Are Powerlifters Natural

More and more fitness enthusiasts are encouraged to train like powerlifters in order to become big and strong. Famous authors of strength literature such as Mark Rippetoe and Pavel Tsatsouline have made barbell lifting popular among the youth, but they have also spread a lot of misconceptions because, just like everybody else, they’ve decided to remain politically correct and are refusing to cover the drug part of the game.

Popular training gurus often critique bodybuilding and claim that the mainstream training methods promoted by IFBB pros are inferior for natural bodybuilders. While this may be true, in some cases, the very same men promote routines prepared by professional powerlifting coaches and former champions such as Kirk Karwoski, Ed Coan and more. All of the mentioned individuals were on steroids during their competitive careers.

Many young boys and girls are left with the impression that for some peculiar reason heavy lifting can produce amazing muscle gains without the help of anabolic steroids or other muscle enhancing drugs. Nothing could be further from the truth. The use and abuse of drugs in powerlifting is as common as it is in bodybuilding. One can obviously get bigger by lifting heavy weights but nowhere near the level of the guys on the covers of strength books. Not even close.


Powerlifters, just like pro bodybuilders, are using a ton of gear (anabolic steroids, growth hormone, diuretics, insulin…etc) to get strong and ready for a contest. It is safe to say that the number of steroid-free elite powerlifters is zero.

The main factor is once again the male hormone testosterone. By definition, men produce 20 times more testosterone than women. The differences between males and females, as far as strength and size are concerned, are apparent. You don’t need a million dollar study to see them. Guess, what? Steroids boost your testosterone levels into the orbit.

We live in an era when even table tennis players are using banned substances. If anything bodybuilding, powerlifting, and weightlifting are some of the sports which benefit the most from anabolic steroids. If we take away the drug factor, all records will be cut by 20-50%. The most apparent drops will find themselves in the strength&muscle department.

There are examples of former powerlifters, such as Matt Kroczaleski, who have successfully converted from professional powerlifting to professional bodybuilding. The two sports are similar enough to allow a transition.

In his prime, the weightlifting legend Kirk Karwoski had physical stats similar to an IFBB pro – his weight was about 280lbs (127kg), body fat – 8%, and the size of his upper arms – 21 inches. All of that muscle was packed on a relatively short 5’8” frame. Essentially, those are the stats of a professional bodybuilder. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Yet there is a new generation of aspiring natural lifters who continue to chase a pipe dream. They believe that the natural limits will one day be broken if you just lift heavy enough. Lifting heavy weights is effective, but not that effective.

Another deception which gives hope to the naive naturals are the misleading articles written by the so-called powerbuilders. Powerbuilders are lifters who compete in both – powerlifting and bodybuilding or at least use the three lifts as the core of their bodybuilding routines. One of the guys to blame for this misconception is Michael O’Hearn who claims to be a natural bodybuilder. First, he is not a natural bodybuilder. Second, powerbuilding is not as effective as its supporters proclaim it to be.

The popular powerlifter and coach Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell has said in many of his interviews that he’s been on anabolic steroids for decades. According to him, the only way to get as strong as physically possible is to use drugs. Virtually all of his serious athletes take performance-enhancing drugs to break records.

To summarize:

  • elite powerlifters carry as much muscle mass as professional bodybuilders

  • elite powerlifters are extremely strong and compete against the best in the world

  • lifetime professional coaches such as Louie Simmons talk about steroids openly

  • there are athletes like Matt Kroczaleski who show that converting from elite powerlifting to IFBB level of bodybuilding can be done fast

The old quote “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!” holds true once again.

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