We know they're out there. We even know who some of them are. But most of these underground trainers and coaches work on the fringe, carefully out of the public eye. We call them shadow gurus, experts in training, nutrition and the use of performance enhancing drugs.
They're both educated coaches and drug advisers, everything an athlete needs to reach the top. Most specialize in a certain sport: track and field, baseball, hockey, or football. Others freelance, offering their expertise to the highest bidder. Whatever the sport, one thing is certain: these guys don't talk.
That is, until now.
T-Nation has been contacted by one of these shadow gurus, a person specializing in mixed martial arts and fighting sports. He said he was willing to tell his story as long as he remained anonymous. I wasn't allowed to meet with him or call him on the phone. Instead we conducted this interview "blind" through a private messaging system.
Meet Trainer X.
T-Nation: I know you can't say too much, but give us a sense of who you are, what you do and how you got into all this.
Trainer X: I always liked martial arts, boxing and wrestling. I think I started training in different Asian striking styles at age seven. At around 14, I started getting into strength training and most of the info I got was from high school strength coaches and bodybuilding magazines. I questioned these sources of information.
I was basically a geek and loved to read, so I was always searching for the best way to train as it applied to fighting. Soon after I became interested in supplements and nutrition. At around 16, I read my first steroid books, The Anabolic Reference Guide and the Underground Steroid Handbook. I was also into biology, so I loved whatever science I could read that remotely applied to performance.
By the time I was 20 I had read everything I could get my hands on in regards to training, nutrition, and drugs. I was regularly advising friends on exercise, diet, and drugs to meet specific goals. The first people I advised on steroids were college football players, bodybuilders, and guys who just wanted to look better. This is where I learned the most–talking to athletes with different weaknesses and goals and seeing what worked for them and what didn't.
T-Nation: How did you come to specialize in fighters?
Trainer X: I saw my first UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and soon I was training with an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter while I was home from college. From a fighting perspective, this guy was obviously a master of his craft. But when it came to general physical training, diet and steroids, there was a little less knowledge about what was optimal.
After he asked, I began telling him all I knew about steroids and how athletes use them. At the time I was still learning a lot and the idea of someone training for a fight really made me question what works best in terms of training, diet, and drugs. Of all the advice I've given, the one thing most people want is steroid advice. I'm most often approached by athletes with limited steroid experience or guys who've used before but are looking for a better and safer way to achieve their goals.
T-Nation: Why did you want to talk about this? Why talk publicly about steroid use in these sports?
Trainer X: I didn't get enough attention as a child. No, just kidding. Actually, there were a few reasons. I think a lot of people are interested in steroids for strength, recovery and performance enhancement, without getting too big.
I get a lot of questions about steroids through friends of friends. Some of them listen to the guy at the gym and some go so far as to read steroid books or Internet forums. Some of the info they get is just plain bad; other times it's good info but only if the goal is to get huge.
I just wanted to say that for a lot of athletes the best advice lies somewhere between "steroids will kill you" and "you gotta take at least one gram a week or you're wasting your time!" A lot of these guys don't have time to spend researching all this stuff. Strength training, diet and drugs need to be simple for them 'cause they're just tools, not the goal.
I've also had this info written up for some time. I usually give athletes little guides so they know what to do. Finally, I'm hoping other athletes from all sports will share what they've learned about safely using steroids for peak performance.
T-Nation: Things are a little scary right now for guys involved with steroids. Trainers are getting busted, bodybuilders and powerlifters were subpoenaed at the Arnold Classic, big baseball players are showing up this season much smaller, and even "andro" is being banned. Getting nervous?
Trainer X: Just a second here while I look out my window. It's been ten minutes since I checked if there were any suspicious cars outside!
Seriously though, I do get nervous, very nervous from time to time. I'm small time, though. Over the last ten years I've helped maybe 50 people with steroids and given advice to many more, but a crime is a crime to the Feds. I've been nervous recently with the wave of busts. It's made me consider restricting my assistance to an advice-only basis and lately that's all I've been doing.
By the way, I encourage anyone who's considering steroids to read the book Legal Muscle, though in my experience few people take the time to learn about the legalities involved. I could go on and on about the government's outright hysteria with regards to steroids but I'll cut it off here.
T-Nation: What kind of athletes have you worked with? What levels?
Trainer X: I've helped high-ranking college football and baseball players trying to take it to the next level. I've helped some pros, too. Hockey, basketball, sprinting and even climbing are some of the other sports where I've made recommendations to guys using steroids.
These guys are at all levels; some I'd call recreationally competitive and some are looking to make sports their career. I've even helped a couple of bodybuilders, powerlifters, guys who just want to look better and cops. I actually have one friend who's a Fed. He wanted to go the legal route so I had him use MAG-10. He liked the results.
My favorite athletes though are mixed martial arts fighters. These athletes I've helped have competed at the highest levels of their sport.
T-Nation: What are most of these fighters doing wrong when they come to you?
Trainer X: Wow, that's a long one. In general, I think you should always have a training diary. A lot of guys don't. Fighters also like to train their strengths. When a fight is six to eight weeks away that's okay and actually recommended, but when they have more time before a fight or they're still developing, they should be working on weaknesses. I'm referring to muscular weaknesses as well as weaknesses in areas of fighting. With that, I'll put my two cents in about what I think guys should be doing.
In the developing stages you have a few types of guys training in MMA. The martial arts based guys aren't really into weights. Then there are the guys who train a lot with weights, like powerlifters or bodybuilders, who just want some basic fighting techniques and hope their strength will handle the rest in a fight.
The first type could obviously benefit from periods where strength training is a priority and technical training is on maintenance levels. The second bunch could probably do good to focus on technique while maintaining their strength. It's all about personal weaknesses. After weaknesses are evaluated, you just need to see which ones are easy to improve and have a big impact on the fighter's performance.
T-Nation: Give us an example.
Trainer X: Some submission fighters are so good at submission compared to their opponents that they could literally train it two times a week and still be better. If your game is ground submission, then your takedowns better be topnotch. Takedowns can be helped by improving general physical attributes, like power, so, you can make a big impact in this guy's overall game by improving takedowns with strength training.
It looks like the high level fighters are training pretty good these days, though. You see more wrestlers who can punch and punchers who can defend the takedown. And everyone is training submission. So there, martial arts cross-training is going good. You also see a lot of good fighters going the distance so conditioning is getting better.
Most guys could benefit from strongman training, though. Sandbags, tire flips, sled drags, and farmers walks are all good. Also, modified Olympic lifts, power lifts with chains and bands, and explosive drills with medicine balls work well. Grip-specific training and exercises to enhance punching speed and power are also important.
Static stretching as a warm up is still popular and that needs to be changed. Flexibility training could be better. Conditioning needs to mimic the energy systems and motor qualities required in a fight. Plain old interval sprinting is good as is, of course, sparring. Sparring should mimic the fight so grappling for an hour straight when the fight consists of just a few five-minute rounds may not be ideal. Interval sparring with fresh opponents is a good alternative. Finally, when training a fighter you have to take the rest of his grueling schedule into account. After all, these guys spend a lot of time doing other things besides weight training, like beating the crap out of people.
T-Nation: How about diet? Where do they screw up?
Trainer X: Again, I think a log is important, at least until you know what it takes to meet your dietary requirements. Using drugs to compensate for inadequate training or nutrition is a mistake for any athlete. Nutrition is basic. You need to get your protein, green vegetables, and healthy fats in line, and solid pre and post-workout nutrition is a must.
I'd say the biggest variable for athletes is carbohydrate intake. Both type and quantity seem highly personal and a log is essential to finding what works best. Nutrition can get more advanced as you try to "stuff " a weight class. By "stuffing" I mean weighing in at 185 but entering the ring at a strong 196.
For average guys involved in competitive sports or MMA training, it's about giving them a few key points that'll make a noticeable difference for them specifically. Sometimes it may be cutting out sugary fruit juices and drinking more water. Other times it's talking to them about types or quantities of carbohydrates, fats or protein that they should include or eliminate. It all depends on the athlete's present condition and the goal.
Some guys want to do everything perfect. I like that, and I usually base my advice on the nutrition information here at T-mag. It's important not to drive an athlete crazy with nutrition though. When the goals aren't physique oriented but rather perfecting motor qualities to improve performance, you'll get the biggest bang for the buck getting anal about proper training, not nutrition.
T-Nation: In MMA, Pride, UFC etc., are all the fighters juicing?
Trainer X: I'd never say "all." At the higher level of the sport, I'd guess 90% or more are using. I think many of them are using reasonable doses and not staying on all the time. Obviously, certain fighters have styles that are more strength based so they're likely to use more than the technical fighters.
T-Nation: So give us an idea of what kind of steroids a top MMA fighter is on. What's the ideal cycle for a brawler?
Trainer X: Like training and diet, there's no best plan for everyone. Usually you want to keep it simple. The first guideline I follow is to go for about 600mg total dose the first week. Beyond 600mg/week, it seems like strength gains aren't much greater but weight gain is. Since we're usually looking for relative strength, I like the 600mg/week guide. In my experience many fighters need even less.
Usually each subsequent week will run from 300-500mg. Popular items are Testosterone, Equipoise (boldenone), Anavar (oxandrolone) and Halotestin (fluoxymesterone). Trenbolone and Winny (stanozolol) make it in too but it depends on the fighter's response to the possible high blood pressure of trenbolone and joint pain of Winny.
Deca (nandrolone) is used sometimes too for its joint relief properties. A simple plan is to split the total weekly dose between Eq and Testosterone. Eq does seem to boost RBC's and therefore endurance. A good cycle length is six to eight weeks pre-fight. If the athlete wants to experiment a little, I like to see a blend of 50mg Masteron (drostanolone propionate)/50mg Eq Propionate/50mg Test Propionate shot four times the first week and three times each following week. Anavar could be added at 15-30mg/day and in the last two weeks before the fight, maybe some Halotestin at 10-20mg/day.
I like this because I think the Eq and Testosterone have benefits for a fighter but I don't like to get the dose too high because appetite can soar. Balancing them out with Anavar and Masteron seems to yield nice strength gains with minimal weight gain.
Pre-fight, you need good feedback from your athlete as well as his strength and conditioning coach and technical coach. Is he gaining too much weight for his class? Does he feel tired? My golden rule is do no harm. In no way do you want to mess up the athlete's fight conditioning or his ability to make weight. You want a strong, fast, conditioned athlete who makes weight. Anything that'll hurt that is out. This includes any untested last minute changes to his steroid plan or his training and diet plan.
Now, if I had time with this athlete way out from a fight, we might want to gain some weight and learn some new strength levels, but here I'm looking to help him recover and help with his endurance, along with maintaining or maybe increasing strength and speed. In addition, this is what a lot of fighters have told me they like.
I normally don't experiment with oxymetholone and methandrostenolone 'cause they seem to do okay without them. I've considered adding D-bol at a low (15-25mg/day) dose for some guys. Problem is, they don't like to stray from what they know works. And can you blame them? It's not like they strike out in their sport; they get knocked out, arm locked or choked out! So they want to use what's worked in the past.
Winny is loved by some, hated by others. Again, it's personal preference. I don't recommend it to most athletes but I do trust experienced users who like it and leave it to them. The main thing to remember here is we go to a max of 600mg/week total (perhaps higher on the first week but I haven't had a fighter go over 625mg yet. Some other types of athletes I've gone to 750mg the first week). Methenolone isn't preferred because there are just better steroids that give more bang for the buck.
T-Nation: Give us an idea of some other successful plans you've seen used.
Trainer X: Some other plans I've seen guys use are:
Equipoise only at 400mg on week one, followed by 300-350mg each additional week until the fight. One fighter likes this exclusively. This has done well for him and the increased RBC's do seem to have a positive affect on his conditioning.
Testosterone butyrate with anastrazole at 600mg on week one followed by 400mg each additional week. Another guy prefers this and seems to do well with it.
Test at 400mg with 150mg of tren on week one followed by 350mg/week of Test with 100mg/week tren for the subsequent weeks. I like masteron over trenbolone. A while back tren got a great rep for keeping you lean and adding strength, which it does. But there's something about this steroid in high doses that seems to affect endurance. I called bullshit on this too until a friend and I tried it and noticed we were gassing out. Tren can be used but I use it sparingly as it does raise blood pressure and that can affect endurance.
Test at 250mg/week and winny at 150mg/week.
Test at 300mg/week, deca at 100mg/week. I favor Eq over deca but I've seen guys ask for deca for its joint pain relief. I try not to go over 200mg/week and you need to figure this in for your total so you have to subtract from the other androgens in the stack. Again, I've seen this but don't recommend it. I'd much rather see Test with Eq.
T-Nation: How about brands?
Trainer X: A lot of Underground Labs. Atlantis Stenox is about the only real fluoxymesterone I've seen lately. For Boldenone propionate, the only one I've seen is RSOC. His Test blends are good too because they include some Arimidex (anastrazole). I've seen DPHARM and Proline for a lot of the other stuff and IP oral Winny. I like UG labs because they make a lot of fast acting gear and if given a choice I prefer esters with shorter half-lives.
Growth Hormone is used when available and affordable at 2-6 IU per day for as long as the athlete can. I believe this is great stuff for rehab and general health. Many of them run it 5on/2off just for cost reasons. I believe continued dosing is optimal if money is no object but there's certainly a benefit from this 5on/2off protocol. I've seen the Serostim and Jinotropin kits and I expect the Nutropin depot preparation to become popular.
T-Nation: What kind of ancillaries do your fighters use?
Trainer X: In truth, most fighters ignore this stuff. To be honest, many athletes in general don't use ancillaries. Despite people trying to convince them, many just don't want to pay for them or feel it's too complicated. Fortunately, I haven't seen gynecomastia at the low doses used and this is why I like a certain underground Testosterone with Arimidex mixed in. Most of these guys also don't complain about HPTA recovery. After a fight, they usually take a much-needed active recovery period and don't use steroids again until another fight comes along.
Personally, I'm a fan of HCG only while on. I also like the low dose of 250IU two times per week and more only if necessary. I hate Clomid (clomiphene) for fighters. Again, if you have time to experiment or the athlete likes it, great. But it can make tough guys into, well, emotional tough guys. I like Arimidex while on (not for post-cycle therapy though) and Nolvadex (tamoxifen) while on and for post-cycle therapy.
T-Nation: Can a guy be "over-juiced" when it comes to MMA?
Trainer X: Yes. MMA is not all about size. In MMA you usually need to be as strong as possible while staying in a weight class. You also need anaerobic endurance. I'm the last guy to preach about steroid side effects, but high blood pressure is very common on one gram a week or more. High BP is a conditioning killer so you need to avoid that.
Certain steroids like trenbolone are loved by some for the lean strength gain but hated by others because it seems to raise blood pressure to a greater degree than some other things. I've seen a few examples of this.
Another example happened a while back when a fighter got on about one gram per week of suspension on the advice of a buddy. He started this about two weeks before the fight! Not ideal. It's okay to do this if you're a bodybuilder; it's okay to do this if you know it works for you; and it's okay to do this if you're a fighter; but it isn't okay to do this two weeks before a fight when you've never tried it before!
This severely affected his conditioning in the ring because he had gained weight, water, fat and muscle too fast and his blood pressure was probably too high for him. He simply hadn't practiced fighting in that condition. Remember the energy systems needed for the sport. Linemen, strong men, powerlifters, and bodybuilders are a different animal and higher doses that work for them may not be best for fighters.
T-Nation: We've heard about boxers using certain drugs to "make them aggressive." Do your fighters do anything like that?
Trainer X: I like halo for the strength and the CNS stimulation it gives without the weight gain. I like to restrict it to 10-25mg per day, two weeks or even one week before the fight 'cause it can make people a bit more aggressive. Some guys simply don't need to be more aggressive in their daily lives.
At the higher levels you don't want a fighter to be too aggressive too early and end up making mistakes or gassing out. It's very individual. Confidence is essential but overly emotional aggression can be a detriment. And we sure as hell don't need to give any more ammunition to the anti-steroid morons who cry about "roid rage!"
If aggression is distinctly low, then halotestin may be used longer, but I'd say that indicates another problem. The fighter should want to fight.
T-Nation: Absolutely. What kind of legal supplements do you recommend for your athletes?
Trainer X: Fats, fiber, carbs and protein need to be supplied by food above all. Still, general supplements I like are:
A good protein powder and fish oil supplement.
A good during/post-workout supplement with simple carbohydrates and fast proteins. As the fight approaches I'd like to see more guys experiment with amino loading instead of high carb drinks pre/during and post training, usually with BCAA's and a free amino blend. Creatine at 5-10 grams a day is good, too.
Pre-workout I like two servings (sometimes three) of Power Drive or simple tyrosine loading at 6-9 grams. Personally, I like HOT-ROX as a good stimulant and appetite killer. I don't recommend ephedrine for most fighters.
For joints, MSM at up to 10 grams a day can be used with glucosamine/condroiton. Usually I use Cosamin but I like the look of Labrada's all-in-one product. This is something that some athletes believe helps them and some don't. Obviously if they don't notice it after giving it a fair chance, there's no point in using it.
I'd also like to see fighters try bicarbonates and phosphates at certain times for the buffering affect on lactic acid. It all depends on the athlete and the goal.
T-Nation: Okay, X, I'm out of questions. Anything else you want to add?
Trainer X: One final point I'd like to bring up is that I believe a lot of people underestimate the demands placed on high-level athletes. Pre-season preparation for baseball and football are stressful and grueling in and of themselves, much less the season itself. Fighters get calls two weeks before an event asking them to compete. Steroids do play a role in strength, recovery and size, but I've had a lot of guys (who were almost pros in various sports) finally add drugs to their plan but still not make it. Drugs don't make professionals!
Obviously, genetics play a role but I think what makes great athletes is consistency and a burning desire to improve. Finding the best approach to conditioning, flexibility, and strength training combined with technical practice is what brings all athletes to the top. Steroids are merely the icing on the cake.
T-Nation: Thanks for talking candidly with us today, X. We appreciate your insight and honesty.
Trainer X: No problem, Chris. You guys keep up the good work at T-mag!