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The Fitness Industry Is Changing

The fitness industry is going through a revolution of sorts. The pre-internet days of information being monopolised by bodybuilding magazines is long gone. While misinformation certainly still exists, the discussion and debate facilitated by social media has created a culture that challenges fitness theories and publications. Advertisements such as Charles Atlas’ Dynamic Tension and Mike Marvels Dynaflex Method wouldn’t fly today. They’d likely get the same meme treatment that MuscleTech got for years as they promoted outrageous claims without any accountability.

Following a spate of recent bodybuilder deaths, commentators, competitors, influencers and fitness enthusiasts are recognizing the dangers and speaking out. The fitness industry is shifting to one in which appearance at any cost is being deprioritized, and health and longevity is being prioritized.

In the world of fitness content creation, many influencers are much more transparent about their drug use, explaining what they take to achieve their look, and the physical and psychological side effects of doing so. Sponsorships aren’t automatically terminated when one admits to steroid use; something that was the norm around the rise of YouTube fitness in the early 2010s.

We’re also seeing a resurgence of natural bodybuilding. A new crop of fitness YouTubers are carrying the “noble natty” flag – a derogatory term that steroid users initially appended to holier-than-thou natural bodybuilders. It has now been proudly adopted by natural bodybuilders to celebrate their drug-free status. Content creators such as Natural Hypertrophy, Geoffrey Verity Schofield and Basement Bodybuilding are growing channels that promote natural training. They have a solid subscriber base that is interested in safe, natural, drug-free training that adds to your life, not takes years away from it.

The sport and hobby has been enhanced for so long, there’s often been widespread doubt about what physique is naturally attainable i.e. through steroid-free training. Forum posts discussing who’s “natty or not” have existed since the 90s and persist today. However now people are generally more clued up. The fake natty era is pretty much finished. Much less people believe the modus operandi of fake natties from the early 2010s; I’ve been training and eating right since I was 12 years old. That’s why I’m 230lbs shredded without any drug assistance.

There’s widespread understanding that competitive bodybuilders and Hollywood actors that make incredible short-term transformations are on steroids. While hard work and dedication are certainly part of the equation, chicken, broccoli and rice (a euphemism for anabolics) plays a significant role.

Steroids with gym weight plates
“Chicken, broccoli and rice” is a euphemism for steroid use.

The supplement industry is also facing pressure in a way that it never has before. Marketing hype and unrealistic claims by supplement companies were the norm not so long ago, taking advantage of a naivety that exists among those new to working out. These supplements made incredible claims about how much muscle you’d gain or fat you’d lose in a matter of weeks. But when those expected results never came, you were eternally jaded, having learnt a hard lesson about the deceptiveness of the fitness industry.

Around the time MuscleTech was promoting its scientific miracles, ‘anabolic flavones’ were the much-heralded, non-hormonal alternative to the 2004 prohormone ban; a ban that prevented the sale of over-the-counter steroid precursors. These flavones such as Methoxyisoflavone and Ecdysterone promised steroid-like results without the side effects. They faded away into obscurity within a few years because, quite simply, they didn’t work. To veterans of the fitness industry, it’s nothing new to see the hype around Turkesterone and Ecdysterone. But to the new batch of fitness enthusiasts, it creates false hope that so many have already gone through.

Google Trends data showing "ecdysterone" was popular in 2004-2006, then the hype returned in 2019 and peaked in 2021.
Google Trends data shows there was hype around Ecdysterone from 2004-2006. The hype returned in 2019 and peaked in 2021.

However there was a difference this time. Consumers don’t automatically accept the claims anymore. They question the efficacy of supplements. They hold supplement companies and influencers to account. In mid 2022 the Turkesterone scandal broke. Turkesterone is an ecdysteroid supplement that was hyped up for its supposed anabolic effects. There was limited evidence that it worked and further analyses found that Turkesterone supplements that were being sold by large fitness content creators such as Greg Doucette and More Plates More Dates were massively underdosed. Unlike in years past when sellers could get away with it, there was a huge backlash towards Turkesterone and those selling it, leaving an indelible mark on the reputations of those who otherwise were seen as honest voices in the fitness industry.

It is apparent now that the industry can’t operate the way it used to. It can’t make bombastic claims about supplements and expect to get away with it. The hyper-competitiveness of the industry means that the seller’s integrity is the distinguishing factor, the USP so to speak. Trust takes time to build up but it can be lost in an instant.

And for those considering anabolic supplements or taking their fitness journey into deeper territory, one question is gaining traction. Is it worth it? The bodybuilder deaths, the health complications, the ruined relationships. Is it really worth it? Dante Trudel, a pro bodybuilding coach, put it succinctly; “Do you know how young it is to die in your 30’s? Do you know how awful it is to be in kidney or heart failure in your 30’s and 40’s?” Dante explains that in the early 1990s he put out a newsletter called Hardcore Muscle. The 6 people who contributed information to that newsletter are all dead. Is it really worth it for a $15 trophy?

Stuart McRobert, author of Hardgainer magazine, shared a similar sentiment in his book ‘Inside the Mind of an Iron Icon’; “And of those drug users who did become bodybuilding champions, most of them discovered that a few trophies, and short-term fame, are no
compensation for the price paid in terms of the neglect of their health, education, career, family life and so on. Surface-level satisfaction from contest wins doesn’t fix deep-seated feelings of inadequacy.

The fitness industry is having an awakening. Many are wondering; Is it worth being jacked if you ostracize yourself from friends and family? Is it worth upping your steroid dose for 10k more followers on Instagram? Is it worth risking death in your 30s to win a bodybuilding trophy?

Is it worth it?

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