantic amazons and comic book super men. Maybe its connected to the modern gaming, cosplay and fantasy craze. I dunno, but it is all over the web whenever the subject is bodybuilding.

To see for yourself, Google pretty much anything about "bodybuilding" and then click the "Images" menu item. You'll see a whole bunch of all this stuff mixed in together with "real" photos. Good luck trying to find a photo that has not been altered.

Ladies first... These women are all enhanced via steroids and hard training -- then someone takes the photo and blows it up even further with "morphing" software.

Distorted and enlarged

Super distorted


Insanely distorted

Now some guys...

Real photo of steroid monster then...

...Same guy "morphed" with software

Straight to cartoonville

Beyond Freaky and into the Truly Bizarre...

At some point in the last decade or so, a new craze hit the subculture of bodybuilding. It's called "Synthol" and it is an oil that some inject directly into their muscles to force them to swell up.

In some cases, pro bodybuilders have been accused of using this stuff to touch up a weak spot. But the most bizarre cases are guys who aren't really even body builders,  but have taken this shortcut to blow themselves up to extreme proportions. They look silly, ugly and bizarre. 

Beware, I'm including a shot of what happens when one of these things go wrong and has to be drained. 

No photo manipulation here. This guy started out with steroids and then added the Synthol injections. His arms later infamously "blew up."

I don't know this guy's story. But there are tons of Synthol users just like him out on the web. Notice how his forearms are stick-like compared to his biceps, pecs and traps.

This is the ugliest part, when the oil causes abcesses or infections and must be drained. Sadly, there are tons of pictures like this out there, too.

So now you know...

If you're wondering where I fall in the above lineup, I'm totally natural and always have been. I started lifting at the age of 12 with my brother's hand-me-down iron set. 

I am naturally big. By the 9th grade, I was 6' 4" and 245 pounds. A few years of football and several decades of working out followed. Today, in my early 60's I'm 280, mostly muscle gained over 5 decades of staying with it. I do not have a 'contest' shape but do have muscle mass.

I've been accused once or twice of using steroids. The truth is, I have never even seen one. When I first started out, they weren't even around, at least not where I grew up. Maybe if they had been prevalent back then, who knows? But I'll never find out. Today, with heart issues and a hope to live long and healthy with all the years I have left, I'd never touch the stuff.

Just for the heck of it, here are some photos that remind me of way back when I first started working out. Back then, Photoshop and Synthol were completely unknown. And while it turns out the "pros" were beginning to dabble in the juice, it was nowhere near the insane levels of abuse we see today.

1969: legends Betty Weider and Larry Scott on the beach

A very young Arnold, skinny legs and all

Female pioneer "Pudgy" Stockton on the beach

Old school great Vince Gironda

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