Outspoken personal trainer and former semi-pro player James Smith says that taking anabolic steroids did not make him a better rugby player and in fact had the opposite effect, negatively impacting his on-field performances. In a recent appearance on James Haskell’s new podcast – What a Flanker – Smith explained how started taking steroids, how they didn’t benefit him and how he can tell Haskell isn’t on ‘gear’.
Now living in Sydney, Smith boasts a huge social media following, where his no-nonsense, straight-talking attitude to health, fitness and personal training has seen him ‘blow up’ over the course of a relatively short space of time. Yet prior to his success in his newfound industry, he had designs on a career as a professional rugby player.
“I’ve been called a poor man’s James Haskell by several people,” Smith told the recently retired England back row on What a Flanker podcast. At 14, Smith began playing rugby and had aspirations of turning professional.
“Before I started playing, everybody used to think I was a rugby player. I was a latecomer to it. I played at Windsor and played at Maidenhead. I was 18 and I was playing at college and I went ‘you know, I’m going to go to Hartpury College,’ which was like the rugby place.
“I got there and I was told you can try out for the third team. I was like ‘Try out for the third team? Are you kidding me? I was captain of Berkshire at U20s.’ I got there and it was one of the toughest games of my life.”
Now dubbed the Gordon Ramsey of personal training, Smith began working as a PT whilst playing rugby at county level.
“When I started out as a personal trainer, the main thing I thought was no one would take me seriously unless I was bigger, I was buffer. The main guys in the industry that I was looking up to, now looking back I can tell they were on gear [anabolic steroids]. I know they were on anabolic steroids, but at the time, you’re quite naive.
“You go ‘these guys must know so much about nutrition, they must know so much about programming’. Now I look back and that was probably a steroid cycle before Body Power and they were peaking at this point and the cameramen were there because they knew they were at the end of their cycle.
“I made one phone call. I remember a scrumhalf I used to play with, who was now a professional bodybuilder. I said “what do I need?”. He said “yeah, we’ll get you testosterone enanthate”.
“I remember the whole cycle was like £80 for 12 weeks.
“Then I was smart enough to get post cycle therapy. He said take this at the end, take these tablets. At the time I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had breast cancer drugs. I had Pregnor which is what they give to boys if their balls don’t drop when they’re coming up to puberty. I had all these weird drugs to balance myself out.
“I remembered I wanted to take tablets and the guy was like ‘no, you wanna inject’. I was like ‘okay, cool’. He was like ‘it’s a lot safer’.
Fitting a new PED cycle into his rather prosaic daily lifestyle in the Home Counties had its challenges.
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“I’m living with mum and dad at this point. I’m a typical forward, so I have no lower back mobility. So I can’t even turn around to scratch my back so I’m trying to hit the outer upper quadrant of my glute. So I’m there are home, trying to turn around, and the clenbuterol I’m taking for fat loss is my giving me cramps as well.
“I’d have to inject twice a week. Within a few weeks you start to feel amazing. I mean amazing. You’re like a dog with two ****s.
“You’re training and the pump feels amazing and suddenly people are noticing. And for me I was getting muscle very quickly and I was starting to look like the perfect personal trainer, but when I was at rugby training, I couldn’t get around the park and I wasn’t the fittest at the best of times.
“Looking back on it now, if someone said do yo want to wear a 4kg jacket at training, I would say absolutely not. And that’s in essence what I was doing by getting massive and taking gear.
“You look the part, you feel more confident. Even trying to prospect on the gym floor, you feel double the man.
“What I found was that I came off cycle is that you do keep some of your gains. I probably kept like a kilogram and a half every cycle. Then you’re in this space where no matter how hard you try, you strength and your size are decreasing. And although I’d love to say to people, ‘it was great’, I’d be already thinking about the next cycle and ended up doing about four of them in total.
“I kept it a secret from my clients (at the time) and I kept it secret from my parents. My friends knew, it was ****ing obvious.”
Smith described how he began to exhibit the classic symptoms of ‘roid rage’ (increased aggression while taking anabolic substance) even as he tried to hide his use of the muscle boosting agents.
“On the rugby bus, they would stitch me up with drinking, you know, like ‘buffalo’ and I’d be like ‘nah, nah, nah boys, and they’d be like ‘BUFFALO’ and I’d be like ‘IT WAS IN MY ****ING RIGHT HAND!’.
“They’d be like ‘Smith’s on steroids’ and I’d be like ‘I’M NOT ON STEROIDS’.
“It was a time of my life when eventually I said to myself ‘What am I doing?’ If anything, it was making me worse at rugby. Looking back now, when I was my skinniest, I was playing my best rugby. I was in New Zealand, working on a farm. I’d just run everywhere because it was so cold.”
A fantastic rugby player… also Chris Robshaw pic.twitter.com/NbceqMksvx
— James Smith (@jamessmithPT_) August 14, 2019
Smith also explained how you can tell that Haskell isn’t on steroids. Haskell, as he admits on the podcast, is often accused of using steroids by online trolls, despite the relatively stringent testing that professional rugby player undergo.
Smith explained how he believes you tell that Haskell is ‘natty’.
“There’s two things. One, you’re too consistent in size. There’s no fluctuations up and down. And two, your proportions of body shape, are too almost symmetrical?
“People grow very heavy up top when they first take anabolic steroids. It’s quite obvious. And also, you can see in some of my videos from the early years, I’ve got water retention in the my face, when I was on [steroids].”
As part of the conversation, the England flanker described how he went from a skinny teenager to a 6’4, 114kg rugby wrecking ball thanks to dedicated training and dietary regime, and that he’s been accused of taking anabolic steroids since his school days.
“I speak to the canteen in school, asking for more food and I’d have these arguments with kitchen ladies,” said Haskell. “I started training like a Rocky montage, with a guy called Henry. I talk about it in the book. I was basically training four or five days a week. We’d finish school at 9 and I’d train 9 to 10. He’d bring me full-sized reduced chickens from Tesco’s rotisserie thing. I’d eat a whole one and give the rest to the lads.”
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“Slowly I got fitter and stronger because I was doing it right. Everybody at school was like ‘Do you take creatine’ as if it was like Anavar or something else.
“Because a year and half later I got bigger, I got fitter and it showed that I had made progress, I got addicted to it. I was the guy turning up with the Tupperware box [full of food], I was the guy doing the extra session. When the other lads were out on the piss, drinking fizzy drinks and doing ‘Two-fors’ at Dominoes and talking to birds and probably having more fun and living normal lives; I was the guy running up hills in the rain with my mate Henry.
“I think that’s what separated me. My whole career I was told ‘you’re on gear, you’re on gear’.
“When I played for England U18s, I used to have ADD, I was taking medication for that and it turns out it was illegal and you couldn’t play with it, so I had to pull out of a game. Everyone was like ‘Haskell had to pull out of a game because he’s geared out of his brain.’
“I have a massive forehead, huge jaw and I’ve always been quite big, I’ve always trained. People always level that against you because putting the hard work in and making sacrifices, for people that’s like ‘that’s not what it takes, there must be something else. There must be a magic pill.”
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