On Feb.15, 2023, weightlifter Clarence Kennedy posted a YouTube video titled “Natty vs Enhanced (Squat Numbers).” The footage depicts Kennedy squatting his prior 1-rep max for a set of 10 reps, with the concept presumably being a comparison between his strength off (“natty”) and on (“enhanced”) steroids.
In the first clip, an 18-year-old Kennedy squats 262.5 kilograms (578.7 pounds) for a max-effort single in 2012 while weighing 87 kilograms. The second clip, originally posted to Instagram in early 2021, shows him taking two and a half kilograms more (265, or 584.2 pounds) for 10 exhausting repetitions several years later.
Editor’s Note: BarBend does not intend to make a moral or ethical statement regarding the athlete’s actions. This article is reporting on the information laid out in a video published by the athlete themselves. BarBend is not a medical resource and does not endorse the recreational use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The Factors Behind Kennedy’s Strength Increase
Exogenous compounds (Kennedy didn’t specify what he took, when, or for how long) work exceedingly well for boosting athletic performance, maximal muscular strength included.
However, it’s naive to think that drugs alone could make someone 10 times stronger than they’d otherwise be. One must also consider Kennedy’s work ethic, history as a professional athlete, and the physical maturity he underwent during the time between those squats. To determine just how he made such jaw-dropping gains, it helps to understand how steroids work in the first place.
Steroid Effects on Muscle
First, a (very) brief primer. Many common performance-enhancers are derivatives of testosterone. These substances enter the nucleus of a muscle cell and bind to receptors, affecting the efficiency of protein production, among other factors.
Anabolic steroids and similar compounds have been well-documented for their effects on muscular hypertrophy. (1) In fact, some literature has gone so far as to demonstrate that people who take drugs and don’t hit the weights at all gain comparable muscle mass to natural trainees who lift on a regular basis. (2)
There is, of course, tremendous variability in responsiveness to steroid usage. Overall, substantial muscle gains are par for the course, especially if you mix in some hearty weight lifting. Kennedy weighed in at 87 kilos — around 190 pounds — before any drug use (according to Kennedy’s video). He’s fluctuated around 100 kilograms of body weight since 2017, equating to almost 30 pounds of additional muscle after he claims he started supplementing his training with PEDs.
Steroid Effects on Strength
The picture isn’t quite as clear when it comes to performance-enhancing drug usage and strength gains. PEDs are outright banned by the International Weightlifting Federation and many other sporting bodies, but they don’t necessarily grant tremendous strength gains on their own.
In fact, some data corroborates that proper training can be as effective, or even more so, than drug usage for strength gains. (1) Gaining strength (in the context of sports like powerlifting or weightlifting) is a highly neurological process; (3) your brain needs to learn proper technique and motor control in order to produce force and utilize your muscle tissue effectively.
These neural processes are specific, too: If you bench press twice a week but don’t train your lower body, taking drugs won’t turn you into a world-class squatter overnight. PEDs are effective at bolstering the strength gains that come from proper resistance training.
Kennedy may have retired from competitive weightlifting in the early 2010s, but he continues to train on a regular basis. This undeniably contributed to his ability to move 260 kilograms for many additional reps.
Time Spent Training
The extended timeline — remember, Kennedy aged almost 10 years between the two lifts and presumably trained for most of that time — also muddies the waters. It’s impossible to accurately attribute the majority of his squat gains to either drug usage or proper training protocols, given that so much time took place between the two lifts.
Many lifters could probably move their first-year squat weight for a set of 10 after a decade in the gym. However, Kennedy was already pushing elite-level squat numbers as a teenager. It’s simply unknowable whether he could’ve achieved this progression naturally, no matter how much time he had in the weight room.
Who Is Clarence Kennedy?
Despite having only a few brief competitive appearances to his name, Kennedy is a celebrity in Olympic lifting fandom. He’s known for his podium-worthy strength feats, impressive physique, and astounding work ethic. Kennedy pivoted away from competitive weightlifting in 2013 after appearing at the European Junior Championships twice (where he won a silver medal).
Nowadays, Kennedy is well-known as a coach, content creator, and recreational weightlifter on social media. Despite not pursuing a career in the sport, Kennedy regularly posts snatches, clean & jerks, and squats that rival the best in the world.
Kennedy’s “transformation” video serves as a succinct — if incomplete — picture of the results of performance-enhancing drug use. It’s easy to look at a two-minute video of two very different squat sets and come away with the idea that PEDs account for a tenfold increase in strength.
What you don’t see, however, are the many hundreds of hours of training over the course of almost nine years Kennedy put in between those two videos. There’s a strong symbiotic relationship between muscle cross-sectional area and potential force output, (4) but all that extra mass still needs to be refined and applied through hard work and patience.
Steroids have been shown to work, but they only work as well as the athlete is willing to, and any fan of Kennedy’s will attest that he’s willing to go as hard as he needs to with the barbell.
- Yu, J. G., Bonnerud, P., Eriksson, A., Stål, P. S., Tegner, Y., & Malm, C. (2014). Effects of long term supplementation of anabolic androgen steroids on human skeletal muscle. PloS one, 9(9), e105330.
- Bhasin, S., Storer, T. W., Berman, N., Callegari, C., Clevenger, B., Phillips, J., Bunnell, T. J., Tricker, R., Shirazi, A., & Casaburi, R. (1996). The effects of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone on muscle size and strength in normal men. The New England journal of medicine, 335(1), 1–7.
- Akagi, R., Kanehisa, H., Kawakami, Y., & Fukunaga, T. (2008). Establishing a new index of muscle cross-sectional area and its relationship with isometric muscle strength. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 22(1), 82–87.
Featured Image: @clarencekennedy_ on Instagram