It's important to know if an athlete or bodybuilder you're working with is using steroids or other PEDs. Why? Because knowing that should change the way you coach them.
I've worked with natural and enhanced individuals alike. And you simply can't train them the same way, unless you have a natural athlete who's a genetic freak in the muscle-building department.
For example, an individual with the ACTN3 RR genotype and with naturally high testosterone and IGF-1 levels could build MORE muscle and respond better to training than someone with poor genetics who's using low-to-moderate amount of steroids.
But these guys are few and far between (1-2 percent of the population). The normal, natural lifter doesn't have the advantages that drug users and freaks have, and they just can't tolerate the same amount of training. The main differences are:
Frequency Per Muscle
Anabolic drugs turn on protein synthesis and it stays elevated pretty much 24/7, meaning that steroid users don't need to hit a muscle as often to get maximum growth. A natural lifter will have elevated protein synthesis in a muscle only when he trains that muscle, and it stays elevated for 24-36 hours.
As such, a natural lifter should train a muscle 2-3 times per week for maximum growth, whereas an enhanced lifter can grow just fine hitting a muscle hard once a week. (Though I still believe that hitting it twice per week will be better.)
Enhanced lifters can recover from more training volume. They repair muscle damage much faster and more easily because of the higher protein synthesis. That's why the approach of completely destroying a muscle once a week that's popular among bodybuilders will work well with enhanced lifters, but not so much with the average natural.
Furthermore, frequency of hitting a muscle and volume per session are inversely related: the more often you hit a muscle, the less volume per workout you can do. A natural lifter should hit a muscle more often for optimal results, which is another reason why they shouldn't do a high amount of volume per session.
Number Of Exercises
This goes with the volume component. An enhanced lifter can recover and grow from more volume, so they can do more exercises for each muscle group.
And if your client is like most gym bros, he believes in "bombarding the muscle from every angle." Well, a natural has to be more careful with his exercise selection. Since he can't recover as well and tolerate as much volume, he can't use a zillion exercises every workout. So he must select exercises with great care and choose movements that give the biggest bang for their buck.
He should also avoid redundant exercises (doing bench press, then dumbbell bench press or Smith machine bench press for example) and avoid garbage volume (exercises that'll provide very little in terms of added benefits).
Whether the natural lifter can go heavy or not has more to do with the CNS, so both natural and enhanced lifters can go heavy if they have the nervous system for it.
How do you know if your client has the nervous system for it?
Ask him these questions:
- Do you crash 2-3 hours after a heavy workout?
- Are you moody or unmotivated the day after a heavy session?
- Is your resting heart rate significantly elevated the morning after a heavy workout?
- Do you have a drop in libido after a few weeks of heavy lifting?
- Do you have problems sleeping when you train heavy, even when you trained early in the day?
If he can identify with these, your client likely doesn't have the nervous system suited to tolerate a lot of heavy work.