A top bodybuilding prep-coach answers your questions on the dark side of bodybuilding.
Once a bodybuilder gets up on stage, it becomes a very simple sport.
There are no teams, no special equipment, not a cheerleader or mascot to be found. Just the athlete, under the lights, pitting the physique he's spent years constructing against his fellow competitors.
It's this beautiful simplicity that attracts so many to the sport. It's a sport that quite literally anyone can do to make quick improvements, but unfortunately, so very, very few can do it well enough to become a champion.
Yet if the onstage performance is an elegant simplicity defined, what goes into the making of those champion physiques is anything but simple. In fact, at the upper echelon of competitive bodybuilding, the construction of a perfectly peaked physique is a complicated, calculated science. So much so, that even the savviest bodybuilders employ prep coaches—including drug coaches--to guide them.
Of course, few T NATION readers might aspire to be champion bodybuilders, but wouldn't it still be fascinating to learn what really goes into the massive, ripped physiques gracing the covers of the muscle magazines? Wouldn't it be cool to see what chemical lengths some bodybuilders will go to push their bodies to new levels of mass and conditioning?
With that in mind, T NATION has enlisted the services of one of the industry's top prep coaches to peel back the curtain and give readers a peek inside the chemical world of bodybuilding.
Brash, raw, totally uncensored, and here to answer your questions. Introducing, The Dragon.
— Bryan Krahn
T Nation: Back in the '90's everybody was talking about Synthol use in competitive bodybuilding, but today it seems to have fallen out of favor. How prevalent is Synthol use in the higher levels of competitive bodybuilding?
Synthol hasn't gone anywhere. In fact, the use of site enhancement oils is even more prevalent today; athletes have just gotten a lot better (i.e. more discrete) in their usage.
Back in the mid to late 90's, when guys first started playing with Synthol, you'd see all sorts of weird shit onstage: guys with 12 deltoid heads, 5 biceps peaks, etc. Every so often you'll still see the odd Synthol screw-up in the amateur ranks, but the pros (and smart amateurs) just don't go as nuts with it anymore, so the train wrecks aren't nearly as prevalent.
Another reason it appears to have fallen out of favor for the average bodybuilder is that you have to be quite committed to make it work properly. Some of the early Synthol guinea pigs seemed to think that a bottle or two would lead to miraculous gains in their stubborn body parts and they'd never have to touch the stuff again.
Sounds great, but it just doesn't work that way. You have to continuously stretch the muscle fascia to obtain true long-term gains, and that means regular injections for many months, even years.
Long term Synthol usage definitely works though, and it's not just lumps of inert oil masquerading as muscle. I've even seen research indicating that site enhancement oil use can increase androgen receptors at the site injection, so in conjunction with steroids this is another way in which weak body parts can be improved.
Bottom line, Synthol is still a very popular practice; at least among the bodybuilders who are smart enough to administer it properly and use it long enough.
T Nation: I've heard that the top pros actually use less gear than most up & comers due to their outstanding genetics. What's an example of a pre-contest run for a top dog?
Honestly, it varies quite a bit. Some guys use a LOT of stuff (over 5 grams per week, including Testosterone, anabolics, and orals), but there are quite a few that use a lot less, more in the range of 2 to 2.5 grams per week, which is what I would consider a moderate dose.
A standard moderate pre-contest cycle might be something like:
Testosterone (cypionate or enanthate): 1200-1500 mg per week.
Anabolic (Equipoise or Deca-Durabolin): 600-800 mg per week.
An oral like Winstrol: 50 mg per day.
Growth hormone: 4-8 IUs every day.
Insulin: up to 50 IUs a day with some guys.
This, along with ancillary meds like T3 (Cytomel), clenbuterol, and anti-estrogens such as Arimidex or Letrozole.
One thing you have to remember with AAS is that some guys just respond a lot better than others; it's simply a matter of genetics. One bodybuilder will do great on modest doses, while his training partner might need boatloads of shit just to get the same results.
Not surprisingly, it's usually the latter guy that ends up having health problems, due to the higher amounts and the assorted polypharmacy, but again that's not always the case. I've known guys who've had very bad sides from just 400 mg of test a week, and others that had picture perfect health on 2,000 mg. It's a crapshoot, really.
I always recommend my guys get blood work done regularly, and keep a tab on their blood pressure to hopefully mitigate any dire health issues. I can't lie though; it's not a healthy sport. Bodybuilding is strictly cosmetic-the guys look great on the outside, but what's happening on the inside is often a completely different story.
However, I refuse to judge. We all choose what we do with our lives, and while many people waste their lives away smoking, boozing, and not accomplishing much of anything, others are taking charge and creating their own destiny; even if it may be a short(er)-lived one.
T Nation: Do the top guys adjust their training much pre-contest? I know high reps don't "cut-up the muscle," but I'd be interested to see how these guys adjust their training as the show approaches.
With apologies to my colleagues who have all sorts of contest prep workouts for sale, I usually let my guys do what they want in regard to pre-contest training. As long as they aren't doing anything TOO stupid, how they train while dieting doesn't matter a whole lot.
During a diet, the primary goal of the weight training workouts is to preserve muscle and let the diet, cardio, and supplementation take care of the conditioning. So as long as you still train relatively heavy and stimulate the muscle, you'll be fine.
There's definitely a market for fancy trainers that do all sorts of weird exercises to "shock" the muscle, but during a diet most guys aren't going to be gaining much muscle, so I really consider these trainers to be snake-oil salesmen more than anything.
You dance with the gal you brought to the ball. Continue training in the same basic, heavy fashion you used to build the muscle – that's the best method to keep the muscle.
T Nation: What do you do when a client falls behind schedule?
Easy. I fire them and send them to the guru with the fancy pre-contest training program.
Okay, seriously, sometimes a guy will come to me out of shape and wanting to do a show that they have no hope getting in shape for. It happens. What I usually do is just be honest with them and hopefully persuade them to pick a different show rather than do something stupid like killing themselves to get ready for a contest they should've started dieting for two months ago.
Still, there are things that can be done to expedite fat loss, like using a short-term ketogenic (zero carb) diet or pushing cardio and supplementation a bit harder. I'm not a big fan of rushing things though. Drastic approaches are always less reliable, the results less predictable, and the side effects less acceptable, especially if I have to start ratcheting up the drug dosages.
For example, if I have 16 weeks I can quite easily get an average condition athlete in shape without ever exceeding 80 mcg a day of clenbuterol and 75 mcg of T3. But cut that to 8 weeks and now I might have to double both of those (15-200 mcg clenbuterol, 150mcg T3), which puts an enormous stress on the heart while setting up the athlete for a messed-up thyroid.
Combine that with a drastically reduced calorie intake and multiple daily cardios and you'll have one miserable, overdrawn athlete. Not my style at all.
The best advice is still to get an honest assessment of your condition and pick a show that you can realistically get in shape for. I tell my athletes that masterpieces take time to create. I may be a miracle worker, but I'm also an artist and true artists can't be rushed.
T Nation: What do you think is the primary difference in the "quality" of conditioning of 90's bodybuilders, who routinely had striations in the shoulders/chest/arms on stage, versus guys today who are equally defined but appear softer? Is it site injections? Insulin use? The economy?
That's an astute observation, and a subject of considerable debate in bodybuilding circles. Some fans liked the granular, hard as nails look of the early to mid 90's while others felt it was a tad extreme, not to mention downright dangerous to achieve. Today it's all about mass, mass, and more mass; as much beef as you can fit on the cart, with less attention paid to getting that last bit of water out.
For example, put Dorian Yates' 1992 Olympia-winning physique along side Jay Cutler's 2010 winning package and judge for yourself. Hell, compare Dorian in 1995 to Dorian in 1992 and you'll see what I mean.
Let's just say the difference in conditioning between bodybuilders in the 90's and today is a combination of things, all summed up in the quest for "size at any cost." These things include higher doses of all drugs (insulin and growth hormone especially), higher amounts of food in the offseason (guys used to stay leaner year round), and the chronic use of site enhancement oils (i.e. Synthol), and site injections of AAS.
Guys also used to use more hardcore diuretics in years past (Lasix used to be the drug of choice, now it's becoming rare), which also helped them achieve a drier, more defined look.
The size game is keeping many guys from coming in as detailed as the champs of the past. When you think you need to be 250+ onstage, you're not going to get into the same shape as you would if all your competition was 210 (like it was back in the day) and shredded to the bone.
What's better? That's a matter of opinion. My job is to present the athlete in the kind of condition that wins shows now, not 15 years ago. Today that look is big, full, but comparatively soft, so my approach has adapted accordingly.
Don't like it? As the kids say, don't hate the playa, hate the game.
T Nation: How popular is DNP (Dinitrophenol) with the top guys today?
I don't have any of my clients use DNP, but I know a lot of competitors that still mess around with it. DNP is what's referred to as an uncoupling agent, and was originally used in industrial applications to ignite TNT.
It's incredibly thermogenic, boasting an astounding 50% increase in metabolic rate, and users often report fat loss in excess of 10 pounds in a week. It's also quite dangerous as there's no upper limit to the increase in body temperature that may be obtained with DNP. Suffice it to say, I'm not a fan.
Yet a select crowd just can't leave it alone and have tried to come up with ways to improve DNP's woeful safety profile. The popular method nowadays is to take a lower dose (around 250 mg per day) for a longer period of time (multiple weeks or even months), rather than taking a high dose for a shorter period of time.
The side effects are much less pronounced this way, but a decent rate of fat loss can still be achieved.
That said, I have yet to see anyone use it and come in looking incredible. As you would expect from something championed by the "lose fat fast" crowd, it's usually used to a) mask lazy dieting, which is something that can't be masked, or to b) try to play catch up, which you can't really do if your goal is to look as good as you would had you dieted properly from the get-go.
There are definitely better (healthier) ways to lose fat and I stick to those with my guys. Save the DNP for the lean guys working on the mountain railroad construction crews--unless you want to have be the most smokin' hot corpse in the morgue.
T Nation: Testosterone going into a show: yes or no, due to possible water issues?
Around 4 weeks out many guys will switch from a longer acting Testosterone ester like enanthate or cypionate to a shorter acting one like propionate or even suspension, but I don't think this is necessary in most cases. The fact of the matter is, you're either lean or you're not, and any water retention is always remedied with diuretics the final couple days anyways.
Now some guys often experience what we call "bad shots" with localized inflammation that doesn't look very pretty at all (think bee stings). For those guys, it often makes sense to drop all the injectables completely up to 4 weeks out from the show and switch over to pre-contest orals only like Winstrol, Anavar, and Halotestin.
But the whole "longer esters make you hold more water" thing, in my opinion, just doesn't hold any water. I routinely have my guys use enanthate or cypionate right up to the show and they are always the driest guys on stage.
T Nation: Do competitive bodybuilders ever go completely "off"?
No. Most serious competitors stay on year round, and just lower their doses when they aren't competing, and understandably so. A lot of these guys guest-pose pretty frequently to supplement their income, and they have to look good for that.
No one, repeat, no one likes a fat, out of shape guest poser. Can I put that in bold?
So between competing at least a couple times a year and doing a handful of guest posings, there's not a lot of time to come off. The hormonal roller coaster one experiences when constantly cycling on and off is not terribly healthy or mentally enjoyable, so staying "on" but at a lower dose is what I advise.
This is the so-called "blast and cruise" method that you hear many guys talk about. Most bodybuilders will "blast" when they're getting ready for shows, and "cruise" in between or when they are taking a break during the offseason. (Many will run GH year round though, if they can afford it.)
As for dosages, a "cruise" dose might be something like 300-500mg of Testosterone, maybe a couple hundred milligrams of Deca-Durabolin or Equipoise, and at least a few IUs of GH per day.
Some of you might see these cruise dosages and say to yourself "but that's more than my last full-blown cycle?" Well, congratulations, sport. I guess you're just a genetic god. Maybe send me your contact info? I'll coach you for the 2011 Olympia for free.
Got a question for The Dragon? Or should we even run another Dragon column? Post your questions, comments, and opinions in the discussion forum.