Sylvester Stallone, TRT, and a Canary in a Coal Mine

Modeling good (and bad) behavior.

When we see someone successful, we all know what to do. You figure out the path he took to achieve his success. You use him as a model and you reverse engineer what he did.

The main idea is that you aren’t special. If someone else did something, you can do it, too, and chances are that you don’t need to blaze some brand new trail. Just follow the path, at least when you’re initially starting out. As you approach mastery, you can take a different fork in the road.

The same principle applies to potentially dangerous activities and vices.

Back in the olden days, coal miners would bring a canary into a coal mine:

[Canary in a coal mine is an] allusion to caged canaries (birds) that mining workers would carry down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases such as methane or carbon monoxide leaked into the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately.

If the canary dropped dead, the coal miners knew to turn around. The same is true of human activities.

canary in coal mine

How can we know if people die from using anabolic steroids?

Consider, for example, the use of anabolic steroids. We know that actors like Sylvester Stallone and other bodybuilders use are on testosterone replacement therapy. (Find out what your testosterone level is.)

You can pop in your 25th Anniversary Edition of Pumping Iron into your DVD player, take a look at the list of cast members, and see how many of them are still alive. Arnold lived a great life. Nearly all of those guys are still alive. The ones who died lived to be old men.

Pumping Iron was filmed during the Golden Age of Bodybuilding – a period covering roughly the mid-60s to late 70s. During the Golden Age, bodybuilders took ample doses of testosterone, anavar, dianabol, and other supposedly dangerous anabolic steroids.

How many bodybuilders of the Pumping Iron era died from using steroids?

Here are the top 5 contestants from the 1980 Mr Olympia:

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger (66, still alive)
2. Chris Dickerson (74, still alive)
3. Frank Zane (71, still alive)
4. Boyer Coye (67, still alive)
5. Mike Menzer (died at 49, had known substance abuse problems)

Here are top 5 contestants from the 1975 Mr. Olympia:
Over 200 pounds
1. Arnold schwarznegeer (66, still alive)
2. Serge Nubret (71, RIP)
3. Lou Ferrigno (62, still alive)

Under 200 pounds
1. Franco columbo (72, still alive)
2. Ed Corney (80, still alive)
3. Albert “Al” Beckles (83, still alive)
4. Frank Zane (71, still alive)

Indeed, the first Golden Age bodybuilder to die was Sergio Oliva. Olivia lived to be 71 years of age before dying of kidney failure.

Sergio Oliva

Did steroids and protein ruin his kidneys? There’s no evidence of this. Seventy-one is old and a lot of men die of kidney failure much younger than 71. There’s really no way to show a causal connection between his death and steroid use.

Surge Nubret lived to be 72. There isn’t any evidence that anabolic steroids played a role in his death. Just at actuarial charts. Men of Nubret’s era had a life expectancy of around 75. Nubret did not die young.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Nubret and Oliva are the canary in the coal mine. Maybe you can only dwell on this earth as an awesome, god-like man for seven decades. That’s the worst case scenario, and you know what, that’s a worst case many  are willing to accept.

Nubret and Oliva died at about the age they should have died. Maybe if they had chosen to live medicore lives, they’d have lived another few years as “little old men.” No thank you.

Now let’s look at the dark side of anabolic steroids. Greg Kovaks just dropped dead at 44. Nasser El Sonbaty died at 48. A few other 80s era bodybuilders have also dropped dead or are having severe health problems.

What happened?

There were two main changes. First, massiveness became emphasized. Second, the drugs changed. In order to carry around in excess of 250 pounds, you need a lot of trenbolone, insulin, hgh, in addition to the garden variety anabolics like anadrol.

The drugs the bodybuilders started using in the late 80s and early 90s, coupled with the massive amount of weight their carried, is fatal.

There’s your canary in the coal mine. Want to die young? Take grams of tren and test (ala GH15/Nasser) and carry around a lot of weight. You’ll be a mass monster who won’t make it to your 50th birthday.

On the flip side, you can use moderate amounts of testosterone, human growth hormone, and anabolic steroids and live a long, healthy life. A typical TRT cruise is 200 mg of test a week and 2-4 ius of HGH daily (dose will depend on whether it’s pharm grade GH or generic Chinese stuff). That’s what most of the celebs and older bodybuilders use.

Sylvester Stallone (67) is still alive. Arnold (66) is still alive. You can go see Lou Ferrigno (62) train at Gold’s in Venice. His skin has that amazing sheen that can only be described as “HGH skin.” (Jennifer Anniston has it too, or do you just think she uses a lot of coconut oil on her legs?)

Now of course anabolic steroids were just an example. Find your own canary in the coal mine.

Binge drinking is legal and yet far more dangerous and deleterious than anabolic steroid use

Guildford Women Drinkers

Do you like to binge drink? Go find some 50 year old binge drinkers. See how they are living. How many of them have mental health issues and just look run down and depressed?

Do they have turkey necks, saggy skin, and an overall dullness to their demeanor? Are you about that life?

Ask if they are the canary in the cage that is about to drop dead and then consider, like a West Virginia coal miner, whether you should turn around.

You can learn a lot from watching the successful. You can learn from watching the losers, slackers, alcoholics, dead beats, and negative people, too.

Look around. Do you see dead canaries?

Turn around and walk away.

Read next: What’s my testosterone level?

  • Krauser

    Good post. I used to find this with MMA fighters. They look like supermen but how many are totally broken down by their mid-thirties: the ones who overtrained, had ego stopping them tapping in sparring, had gym wars, took stimulants or painkillers pre-fight, trained while injured etc.

    MMA is an extremely degenerative sport because you get all the combined injuries of BJJ (hips, elbows), wrestling (neck, knees, lower back), boxing (brain, internal organs, hands, eyes), kickboxing (shins, feet, ribs), weightlifting (joints from carrying excess mass).

    Just look at Gary Goodridge, Mauricio Shogun or Kazushi Sakuraba compared to the guys who trained and fought smart.

    What’s your take on the pro-wrestlers? My guess is they had the worst of 80s bodybuilding, recreational drugs, and performing while injured.

    • William Rex

      Your comment about UFC fighters is valid. But it’s worth noting that this problem doesn’t apply to people who train martial arts, without necessarily competing at the top levels. I think the best way to stay in shape is training martial arts or boxing. Many martial arts instructors are still able to practice and instruct even as they get older. But going into competitions 2-3 times a year where other equally trained people are battering you is very dangerous.

    • Danger & Play

      Same here. Although I always trained hard, I never got into the “fighter lifestyle” of tattoos, gym wars, thinking you don’t need a career and just couch surf until you’re broke and begging for money.

      And I was always smart about avoiding newbies and idiots who wanted to bang for one gym session and then leave after getting their asses smocked.

      The pro wrestlers all use a lot of pain killers. The multiple micro-concussions they receive each year from their heads slamming on the mat gives them mental problems. That’s why they have a suicide rate that I suspect is higher than NFL players.

  • Samuel

    It is not just the stronger anabolic steroids but the diuretics and fat burners which have become the primary way to drop to below 5 % body fat levels. The golden era bodybuilders were lean and ripped, but not completely shredded like some of the guys we have today. Nobody wants to get lean by dieting alone because it is too mentally tough.

    The most popular fat burners like clenbuterol is horrible for your heart, whereas using the most effective one, DNP, is like playing gamble with death.

    MMA fighters, and athletes which have to fit in different weight classes get caught every now and then from using fat burners.

  • earl

    Jack Lalanne lived to his mid 90s working out everyday for two hours. He was swimming and pulling boats in his 70s.

  • Good Looking Loser

    Yup good post bud.

    Once people can get over the fact that HRT/TRT are “steroids” or “drugs” they can see a world of benefits.

  • Badger

    I long ago got the habit of surrounding myself with people on the upswing, it’s paid off well.


  • Steve

    Great post

  • Mike C. – Mr. Veins

    Canaries in a coal mine – incredibly insightful shit here man.

    Out of the articles I’ve read of yours, this seems to be one of the most inspiring to me.

    P.S. – I was going to comment on your “One Year of Sobriety” post but for some reason could not comment:

    Good shit man. I’m 2 years sober now, but for a heroin addiction. Have long since turned my life around in a positive way.

    Believe it or not, but Vic. Pride (great dude) was a big influence in getting through my first year of sobriety.

    Did you have a major influence or was your mindset the same throughout? (i.e. following your own advice such as that given in this canary article)

    Regardless, great post. Definitely will read again on days when I feel the need.

    [Your comment got caught up in spam. You shouldn’t have any trouble commenting in the future. I agree that Victor is a great dude. Doing “God’s work” for sure.]

  • Intense Apex Alpha Male

    Great Post. While we do know (smart people) no one dies from steroids, we do see a trend of early death happening when bodybuilders work at packing super human amounts of muscle. The heart has to work super hard to sustane the massive body. We should learn from the golden era Bodybuilders like Ric Drasin.

    Excellent info Danger and Play.


  • Sal M

    dude. even if they did die of steroids they were taking oral steroids not just injections. oral steroids destroy the liver and kidneys. injections bypass all that and go directly into the bloodstream. you will be fine on HRT for life