by Mike Arnold
Each month, I get all sorts of requests from individuals asking if I can write an article on certain topics. Rarely do I comply, as the subject matter either isn’t relevant to the typical reader, I have already written on the topic, or I am currently working on other material. But, every now and then I will receive a suggestion which piques my interest. Such is the case this month when I was recently asked “which steroids are the best for increasing strength?”
Although the question is simple, finding the correct answer can prove somewhat elusive due to tremendous diversity in personal response among individuals. While generalities are often useful for pointing one in the right direction, this lack of uniformity precludes a set ranking system for the various AAS. This leaves personal experimentation as the only sure-fire method of ascertaining what is best for you.
Steroids are a fairly complex group of drugs which work to increase strength through multiple mechanisms. While there are more similarities than differences, each AAS affects the body in a slightly different manner, activating these mechanisms with various degrees of efficiency. Therefore, if strength enhancement is the primary objective, steroid selection should be approached with the goal of activating each of these mechanisms to maximum capacity. Unfortunately, no single steroid is capable of accomplishing this tack, making stacking an absolute requirement.
The first mechanism by which AAS increase muscle strength is through muscle fiber hypertrophy. This is the predominant pathway through which most weight trainers get stronger and has the greatest potential for long-term strength enhancement. There are 2 main types of muscle fiber hypertrophy which occur as a result of the training stimulus; sarcoplasmic and sarcomere hypertrophy. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy refers to an increase in the energy producing components of the muscle and to a significantly lesser degree, those involved with neural drive. Muscle glycogen would be the most well known substance in this category, but also includes things such as mitochondria and ribosomes.
With ATP production originating in the mitochondria, their proliferation via sarcoplasmic hypertrophy contributes substantially to an increase in muscular endurance. Most BB’rs have direct experience with the strength boosting effects of increased ATP production through creatine usage; one of the most popular BB’ing supplements of all time. Although ATP is largely recognized for its ability to enhance muscular endurance, it also has considerable effects on maximal strength output by preventing premature failure of contractile proteins. Sarcoplasmic tissue usually only represents about 20% of a muscle’s total volume, although certain types of BB’ing training, particularly high-set, high volume training, can cause the percentage of sarcoplasmic tissue to rise. At best, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy contributes only moderately to the overall growth of a muscle.
Sarcomere hypertrophy is a completely different process and refers to an increase in the size of a muscle’s contractile machinery. Comprised almost entirely of actin & myosin filaments, these contractile proteins make up about 80% of a muscle’s total volume and have the greatest potential for muscle growth. It is this part of our muscle fibers that are directly responsible for movement, whether it be pushing a lawnmower, raising a beer to our mouth, or lifting heavy weight in the gym. They are the workhorses of our muscles. When we look at a steak or a piece of chicken breast, this is primarily what we are seeing and what most people associate with the term “muscle fiber”.
In addition to increased muscle fiber size, AAS are well known to augment strength through their effects on the nervous system. When it comes to our muscles, how much weight we can lift is determined by many factors, such as muscle fiber size, the number of muscle fibers present, and also muscle fiber make-up. However, strength levels are also determined by non-muscle factors, such as skeletal structure, muscle attachments, tendon strength, and nervous system efficiency. While AAS can’t change our muscle attachments or give us a new skeleton, they can have profound effects on the nervous system, leading directly to increased muscular strength. Generally speaking, steroids with potent androgenic activity are the most likely to have positive effects in this area, which they accomplish via improved neural firing.
However, this effect is not limited solely to the stronger androgens. For example, Methasterone (SD), despite being a relatively weak androgen (on par with Anavar), typically has an extreme effect on muscle strength, in which hypertrophy is only partially responsible for the strength gains made. Being a myotropic powerhouse, it may be difficult for some to distinguish between the strength gains accrued as a result of improved contractile ability and those derived from muscle hypertrophy, but real-world experience has repeatedly demonstrated the drug’s ability to substantially improve strength even when lean body mass is maintained through caloric restriction.
Another, although less commonly talked about mechanism by which AAS can potentially enhance strength is through increased ATP synthesis. Anavar is probably the most well known of the bunch and got its reputation as a strength drug for this very reason. Commonly used by bodyweight conscious powerlifters in the 80’s due to its ability to add strength will minimal weight gain, the drug retained its niche as an ATP generator until 1992—the year creatine swooped in and dominated the supplement market. These days, the intrusion of creatine has made the ATP synthesizing capability of Anavar (and AAS in general) largely irrelevant, but it bears mentioning for those who are unaware of this strength boosting effect.
Anyone who has experience with the various oral mass-builders will tell you that no matter how dissimilar they might be, the one thing they usually have in common is an ability to produce rapid strength gains. This is due in large part to intramuscular water retention, which results in improved leverage and in turn, greater strength. This is caused by the inhibition of a certain enzyme called 11-beta hydroxylase, which most steroids inhibit to one degree or another. However, some AAS inhibit this enzyme to a much greater degree than others, resulting in a dramatic muscle-swelling effect. AAS such as Anadrol, SD, and M1-T all demonstrate this characteristic, frequently adding 10-15 lbs or more in just a couple weeks. It is difficult, if not impossible, to maximize strength without taking advantage of this class of drugs.
Up this point we have mostly addressed the effects that steroids have on the body, but I have not yet mentioned their effect on the mind. Any intelligent lifter understands the importance of a proper mind-set when trying to achieve record breaking performances, regardless of whether they take place in a gym or up on a competitive stage. Boxers, arm-wrestlers, and MMA fighters are well aware of this, which is why all of these athletes tend to gravitate towards steroids which amplify this effect as game day approaches. Only when the mind is fully on board is the body able to function at maximum capacity and that is precisely why androgens can be so useful.
Basically, this mental upgrade could be described as an exaggeration of the “alpha-male mentality”.
Traditionally, the alpha-male is defined by a variety of masculine personality traits, such as aggressiveness/assertiveness, dominance, and confidence, all of which lend themselves to a kill the weights, get the job done attitude. Have you ever seen those guys in the gym trying to get themselves “psyched up” right before a max lift…or a fighter attempting to get himself angry before entering the ring? This is the type of mind-set and emotions that androgens help cultivate, without needing to be artificially induced through outside stimuli. Anger, aggression, rage—they are all right there under the surface, within your own control, and able to be released at will. Those who are familiar with this category of drugs will also attest to the increased energy and focus that tends to accompany their use. While both personal response and the outward manifestation of those internal changes will vary among individuals, the general consensus is that powerful androgens provide a mental upgrade capable of improving performance.
With AAS boosting strength through multiple different mechanisms, which ones are the most effective within their respective categories? As mentioned in the beginning of the article, variations in personal response make it impossible to accurately rank these drugs from best to worst in any capacity, so the best I can do is speak in generalities. In addition, with such a large number of potential AAS to choose from, I have opted to limit my selections only to the well known and more readily available AAS.
When it comes to long-term, sustainable muscle hypertrophy, testosterone is hard to beat and for that reason it is usually considered a basic component of any effective strength building stack. However, testosterone is not a one-trick pony, as it not only builds considerable muscle mass, but also has significant beneficial effects on both the nervous system and the mind. Really, testosterone does a little bit of everything, making it a wise choice for almost any goal, but in terms of strength enhancement, few people feel they are better off without it.
Trestolone, although still relatively difficult to obtain, is brought up for one reason—it is one of the most effective non-methylated injectable mass & strength drugs today. Most of the non-methylated injectables out there aren’t all that great for the strength athlete. Nandrolone (Deca), boldenone (EQ), methenolone (Primo), dromostanolone (Masteron), etc…are all mediocre when compared to drugs like testosterone and trestolone. Of course, there is trenbolone, which is excellent, but I have included that in another category. Trestolone is similar to testosterone in many ways. In fact, it is the only steroid which has ever been considered for both male hormone replacement therapy and male birth control, as no other drug is able to maintain normal male physiological function in testosterone’s absence. At 500-1,000 mg/week, it is a great base drug for those seeking size & strength gains.
If testosterone is a heavy hitter in terms of androgenic potency, then trenbolone and Halotestin are your all-stars. Few steroids can hold a candle to these 2 drugs, with trenbolone possessing an androgenic rating of 500 (5X higher than testosterone) and Halotestin coming in at a whopping 1,900. No matter how much testosterone you might be using, adding one or both of these steroids into the mix almost always results in a further increase in strength levels. Although combing these drugs produces the best results, it is probably more realistic for most people to just stick with trenbolone, as legitimate Halotestin is both difficult to find and expensive. But…if you happen to have a reliable source and decide to include it in your program, you are unlikely to be disappointed.
No strength stack would be complete without at least one mass-building oral. Although testosterone is one of the best steroids for muscle hypertrophy when used at higher dosages, no other category of AAS can approach the sheer weight gain associated with these compounds. In many cases the most effective oral mass-builders can add 10-15 lbs (or more) in just two weeks of use, accompanied by large and rapid bursts of strength. In many cases I have found the DHT-based drugs to produce the greatest results, with Anadrol and SD being stand-out examples. Praised by powerlifters and BB’rs alike for the last 5 decades, Anadrol is known throughout the entire world as a mass & strength drug par excellence. Although much newer, SD also joins Anadrol as one of the top strength drugs in existence.
Personally, nothing makes me stronger than SD and I know many others who share the same sentiment, but like with any steroid, personal response will determine which is best for you. Some other drugs which are worthy to be included on this list are M1-T, Dimethazine, and methyltrienolone. While M-tren is not really a “mass-builder” per say, its ability to generate strength gains is very impressive, securing it a top spot with the others. Some might say Dianabol belongs here, but rarely does it produce the type of strength gains associated with the aforementioned AAS. Still, it would be better to use Dianabol than no oral at all, as it can provide decent strength gains, particularly in less experienced lifters.
As far as ATP production is concerned, unless there is some reason you can’t ingest supplemental creatine (which should not be a problem in today’s market), then there is no reason to select your AAS based on this criteria. Although technically not a steroid, anyone who wants to get as strong as possible would be foolish to neglect this cheap and effective supplement.
As you can see, these recommendations have not been tailored to the bodyweight conscious individual. I understand there are quite a few strength athletes who may need to take this into consideration when designing a stack, but the purpose of this article was not tailored towards this purpose. Rather, my selections were based on one over-riding question—which AAS add the most strength, irrespective of bodyweight? In conclusion and for the sake of example, I have listed a few stacks using the above-referenced drugs (see below). I have not addressed the issue of dosage or cycle duration for any of these compounds, so use discretion if you choose to utilize any of these cycles. Several of the methylated orals indicated can be quite toxic, especially when combined, so I advise you to be prudent in terms of dosage and cycle length. Employing liver and cardiovascular support supplements is always a wise choice.
Traditional Mass & Strength Stack: Testosterone cypionate, Trenbolone acetate, Anadrol, Halotestin
Modernized Super Mass & Strength Stack (water retaining): Testosterone cypionate, Trenbolone enanthate, Trestolone acetate, SD, M1-T
Modernized Lean Mass & Strength Stack (dry): Testosterone propionate, Trenbolone acetate, Halotestin, Methyltrienolone