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Winning Big without Performance Enhancing Drugs ‘Beyond the Zone’

by Walter Urban(more info)

listed in exercise and fitness, originally published in issue 215 - July 2014

The Sad State of Affairs

A-Rod MLB, Lance Armstrong UCI, David Ortiz MLB, Manny Ramirez MLB, Brandon Moore NFL, Von Miller NFL, German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle IOC, Italian bobsledder William Frullani IOC, elite athletes testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, the list goes on and on.

Winning Big without Drugs

The future of drug use in sport looks even grimmer when you look further down the ranks to future athletes!

A 2012 University of Minnesota study (Eisenberg, Wall & Neumark-Sztainer) found that teens are using steroids and muscle-enhancing substances at higher rates than previously thought. The study found that 5.9 percent of boys in the survey reported using steroids, while the rate among girls was 4.6 percent. The findings were surprising, especially since some of the steroid users were only in seventh or eighth grade.

Further a 2014 study (Blashill, Safren) has found that Twenty-one percent of gay and bisexual boys have used anabolic-androgenic steroids at least once in their lives.

Earlier unrelated studies have found that:

  1. Among those who admit using steroids, 80 percent said they believed the drugs could help them achieve their athletic dreams;
  2. 65 percent of steroid users would be willing to use a pill or powder, including dietary supplements, if it guaranteed they would reach their athletic goals, even if it might harm their health;
  3. 57 percent of users said they would use it even if it could shorten their lives;
  4. About 6 in 10 users believe that professional athletes have the right to use steroids, and they think that using anabolic steroids for athletic purposes is legal.

The use of drugs is all related to the ‘concept’ of maximizing your ability to perform at your chosen activity.  The belief is based in the belief that human performance can only be improved upon through artificial chemical induced means. Specific objectives can include:

  • Athletes Doping Objectives
  • Increase strength and endurance
  • Aid workout/injury recovery
  • Alter intensity and aggression
  • Combat exhaustion and fatigue
  • Reduce weight/bodyfat
  • Relieve aches and pains
  • Increase muscle mass/oxygenation

(Adapted from references 8, 9, 10)

But does it have to be this way? Can drugs actually counter some performance? Is performance under drug use truly indicative of ‘ideal performance’ for ‘specific athletic activity’? Could some athletes reach max performance without drug use? Are drugs the only answer?

There is no question that ‘performance enhancing’ drugs are the only way some athletes can perform and compete at an elite level, for example, ‘non drug-tested’ body building, strongman, and other non-tested strength or endurance related sports. Part of the dilemma of answering these questions however, is, are the ‘top’ athletes who use and test positive for performance enhancing drugs truly ‘elite’ athletes or are they in fact ‘mid-level’ athletes who use drugs to speed to the front of the pack by cheating! While this question would need to be answered through research or studying results, there are some definite answers to a few performance related questions of top performers.

1. Would someone have won the 1999 Tour de France if Armstrong did not cheat and use performance enhancing drugs?
    a. Yes Alex Zuile 7 minutes 37 seconds slower;
2. Would someone have won the 2000 Tour de France if Armstrong did not cheat and use performance enhancing drugs?
    a. Yes Jan Ullrich 6 minutes 02 seconds slower;
3. Would someone have won the 2001 Tour de France if Armstrong did not cheat and use performance enhancing drugs?
    a. Yes Jan Ullrich 6 minutes 44 seconds slower;
4. Would someone have won the 2002 Tour de France if Armstrong did not cheat and use performance enhancing drugs?
    a. Yes Joseba Beloki 7 minutes 17 seconds slower;
5. Would someone have won the 2003 Tour de France if Armstrong did not cheat and use performance enhancing drugs?
    a. Yes Jan Ullrich 1 minutes 01 seconds slower;
6. Would someone have won the 2004 Tour de France if Armstrong did not cheat and use performance enhancing drugs?
    a. Yes Andreas Kloden 6 minutes 19 seconds slower;
7. Would someone have won the 2005 Tour de France if Armstrong did not cheat and use performance enhancing drugs?
    a. Yes Ivan Basso 4 minutes 40 seconds slower.

Maybe Armstrong wasn’t the true elite athlete?

Beyond the Zone

Can performance enhancing drugs actually hamper an athlete’s performance and can athletes actually advance and expand training to reach new levels of performance in new non-drug related way?

Winning Big without Drugs
Walter Urban with Dr Sue Wilson & Coach Alex Drolc

Over the last 16 months I have been preparing to attempt a third world record, as in my first two world records attempts I have once again learned you can never take anything for granted and you constantly need to introduce new ways of pushing the envelope and thinking outside the box in training.

I do however still believe it requires training as the complete athlete. In my opinion the performance of the total athlete is comprised of:

  1. Genetics
  2. Body type
  3. Visualization
  4. Focus
  5. Relaxation
  6. Maximizing Activity specific technique or skill
  7. Physical preparedness
  8. Nutritional preparedness
  9. Physical recovery
  10. Injury avoidance
  11. Mental performance
  12. Training outside the box –pushing the boundaries training

In my opinion, which is based on no scientific research, but rather 17 years of practical hands on experience, repeated trial and error, two world records, 3 world championships, 2 national records, tons of training hours and reps and training with one of the top mental performance coaching in the world - Dr. Vietta ‘Sue’ Wilson, these 12 separate but interconnected elements are the key to success for maximizing performance without performance enhancing drugs!

I believe that most elite athletes master or focus on 9 of the 12. Two of which they have no control over - genetics and body type. The 9 are:

  1. Genetics
  2. Body type
  3. Visualization
  4. Focus
  5. Maximizing Activity specific technique or skill
  6. Physical preparedness
  7. Nutritional preparedness
  8. Physical recovery
  9. Injury avoidance

Winning Big without Drugs
Walter Deadlifting

I do believe the key to performing at new levels of excellent without performance enhancing drugs are incorporating and perfecting the following ‘beyond the first 9’:

  1. Mental performance
  2. Relaxation
  3. Training outside the box - pushing the boundaries of training
  • Mental performance - is not simply visualization, rather a combination of mind set, focus, visualization, relaxation and approaching the mental side of training from a totally new paradigm and outlook;
  • Relaxation - is not about ‘relaxing’ in the traditional sense. It’s about learning how to perform at an elite level while under the same relaxed mode or setting of simple training. Breathing slower, relaxing certain muscles, enhancing lactic tolerance, strength and endurance. In some cases, slowing your world and enhancing the ability to perform faster and stronger while maintaining breathing, lower blood pressure and heart rate;
  • Training outside the box - pushing the boundaries of training - Training outside the box is just that. It’s about testing and retesting boundaries. It’s about new exercise combinations, intensity levels and basically forgetting about limitations and finding new ways to exceed them safely.

Winning Big without Drugs
Walter and Stuart Claxton Guinness World Record Certificate

Will these 3 elements eliminate that reality of sport - that training is hard, a full time job and does not ensure success. No and I can honestly say from a personal perspective:

  • Do I have exercise related pain almost every week – Yes
  • Is training and competing getting harder - Yes
  • Do I realize there are much stronger people then me – Yes
  • Do I sometimes hate training - Yes
  • Do I have terrible performance days - Yes
  • Do I have short term training setbacks – Yes
  • Do I realize it’s about the long term and there are no short cuts without consequences - Yes
  • Will I turn to drugs – No
  • Will I give up – No (However, at some point age will retire me)

Training and pushing beyond the zone is not easy. I am convinced however, that any athlete at any level can increase their performance by approaching their sport from a ‘total athletes’ perspective, incorporating the 12 key elements above. While they may not all set world records, they will most likely live healthier longer lives drug free!

References and Bibliography

1.         MLB Major League Baseball 2014

2.         NFL National Football League 2014 /

3.         Union Cycliste Internationale

4.         International Olympic Commettie IOC

5.         Marla E. Eisenberg, ScD, MPH, ab Melanie Wall, PhD,c and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD Pediatrics. 130(6): 1019–1026. Dec 2012.

6.         Aaron J. Blashill, PhD, Steven A. Safren, PhD Pediatrics Vol. 133 No. 3 March 1, 2014. pp. 469 -475 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-2768)

7.         Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP Performance-Enhancing Drugs: A New Reality in Sports, Pharmacy Times Thursday, March 13, 2014.

8.         Sawka MN, Joyner MJ, Miles DS, Robertson RJ, Spriet LL, Young AJ. American College of Sports Medicine position stand: the use of blood doping as an ergogenic aid. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 28:i-viii. 1996.

9.         Angell PJ, Chester N, Sculthorpe N, Whyte G, George K, Somauroo J. Performance enhancing drug abuse and cardiovascular risk in athletes: implications for the clinician. Br J Sports Med. 46(suppl 1):i78-i84. 2012.

10.       Brennan BP, Kanayama G, Pope HG Jr. Performance-enhancing drugs on the web: a growing public-health issue. Am J Addict. 22:158-161. 2013.  See more at:

11.       Dr Vietta Sue Wislson,

Further Information

To find more information on Walter Urban, World and National records or his training please visit


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About Walter Urban

Walter Urban BS MBA is an American born Powerlifter and Guinness World Record holder and challenger living in Canada. He is a member of one of the strongest drug free Powerlifting Teams in North America the Iron Foundation, 19 to 53, male and female, who train 3 to 4 days a week 2 to 3 hours a day, 50 weeks a year drug free - most for over 15 years! On September 15, 2011, at the age of 53, Walter set a new Guinness World Record for the most amount of weight squat lifted in one hour live on Live with Regis and Kelly, lifting 127,245 lbs drug free. Walter competed in the Powerlifting World Championships in 2005, 2009 and 2010 placing 6th representing Canada in the Czech Republic. Walter holds an MBA from Bowling Green University and a BS in Economics from Albright College. Walter is a licensed private pilot, licensed skydiver, a former pro ski racer, hang glider pilot, runner and Formula Ford race car driver and a former member of the 1982 United States Parachute Para-Ski Team. Walter is the President and owner of Urban Dynamics Inc a consulting company Walter and his family reside in Guelph Ontario. For more information on Walter visit, Twitter walterjlg, Facebook Walter Urban.

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