Bodybuilding and figure competitions are serious business.
Even at the Novice level, the days of a handful of nerved-up guys dieting for a month to compete for first, second, and least-worst are long gone. Today, it's not uncommon to see classes of 15 or more quality physiques vying to just place in their first show.
The shift in quality is even more pronounced in women's Figure competitions. A few short years ago, the top finishers in Figure were essentially bikini Barbies with better muscle tone. Today, ladies sporting round delts, ripped backs, sweeping quads, and bone-dry conditioning are the norm.
Not surprisingly, the bar is raised that much higher when you advance up to the National or Top Amateur level. Today's top amateurs could easily rival the pros of decades past.
Obviously, everyone is 'doing his or her homework'.
Or could it be they just have great tutoring?
At the higher levels of physique competition, you can bet that virtually every competitor on stage has enlisted the services of a prep coach.
These aren't your garden-variety personal trainers, though. Physique coaches are masters of all aspects of the art of the contest prep: diet, training, supplementation, psychology, and of course, drugs.
While the athletic merit of physique competition is a contentious issue to many, it's obvious that these coaches are experts at tweaking the body to do near-magical things.
At a recent National Pro Qualifying event, we tracked down one such physique transformation specialist who wasn't afraid to share some secrets with T Nation readers, as long as we guaranteed him anonymity.
T Nation: So what got you into the physique coach business and why?
I used to help people get into shape for shows as a hobby. As my reputation for getting results grew, I started to land clients from other, more established trainers. But when I got to see the crap these supposedly expert trainers were having people doing and saw what they were getting paid, I figured it was time for a career change. Anyway, I've been doing it full-time for about five years now.
T Nation: You've coached guys and girls trying to break out onto the National scene for a while now. How has men's contest preparation evolved over time?
It's definitely become a lot more hardcore. It used to be guys wanted to know what they could do in the gym or in the kitchen to be better on stage. Now it seems the goal is to see how much gear they can shove in the pin.
T Nation: So is too much focus being placed on gear?
Way too much. It's like hard work and hard dieting has flown out the window. Guys nowadays would rather have cheat meals and take high dose T3 than just follow their diet and do the necessary cardio. Let me be straight by saying that is NOT how I approach things.
T Nation: It's not like we don't know this, but can we assume most aspiring pros you see are taking too much?
Absolutely. You can see it plain as day in their physiques. Guys who look bloated and lack density, like an over-inflated balloon. That's a sure sign of excessive dosages.
T Nation: Would you say then that it's a misconception that the pros are using much more than the amateurs?
Totally. Look, the pros are genetic freaks. If steroids never existed, they would still be the pros. One of the reasons that they are where they are is that they respond so much better than average person. To training, to diet...
T Nation: To drugs?
Absolutely. I was coaching a top amateur who just recently got his pro card. I was shocked at how little gear we needed. For his pro debut, we ran 1200mg of Testosterone Cypionate a week, some Equipoise, and some Dianabol. We ran that for 6 weeks, and then switched the Cypionate to 900mg of Testosterone Propionate for 6 weeks. That was it. For a pro show! And that was the most gear he had ever taken in his life. I have guys walking in my door taking more stuff preparing for a novice show.
T Nation: So what's a typical pre-contest stack you would suggest for a guy competing at a Pro Qualifier?
We'd likely do a 16-week cycle. Depending on where they're starting from, I would set Testosterone (T) at a gram per week. If they had already been taking two grams I would scale them back; if they were at 500 mg a week then I'd bump them up. But keep in mind that there are the genetic freaks that respond to next to nothing.
To the T, I'd add around 750mg of Equipoise or Deca-Durabolin a week, plus Winstrol or perhaps Trenbelone, or both. But in simple terms, the typical run is usually two injectables, one being an androgen and one an anabolic, and two orals. So T and Equipoise at the dosages mentioned plus oral Winstrol at 50-100mg a day and Anavar or Turnibol at 40-60mg a day.
I try not to push the dosages pre-contest because if you overdose, you get a level of water retention that you just can't get rid of. That little film of water you see these days, that's from too much shit.
T Nation: Same question, but in the off-season?
Off-season you need much less. I tell my guys, in the off-season you can eat food, the most anabolic "drug" there is. A simple 8-12 week run with a good high calorie diet is plenty. Drugs aren't nearly as important.
So I typically suggest an androgen, an anabolic, and an oral. So T, some Deca, especially if there are joint issues, and maybe some Dianabol. That's all you need.
T Nation: What about Growth Hormone?
I like GH pre-contest because it seems to enhance the effects of the other drugs. It also seems to help retain muscle fullness when calories start to drop. But I see no need for it in the off-season. If they can afford it, some guys will use it in the off-season with insulin, but my personal bias is just to save it for pre-contest situations.
T Nation: What about insulin?
I consider insulin to be very case dependant. Someone with a really fast metabolism can benefit from it, but an endomorph will often just get fat.
T Nation: I've read that some bodybuilding historians feel that insulin has ruined many physiques?
I would agree, especially when it's been used wrong. Hell, if used wrong it can leave you diabetic or dead! I hear stories of guys taking it in the off-season with every meal. That's beyond insane, and an express route to diabetes. But if used in the off-season post workout only, it's not so risky. But still, that's a very advanced approach.
To me insulin, Growth Hormone, all these drugs; each is just another tool. Everyone has different needs and different goals. So if someone is an advanced trainee and has a good shot at turning pro, then you open up the tool box a bit more. But for someone struggling at the regional level, just stick with basic, safe, simple gear...and training!
T Nation: I'm the furthest thing from a drug expert, but what about IGF-1, these growth hormone peptides I've read about...
Fucking retarded. Waste. Of. Time. If you need to go that far then guess what, you're competing in the wrong sport. I mean, at least steroids and GH have been used for decades in medical situations. But these designer growth drugs? Please. It's all underground wannabe chemists farting around in their kitchen labs, trying to make money off of the poor saps out there that will try anything to get results.
The pros are using good old-fashioned Testosterone, Deca, Dianabol, insulin in the off-season, and GH pre-contest. Nothing fancy. But they're the pros because they're gifted, dedicated, and have been at it a long freaking time. Anybody that tells you different is either full of shit or trying to sell you garbage.
T Nation: You mentioned underground lab steroids. It sounds like you're not a fan?
I wouldn't touch any of it with a ten-foot pole. So much is manufactured by criminal street gangs and it's often unsanitary; how do you even know what you're getting is even real and not WD-40 that some strung out meth-head blew his nose in?
Another problem is that it's under-dosed. Guys are taking what looks on paper to be a lot of gear but still not seeing the results, so they assume they don't respond to reasonable doses. But if they just took legit pharmaceuticals to begin with and trained properly, they would be fine. Back in the 80s, mega-doses were unheard of because everyone used real stuff. Now it seems guys take triple to get the same effect.
Unfortunately this has led to a kind of bragging war amongst guys, like "Oh yeah, I'm up to two grams of Test a week, what about you, bro?" I mean, just last month I consulted with a guy who was up to 8 Anadrol 50 a day. That is madness. The only reason he stopped was because he started pissing blood.
T Nation: Ouch. Sounds like at least the Anadrol was real.
Maybe. But that's hardly an acceptable side effect of a steroid cycle.
T Nation: I can recall about 15 years ago that a number of big time bodybuilders died or had serious complications backstage at their competitions. I believe their deaths were attributed to diuretics, amongst other things. As a prep coach, do you care to comment on that?
That was a tragic time in bodybuilding, and just another reason why competitors need coaches. At competition time, the body is already stressed to the max from the gear, the stimulants and the diet. Throw in diuretics and guys not drinking water for days and tragedies like those can occur.
T Nation: Is Lasix still the diuretic of choice?
Not for my guys. The reason it's called Lasix is because it's diuretic effect lasts for a full 6 hours. That's too long in my opinion. You want something either milder or that has a shorter effect. That's why I prefer to use potassium-sparing diuretics (Aldactone). Unfortunately, the reason diuretics started getting abused is that people would get to the show and see they're not where they need to be and start panicking.
If you aren't looking almost like you should on contest day a full week out, then guess what, you're screwed. No amount of water manipulation or diuretic use is going to save you. But guys panic, take Lasix and stop drinking water completely three days out. Then they get carried off the stage like a big cramping ball. But that's where a knowledgeable prep coach is invaluable: to keep you on track throughout the process and in some cases, save the client from themselves.
T Nation: It sounds to me like the pharmaceutical side of competing can be a real Pandora's box. What are some warning signs that my coach may be out to lunch?
First of all, is he or she making all of this too complicated? Like I said, I see stuff from coaches that makes me just shake my head. The trend among the wannabes seems to be to confuse complexity with knowledge. It's like they try to make all of this seem like quantum physics, so people go "Jesus, I can't figure all this out!" and hire them as a coach.
Second warning sign would the excessive dosages. The problem with over-prescribing is that it's a snowball effect. You take too much of one drug and there's a side effect, so you take another drug to compensate for that. But that second drug, if you take too much or for too long will likely have a set of side effects of it's own and so on. If they just plain kept the dosages reasonable in the first place there wouldn't be a need for so many ancillary meds.
T Nation: Let's switch genders. I can't believe the condition some of these Figure girls get into these days. I thought it was supposed to be a softer, more feminine version of bodybuilding?
The last few years the girls have been getting bigger and harder again. But keep in mind, everything stems from how the judges are awarding placings at previous shows. A lot of Figure judges come from a bodybuilding background, so the contest placing reflects whatever the judges are looking for at the time.
T Nation: What percentage of the girls competing at the higher level shows are on something?
Well all of them are on some sort of fat burning product, whether it's legal or grey market. Next, I would say a large percentage are taking clenbuterol for at least some part of the prep, followed by prescription thyroid meds like Cytomel (T3). T3 use is really growing as of late.
T Nation: What about anabolic steroid use in Figure competition?
At a National Pro Qualifier, I'd say 25-40% of the girls are on something like Anavar. I've heard some reports of Figure girls taking Equipoise, even Testosterone propionate but I've never seen that first hand. But there are a lot of girls on stage taking Anavar. Some Winstrol, too.
T Nation: A woman taking Winstrol? For a Figure show? Do you ever put girls on that?
Let's get this straight; I never "put" girls on anything. What I do is provide options. I tell them what is out there and what they can expect to be competing against. I also go over the risks versus the rewards with each product and let the girls make the final decision.
T Nation: Let me re-phrase the question. What would a girl under your guidance typically be taking for a show of that caliber?
In terms of anabolics, usually low dose Anavar, and on a rare occasion oral Winstrol. But that to me is the bridge between an aggressive and extreme approach. Winstrol is a DHT derivative, so there's the issue of potential side effects to be concerned about. That along with the standard fat burner rotation of two weeks of yohimbe + caffeine, two weeks of ephedrine + caffeine, two weeks of clenbuterol. And T3, if the situation warrants it.
T Nation: Any Testosterone?
Never. Hell, even with the female bodybuilders I coach, I try to stay away from T. I can honestly say I've never suggested a woman go on Testosterone. Unless I had a girl competing in a really big bodybuilding show and she had a legit shot at top 5 would I ever advise she take T. Anavar, Winstrol, Proviron, sure, but not T. Again, risk versus reward. The potential masculinizing sides from T are way too much of a gamble in my opinion.
T Nation: You say "low dose Anavar." It seems the consensus is that Anavar on it's own doesn't do much of anything?
First of all, no steroid "on it's own" will do jack shit unless the training and diet is dialed in. But keep in mind; we're talking about women here, not guys. I agree that 10mg a day of Anavar in a guy won't do much at all, but I've seen it work wonders in girls. Delts get rounder, fat comes off, butts get harder. Plus the women always report that they just feel better throughout the prep. On just 10mgs. It's amazing. I can get more out of a woman on 10mgs of Anavar a day than a lot of guys would get out of half a gram of Test a week. Seriously.
T Nation: Are you not worried about potential sides?
At 10 mg a day? Come on. Anavar was developed for women and underweight kids. AIDS patients use it to keep on weight. It's not like after a show these women are sporting a set of testicles and shaving their backs.
As for the Winstrol, I will concede that there's more of a potential for virilization. But it's individual and dose related, and always a last resort.
T Nation: Do women ever approach you about taking steroids?
All the time. Often they hear about them from the other girls backstage. They say, "So and so beat me and she says she was taking this." That happens after every show. But I feel it's my job as their coach is to keep them up to speed with what they may be up against, because the last thing I want is a girl to complain that I wasn't straight with them or didn't present all the possible options.
The worst are the girls who get ideas from their meathead douchebag boyfriends. These guys are always self-appointed steroid experts. Sometimes I spend more time arguing with them than I do coaching their girlfriends.
T Nation: I know guys whose one little steroid cycle turned into 10 plus years of heavy usage. Do you have any problems getting women to go off?
Zero. Women and men are completely different. They have different endocrinology. You're describing some goofball guy who blasts a gram of test a week along with Anadrol, gains 30 pounds of water in 6 weeks, comes off and pisses 25 of them away in three days. For some impressionable guy, that's a total mindfuck.
What I advocate for women is more of a temporary enhancement for a competitive edge. Women just seem to get that, so I never have that problem.
T Nation: Would you prefer to coach women naturally?
Of course. But I didn't set the judging standard. How I prep is solely a function of what looks the judges are awarding the highest placing. Other prep coaches who I respect and are doing this for a living approach it the same way.
T Nation: From what you can tell, are other figure prep coaches more aggressive in terms of drugs?
Some are. The biggest problem I see is that a lot of coaches training girls are former bodybuilders themselves, or are used to training bodybuilders. They hear that judges want more muscularity and they're like "Hey, I know what to do to get more muscular" and start loading the girls up on scaled down versions of cycles they used to do themselves. It's a lack of knowledge more than anything.
A lot of coaches are also big on putting girls on anti-estrogens like Nolvadex and clomid. I don't go there, either. The theory is that by lowering estrogen, the girls will hold less water and at the same time attack ass and leg fat. I prefer to play with the diet to eliminate water retention, and as for ass fat? Do some deadlifts, lunges, hill sprints, and follow your diet to a T. See what happens to your ass.
And then there's Growth Hormone. Believe it or not, at the National level it's there.
T Nation: Figure girls taking GH?
Yeah, for fat loss. I don't use it with my girls, but it works. On its own it won't do too much, but you stack GH with T3 and clen and you have a pretty damn good fat burner. I've seen that used recently.
T Nation: Ever hear any figure prep horror stories?
You wouldn't believe some of the retarded advice I've seen people pay for. Meals consisting of 1-cup broccoli, that's it. Or steroid cycles that are so freaking complicated that you would need a degree in chemistry to figure them out.
One girl I know was put on high dose T3 for about 6 months straight. She was never below 75 mcg a day, and she was eating next to nothing and doing multiple cardio daily sessions. When she eventually went off, she rebounded horribly. Her thyroid was cooked.
But the biggest bonehead play that I see these girls getting hammered with is the endless cardio combined with no calories. You have no idea how damaging that is to a woman's metabolism. People get all shocked when I talk about Figure girls on low-dose anabolics; 3 hours of cardio at 900 calories a day is way more damaging to a woman's metabolism than 10mg of Anavar. But I see that recommended all the time.
T Nation: So if a girl is reading this and thinks she has what it takes but refuses to take anything, does she still has a hope?
Absolutely. Anyone can compete in any sport. But those at the top were genetically gifted to excel in that sport. The cream rises to the top, drugs or not.
T Nation: Any thoughts on training?
First thing, a lot of girls just don't train hard enough. I have all my girls killing it in the gym with heavy, complex lifts. Olympic lifts, pull-ups, dips; all the hard stuff nobody does in a commercial gym. Every single Figure girl I coach is deadlifting at least their bodyweight and each one of them has a back to prove it.
I also find that women respond to hormone stimulating lifts much greater than guys do. A guy doing the kind of workouts I put Figure girls through wouldn't build much muscle, but a woman can put on a significant amount.
T Nation: I see. Is that why they say CrossFit makes women hot and men small?
I like CrossFit for the average woman. It gets them doing real lifts and forces them to work hard. Unfortunately, other aspects of CrossFit are completely retarded.
T Nation: Okay Coach, we've covered a lot of ground today. Any final advice for guys or girls looking to be the next 'first name only' phenomenon, like Ronnie, Dorian, Monica, or Dexter?
Any physique competition is basically a genetics game. And when you get to the pro level, everyone is going to be in shape; everyone is going to be conditioned. But what separates the winners from the rest is genetics.
If you're a woman, do you have wide shoulders, a small waist and small hips? If you're a guy, do you have broad shoulders, a narrow waist, sweeping quads, full muscle bellies, and small joints? If you don't have those gifts, adjust your goals accordingly. That's not to say you can't get in better shape, but we're talking about a competition where you are judged against others. It's not always kind.
Drug wise, just be careful. Do your homework. Weigh the risks versus the rewards of everything you put into your body. And most importantly, decide if this is even what you need. Are you busting your ass in the gym? Do you have an expert designing your diet and more importantly, are you following it? If not, then don't even look at taking gear yet.
Finally, ask your self what your motivation is for competing. Are you looking to test your mettle against others or are you really just looking for validation of your self-worth? I see that all the time, especially in women. Women are more emotionally based. They often invest a lot of their self worth in their contest placing, in what the judges say. Guys usually aren't as sensitive that way. Well, usually they aren't.
In general I'd say that competing attracts a lot of attention seekers, and often they just aren't made for the sport. Like I say, anyone can improve their bodies and their physical appearance. But competing is an entirely different matter. A good reality check is worth more than a hundred cheerleaders. Trust me, I give them all the time.
T Nation: Thanks for doing this today, Coach.