The Titan of the Fitness World Says He's All Natural

Former American Gladiator Mike "Titan" O'Hearn swears he's never taken steroids.



Dodging the Haters

The world can keep wondering. The only confirmed fact is this: O’Hearn has never flunked a drug test, and he’s taken nearly as many piss tests as he has selfies. Drug tests for the Gladiators reboot (“NBC tested for EVERYTHING,” he says) as well as drug tests he took for natural bodybuilding shows, turned up nothing. Nor did polygraph tests, he says, an extra step in some natural bodybuilding and powerlifting federations. And with a trail of clean drug and lie detector tests in his wake and a trophy case full of hardware—O’Hearn is a four-time Natural Mr. Universe and in the Natural Bodybuilding Hall of Fame (lest you think those muscles are all for show, he's also proficient in jeet kune do, and was inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame for judo in 2014)—he’s still dogged by haters who jump in with sarcastic comments on nearly every social media post. Nature produces freaks with regularity. Just look at muscle-bound Belgian Blue cattle and humans with myostatin deficiencies who grow muscle without lifting weights. But when we’ve seen so many athletes turn out to be frauds and liars, we don’t leave room for any genetic freaks in sports, and especially not in bodybuilding. 

So the comments pour in: “Yeah, right!” “No way!” “How could he possibly say he’s natural?” And that’s just what we can print.


The funny part is that O’Hearn doesn’t even consider himself a freak of nature. He sees his body as a by-product of his life story—one that’s been played out almost entirely inside of a gym. For the most cynical, it might help to see pictures of him playing high school football (he was a three-year starter and All-American) in his hometown of Kirkland, WA. It’s not hard to pick out O’Hearn in team pictures. He’s nearly a foot taller—and a foot wider—than most of his teammates. He’s a solid 70 or 80 pounds heavier, too. The mass started piling onto his frame as early as 11 years old. That’s when his father, Patrick O’Hearn, a natural bodybuilder himself, started bringing Mike to the gym. Giants lurked in every corner. Among them, powerlifting legends Doyle Kenady, Doug Furnas, and Jeff Magruder. 

“When you’re 11 years old and you see guys like that every single day, that warps your idea of what’s normal, of what’s possible,” he says. “If you train at 24 Hour Fitness, a 315-pound squat is going to seem really heavy to you. That’s just a fact. Being in an environment where 800-pound deadlifts were normal made my belief different from that of any other kid.” 

By the age of 14, he was competing in natural bodybuilding shows. He won the Mr. Teenage Washington at a height of 5'9" and a stage weight of 172. During the next two years, puberty went full throttle as he grew to 6'2" and gained an unfathomable, if not entirely lean, 100 pounds. All the while he was learning the basics of what he would later fine-tune and market as power bodybuilding—a system that builds strength and size by satisfying the needs of the strength and physique athlete: Heavy weights done for only a few reps but for a lot more sets. Whereas a classic bodybuilding rep scheme is three sets of 10, a classic power bodybuilding scheme may be seven or eight sets of three—not counting any warmup sets required to get to a heavy weight. He credits this system, more than any of the myriad genetic factors that might be working in his favor, as being the key to his success in bodybuilding. 

“Everybody does the same thing when they get ready for a show,” O’Hearn says. “They go from heavy weight and lots of calories to cardio, light weight, lots of reps, and a calorie deficit. It’s common. You get stringy and small. It happened to me, too. But I figured out early on that if I kept pounding the weight, I kept the muscle. When you are dieted down, you have less fluid in your joints and you’re more prone to injury, so I slowed down the reps. It’s harder to do—a loaded bar feels a whole lot heavier when you’re dried out—but I accepted it, and you wind up with a fuller, denser muscle.” 

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