One drawback to Brennan’s study is that, unlike Kouri’s, there was evidence of attempted deception. Several people had to be excluded from the non-users’ group because they were either definitely on steroids (they failed the urine test), or probably on steroids (in the researchers’ words, they had “implausibly high muscularity and low body fat despite denial of AAS use”). However, even if a couple of users slipped in, they probably didn’t skew the data too much. The sample size for nonusers was big enough (131 people) that a few bad apples wouldn’t spoil the whole bunch, and the researchers were excluding suspiciously jacked people anyways, so if a few users did slip in, they apparently weren’t swole enough to raise any red flags.
Thanks, Jan! If you’re still making strength gains you can be confident that you’re moving in the right direction, except you’re right—if your weight is staying the same and your strength is only very slowly increasing you’ll be heading there very very slowly (and at some point you’ll need to gain weight). A protein shake might cut it! Depends how close to a surplus you are, and how large that protein shake is. If it causes your weight to move up on the scale each week, perfect, but if not you’ll need more calories. Maybe that means mixing a couple scoops of whey with milk instead of water, blending up a fruit smoothie instead, having a handful of nuts, etc.
Another limitation is that people tend to use different bracing patterns when lifting with a belt versus lifting beltless. With a belt, the common cue is to “push out against the belt.” Since the belt doesn’t expand (hopefully), that creates intraabdominal pressure that helps stabilize the spine. Without a belt, people usually recommend taking a deep belly breath (as you would with a belt), then using the abdominal musculature to “draw in” to create intraabdominal pressure. For example, take a look at this (utterly ridiculous) beltless squat and notice how he’s clearly not pushing his stomach out the same way you would if you were wearing a belt.