Sean Hyson

Fitness Distilled

July/August 2015

Arnold’s Steroid Use

posted on December 11, 2011
written by sean hyson

The dirty (not so) secret about most of the physiques that you’ve probably admired over the years is that they were built with the help of steroids. It can rarely be proven, and it’s seldom admitted to, but the fact remains that the most inspiring, most massive and shredded physiques ever have to be listed with an asterisk.

Even Mary J. Blige has been suspected of growth hormone.

Of course, the poster boy for successful steroid use is Arnold Schwarzenegger—possibly the most beloved and influential fitness personality ever.

Arnold in the 60s. You can tell by the hair.arnold 60s


To his credit, Arnold has never denied his use of anabolic drugs, and they were legal during his days of competitive bodybuilding. The extent to which he used them, however, and how much they contributed to one of the most coveted physiques of all time, will always remain a mystery and subject of debate.

Randy Roach is the author of Muscle, Smoke, and Mirrors, an incredible resource on the early days of physical culture. It is undoubtedly the most complete collection of information on bodybuilding and the evolution of fitness that’s ever been written, and his long-awaited follow-up, Volume II, is now available. (Actually, it doesn’t seem to be up for purchase on his site yet but it should be soon.) We just got a copy in the Muscle&Fitness office and I’ve been consumed by it for the past few days.

Volume II unearths the details fans of the Golden Age have always wanted to know. In particular, what the bodybuilders of the 70s were like. How they trained, what they ate, and...

What they took.

Roach discusses Arnold’s steroid use quite a bit. Although the accounts still vary widely, this is the best look yet at what Arnold (probably) took and what it did for him. I’ll share some of Roach’s findings with you now.

Rick Wayne was a major bodybuilder in that era, and Roach reports that, according to Wayne, Arnold actually used roids heavily in his early days in Europe and LESSENED his dosage when he got to America. This is plausible, as anyone who’s followed The Oak’s career knows that, in the late 60s, Arnold was a 250-pound behemoth. However, he lacked definition. After moving to California and adopting a smarter diet, he chiseled his way down to a more aesthetic 230 or so, leading to the indelible images that were snapped of him during the 70s. He may well have lightened his drug use by that time as he didn’t need to carry so much mass.

Says Wayne: “He learned that massive doses of anabolic steroids were counterproductive. They affected an unsightly ballooning of the muscles.”

Wayne also alleges that Arnold took Primobolan, “the champagne of steroids”, in the 60s. He got injections two or three times per week. Scariest of all, Wayne says Arnold confided to him that he began using the drug at age 13!

Roach says this is unlikely, and he sites Lawrence Leamer, a Schwarzenegger biographer, who argues that Arnold really got into steroids at age 15. Still a very young man, but not prepubescent.

I’m pretty sure Arnold never took the amount of drugs this guy did.valentino

One of Arnold’s early mentors, an Austrian bodybuilder named Kurt Manul, likely introduced Schwarzenegger to roids in 1963 or ’64, “which was when both sides of the Atlantic were ramping up their use of drugs,” says Roach.

By the late 1960s and early 70s, Dianabol and Deca-durabolin were the most common oral and injectable steroid stack. According to bodybuilder Ric Drasin, a frequent training partner of Arnold’s at Gold’s, that was Arnold and Franco’s favorite cocktail.

So what do we make of this?

Should it affect our appreciation for bodybuilders of that era, or our reverence for Arnold’s accomplishments?

It doesn’t bother me. While I’ve always thought that Arnold owed a lot of his success to what steroids did for his body, he wasn’t the first to use them, and he wasn’t the only one using them. Steroids never lifted the weights for him. They never woke him up at five a.m. to train on a cold Austrian morning. They didn’t teach him English or pay for his acting classes.

Think what you will of Arnold as a husband or a politician, but he’s a hell of a success story. A poor immigrant with a dream who worked his ass off to make things happen. Would he have climbed to the same heights, achieved the same immortality without drugs? I don’t know. He certainly would have been smaller and less cut, but, assuming steroids never entered the picture and all bodybuilders were natural, he’d probably still have dominated and become the physique icon he is today.

And unlike some other celebs and politicians, he’s never hidden the fact that he took drugs. Not even the joint he smoked at the end of Pumping Iron. That’s more than Bill Clinton could do.

Knowing that Schwarzenegger, or anybody with a powerful body, took steroids doesn’t make me want to train any easier. I recognize that I won’t look quite that good without drugs, but I can be closer than I am now.

In fact, I might not have been as inspired to train if I hadn’t gotten hooked on images of pumped up bodybuilders, pro wrestlers, and movie stars.

I don’t blame anyone even if I was sold a false bill of goods. What are you going to do? Throw up your hands and quit training because you found out your hero used a little extra help?

Chances are he’d still look better than you without the drugs. Keep training.

Check out Roach’s book at, and feel free to tell me your thoughts on drug use below.


  1. Gravatar

    11 Dec, 2011

    Keith S.

    I don't think it's a big deal at all that Arnold took steroids. Most people aren't surprised anymore when any athlete tests positive, so why would we think any different of bodybuilders? It's pretty safe to say that current bodybuilders are all taking something. And I think you hit the nail on the head with the point that you made that steroids aren't what got him up at 5 am to train or kept him in the gym for hours on end.

    For Arnold in particular, you can tell in "Pumping Iron" that he's a very personable guy. I don't know if you've read his autobiography, but he admits to steroid usage in there as well, though he claims it was just to recover from injuries.

  2. Gravatar

    11 Dec, 2011


    I think steroids has this unwarranted "boogeyman" factor when,just like anything, it has it's positives and drawbacks. What really scares the hell out of me is this rampant use of antidepressants in this country.

  3. Gravatar

    11 Dec, 2011

    Mike Arone


    Great post.

    As mentioned regardless of his steroid use or not, Arnold had a relentless pursuit to be the best. I feel that though we (people who admire Arnold that is) probably admire his will to succeed and dominate his field more than his physique.

    Until this day I will argue with anyone that Arnold had the best physique in the biz---the guys today don't have the asthetic appeal of old school body builders---28" waists is a thing of the past. They were badass dudes back in the golden age------sauced up or not---I could care less; still motivate the he'll out of me.

    Great post bro.


  4. Gravatar

    11 Dec, 2011

    Rob King

    Great read Sean. I'd love to know what they used out of curiosity but not in a judgmental sort of way.

    Arnold more than likely is the most competitive guy in the world so i am sure he would take whatever her could. But that's BodyBuilding!

    Thanks for the link checking it out now.


  5. Gravatar

    12 Dec, 2011

    Jonathan Goodman

    I got a copy of Roach's book a while back and loved it. It's still lovingly on my book shelf and I lend it out from time to time.

    My two cents on steroids. I take a page out of sport spociologist Jean-Marie Brom's book where he applies Marxist principles to sport.

    In short, once an athlete reaches the professional level their body is their instrument. Therefore it is owned by the fans, coaches, even organizers etc. It's the athletes job to ensure top output however possible.

    Seems like a tough stance but when I go see a baseball game I want Bonds to jack a ball out of the park irrelevant of steroids. It's entertainment.

  6. Gravatar

    13 Dec, 2011


    Before I say anything I need to offer my disclaimer: I am not making a judgement about anyone who competes or wants to compete and who needs that edge. Please take what I'm saying in the spirit in which it's intended.

    If you're NOT looking to compete and are, instead, just looking to be healthy and LOOK healthy (i.e. not be physically abhorrent to women) the general consensus among my female co-workers at the post office (when the muscle mags come through) is that the muscle mag cover boys are way too much of a good thing. You can take your own informal poll of women whom YOU find attractive (though they probably won't be honest if you look like a muscle mag cover boy already since women won't want to insult you to your face) and see. I suppose it comes down to priorities.

  7. Gravatar

    17 Dec, 2011

    Sean Hyson

    Thanks, everyone. I'm glad we all seem to agree.

    Stacey, no surprise there. But it's surprising how many guys take steroids and still look natural. Now that's sad ;-)

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