Wait. That wasn’t steroids?

written by Philip Stefanov  |  JUNE 7, 2022

You’ve probably come across quotes like, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.” and “Your reality is a reflection of your strongest belief.” Regardless of how you feel about them, there might be some truth after all…

A Pretty Interesting Study From Decades Back

In one study from 1972, researchers put together a group of 15 varsity athletes, gave them a training program, and came up with an exciting proposition: whoever managed to make the best strength training progress in the next several weeks would receive steroids (Dianabol).

Sure enough, six men won the race, and researchers gave them Dianabol pills… or so the participants thought. What the folks behind the experiment really gave these athletes were placebo pills.

The ‘roided-up’ athletes did another four weeks of training, not having the slightest idea they were given a placebo. Interestingly, all six men had amazing strength gains, especially since they weren’t untrained people.

Before taking the placebo, these subjects improved their squat, bench press, and overhead press by six, ten, and 1.6 lbs, respectively. Here is how much their lifts improved after the placebo:

  • Squat - 42 lbs
  • Bench - 29 lbs
  • Overhead press - 17 lbs

And they gained that strength in less time (four weeks vs. the initial seven). In other words, they made tremendous strength gains mainly because they thought they were on steroids.

While people are often quick to point out shortcomings of the study, claim the results were fake, or suggest that it’s an isolated case, the placebo effect is well documented in other papers. The power of a placebo is seen here and here. It is also present in the medical field. Simply telling a patient they are receiving analgesia can lead to significant drops in pain levels, changes in behaviors, and a drop in opioid intake.

What Does It All Mean For Us?

If you’ve ever taken a pre-workout supplement, you’ve likely experienced the power of placebo, at least to some degree. My most pronounced placebo experience came when I first started taking creatine monohydrate. I instantly felt stronger, faster, and more powerful. Little did I know that creatine takes time to work, and its effects aren’t that dramatic, anyway. Sure enough, I felt less dramatic benefits as I became less excited about taking creatine.

All of this goes to show you how powerful the mind is. Simply believing you can do something can be enough to do it. This is one reason why I recommend logging your workouts. Even if you don’t feel like you can get a certain number of reps or lift a specific load, looking at numbers from previous weeks proves that you can, so you do.

I’ll conclude this week’s newsletter with a quote from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,


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