HomeArticlesMike Arnold

The 10 Biggest Mistakes Made During Contest Prep – Part 3


by Mike Arnold

Last-minute site enhancement

Although opinions on the use of SEO’s in bodybuilding vary, there is no denying that these inert fillers are frequently used as a last-minute touch-up for enhancing select bodyparts. The finishing touch method I am referring to here is quite different from those long-term programs designed to produce permanent growth (a subject which merits its own discussion), as any sustainable size increase emerging from SEO use is the result of extensive scar tissue formation—a largely undesirable effect which, although resulting in bigger muscles, makes them less functional, more prone to injury, frequently leads to lumps/deformation, and produces blurred muscle detail/reduced muscle density.

The sole purpose of the finishing touch method is the temporary improvement of a weak bodypart, or to otherwise improve the body’s proportions for maximum aesthetic effect. When done correctly, this type of short-term, temporary site enhancement often yields a positive result, but when done incorrectly or to excess, it is a recipe for disaster.

One of the main complaints surrounding SEO use is that it tends to diminish muscle detail. This tends to occur regardless of the method employed (although to a greater degree with long-term use), as the initial increase in muscle size witnessed with SEO’s is due primarily to inflammation occurring at and around the injection site. Some will tell you that this can be avoided through proper injection technique—by getting the oil deep enough into the muscle, so that the inflammation remains internal, thereby expanding the muscle without obscuring muscle detail—but the complete avoidance of this unwanted cosmetic side effect is rarely achieved, even with the most perfect injection technique.

This is because any amount of inflammation capable of visibly and significantly increasing the size of a muscle cannot be contained within its internal structure alone. At a minimum, some of this inflammation will spill over to the surface (the better conditioned you are, the more noticeable it is), obscuring muscle detail to at least a small degree. In some cases, the improved muscle balance obtained is worth the trade-off, but what about those who don’t get it right? If even the experienced and well-trained occasionally screw-up, where does that leave all the rest, particularly those with little to no experience in this area?

Each person can come to their own conclusions regarding the value of SEO’s for temporary, pre-contest enhancement, but make no mistake about it, anyone who decides to employ SEO’s in a last-minute attempt to bring up a weak bodypart, without possessing the appropriate degree of experience and know-how, is making a mistake; one which could have them marked down in competition. Know what you’re doing before you go this route, which means not only bringing someone on-board to teach you proper injection technique, but seeing how it affects you “prior” to a competition. This way, if you try it and decide you are better off without it, no harm is done. Be smart. SEO’s are certainly not for everyone.

In my opinion, unless you have reached or come close to fulfilling your full genetic potential in terms of muscular development (at least competitive national-level size), you have no business messing with it. SEO’s are used as a way of balancing out the physique in the face of true genetic deficiencies, as there is always sacrifice associated with it use; namely, the loss of muscle quality. So, until you are sure that you possess genetic limitations preventing you from ever bringing your physique into balance, you are better off without it, as a balanced, quality muscle is always better than a balanced, lower-quality muscle. Many would even argue that a slight imbalance, along with great muscle detail is preferable to perfect balance without it.

In addition, SEO’s really only perform well in smaller bodyparts with simple contours, such as the individual heads of the biceps, triceps, delts, and calves (gastrocnemius). The larger the bodypart, the more likely they are to be problematic. In muscles such as the lats, chest, and quads, its use is generally ill-advised, as there are is too much room for error. The size and complexity of these muscles makes proper oil distribution difficult. More so, muscles like the quads are actually a muscle “group” containing four different muscles, making the entire process a crap-shoot. Lastly, these muscles tend to lose too much detail when subjected to SEO treatment, so the trade-off isn’t worthwhile.

Carb depletion & loading

I shouldn’t need to spend as much time on this topic as I did the previous, as the countless experiences of competitive bodybuilders worldwide provides substantial evidence in favor of my recommendation. The original logic used to justify the depletion and loading process was that by depleting the muscle’s glycogen stores, glucose uptake would be enhanced when glycogen was re-reintroduced into the body, providing an overcompensation effect that resulted in fuller muscles. This science behind the concept is sound, as glucose uptake is enhanced after a carb depletion phase, but the problem is that it doesn’t always produce the desired result, which is a bigger, harder, fuller physique; all the attributes normally associated with increased glycogen storage.

Now, in all fairness, I can’t actually say that the carb-depletion-loading process doesn’t work, as it indeed can under the right circumstances. It just normally doesn’t work for bodybuilders, particularly today’s bodybuilders. Allow me to explain. The circumstances a contest-ready bodybuilder is forced to endure, particularly in regards to his physiological environment, makes it very difficult for the body to respond favorably to this practice. Quite simply, a severe glycogen depletion phase, when coupled with the severe restrictions imposed on a contest-ready bodybuilder, will almost always lead to muscle loss, and if you lose muscle, the purpose of the carb-load is negated. In the end, rather than ending up bigger and harder, the bodybuilder just ends up smaller.

By the time a bodybuilder is in true contest shape (3-4% BF), even with the assistance of anabolics, retaining the whole of one’s muscle tissue is a very difficult task. In fact, some of the best bodybuilders who have ever lived, many of whom were known for getting into fantastic contest condition, have repeatedly stated that they had to sacrifice muscle mass in order to showcase this level of condition on the bodybuilding stage. Dorian Yates is one who comes to mind.

The human body, after arriving at a level of bodyfat required for displaying maximum muscle detail, is basically in a starvation state. In this environment, the physiological drive to accumulate bodyfat is much stronger than the need to maintain muscle tissue. In fact, the body views all that extra muscle as nothing more than a metabolic liability and if it had its way, were it not for the pharmacopeia of bodybuilding drugs altering our natural set-points, it would get rid of it in a heartbeat. Even with all the drugs at our disposal, the body usually gives up at least some of its muscle by the time it reaches extreme contest condition.

Now, take the above scenario and add the additional stress of a zero-carb diet, which in itself reduces anabolism and increases catabolism through multiple mechanisms, and you have the perfect prescription for muscle loss. This is why so many bodybuilders end up looking worse after a carb depletion & loading phase. They simply burn off too much muscle tissue while depleting and no matter how many carbs you stuff down your gullet afterwards, you are not going to regain that lost size.

Now, for those athletes who are not in danger of losing muscle mass as a result of restricting their carb intake, and whose goals are primarily performance related (not appearance focused), a carb depletion-loading phase can result in improved performance. However, there is a huge difference between someone like a track athlete and a contest-ready bodybuilder. Their needs and goals differ dramatically.

In days past, there used to be some merit behind the depletion-loading process in bodybuilding circles (although results were still spotty)—before guys started getting so ripped that muscle mass was in jeopardy. These days, most bodybuilders, by the time they reach true contest ready condition, are already significantly depleted, as the majority will need to cut their carbs quite a bit by the latter stages of prep. In these cases, rather than intentionally depleting glycogen stores further, just add some carbs back into the diet, as this will allow the individual to fill out without the risk of muscle loss. But, be prudent, as many bodybuilders over-do the carb-loading phase and spill-over.
When prioritizing condition over fullness (a wise choice for most), one is better off holding back a little bit on the carb-load, rather than trying to attain that perfect balance between fullness and condition because you won’t really know when you hit that balance until you have surpassed it, and then it is too late. Better to be a tad bit flat than spill-over.

Anadrol for muscle fullness

As all competitive bodybuilders know, maintaining skin-spliting muscle fullness while getting into true contest condition is incredibly difficult and rarely achieved, yet it remains the objective behind most of contest prep’s last-minute manipulations. One method for moving towards this goal, at least in terms of muscle fullness, is a practice known as Anadrol-loading. Oxymetholone, the chemical name for the brand name steroid, Anadrol, is commonly used for this purpose—a task it performs well. Therefore, I am hesitant to label this particular application as a mistake, simply because it has worked well for many bodybuilders, but I have included it in this list because there are now superior alternatives available.

Let’s face it, Anadrol was never an ideal choice immediately pre-contest. Yes, it provides great muscle fullness and vascularity within a short period of time, but it’s definitely not the driest drug out there. When a competitor is in contest shape it tends to have a somewhat neutral effect on sub-q water levels, but a neutral effect isn’t really what we’re after—we want to be as dry as possible. To this end, Superdrol is a much better alternative.

One could say Superdrol is a cross between Anadrol and Masteron, which makes sense, as it not only resembles both drugs from a molecular standpoint, but it produces the best of effects of each, adding the fullness of Anadrol while simultaneously reducing sub-q water levels similar to Masteron. This dual-effect is actually quite unique, as no other steroid has been shown to produce such extreme levels of fullness with a drying effect similar to many “cutting” steroids. Now, when added to a mix of Halotestin, Anavar and/or Winstrol, you are not going to get any harder, as those are hardening and drying drugs par excellence, but at least it won’t have a negative effect on water levels, as Anadrol often does.

In my experience, Superdrol actually tends to produce an even fuller look than Anadrol and certainly a tighter look. Just like with Anadrol, higher dosages tend to increase fullness to a greater degree compared to lower dosages, especially when attempting to maximize this effect within a short period of time. Still, there is no need to use 100’s of mg’s daily as one might with Anadrol. When utilizing Superdrol over the last 3-4 weeks, a dose of 30 mg daily works very well even for larger bodybuilders, while those who are doing a quick 7-14 day load may want to opt for between 40-50 mg daily.

A word of caution: when using SD in combination with other methylated orals (especially orals such as Halotestin; a great combo, by the way), make sure to ease hepatic strain via the administration of liver support products. Most bodybuilders will be employing other liver-toxic drugs at the same time, compounding the strain on the liver, and with SD demonstrating above-average toxicity, taking protective measures is always a good idea.

High-dose testosterone into the show

Although bodybuilders have been running high-dose test into shows for decades now, it has really only been over the last 10-15 years that this practice has become widespread among all levels of competition. Like many of the other things we have talked about previously, maximum size and fullness are the primary motives. Of course, those who use this method justify it by pointing to everyone else who does likewise, claiming that in a sport ruled by size, failing to use those drugs which excel at mass retention will diminish their chances of competitive success. I disagree whole-heatedly with this viewpoint.

In fact, I have yet to witness a single case, with my own eyes, where this method produced the best body possible. Those who go down this road tend to exhibit softer, less detailed, and more watery looking physiques. Basically, condition suffers. There are multiple reasons for this. Not only does testosterone aromatize at a high rate, but its effect on electrolyte balance has a negative effect on sub-q water levels. Unfortunately, neither of these can be completely overcome.

While AI therapy may be capable of driving estrogen levels low enough to eliminate estrogen-induced water retention at low-moderate test dosages, administering 2 or more grams of test per week is too much for even the strongest AI’s to handle. This is because androgens have an agonistic effect on A.I. efficiency, as confirmed by clinical research demonstrating a stark difference in the rate of estrogen suppression between men and women receiving A.I. therapy. While estrogen concentrations were lowered as much as 98% in women using 2 mg of letrozole daily, this same dosage in men reduced estrogen levels by only slightly under 60% (58%, if my memory hasn’t failed me). The difference between these 2 readings is extreme, with females experiencing an almost 100% suppression rate and men having their estrogen levels reduced by only a little over 50%. At 50 mg daily, exemestane produced a 60% reduction, while Anastrozole at 1 mg daily registered at around 47%.

The contrast becomes potentially greater in steroid using males, particularly those utilizing large dosages of aromatizable AAS, such as testosterone. However, when non-aromatizing AAS are added to aromatizing steroids, user bloodwork (anecdotal) shows a greater reduction in estrogen levels compared to those who use high-dose aromatizable drugs alone. Now, AI’s do make it possible to run high-dose testosterone into shows and still come in good shape, but conditioning will always be comprised to at least some degree. These guys just don’t seem to be able to achieve the dense, sinewy-look seen on those bodybuilders who prioritize condition above all else and whose PED regimens reflect that concern.
The take home message here is that high-dose testosterone, while enabling you to come in heavier, will not make you come in better.

Insulin blunders

This one has been responsible for a lot of screw-ups over the last few years, and just like most of the others, it is not hard to understand why one might want to employ this drug during peak week. For those whose #1 priority is hitting the stage as big as possible, there is no doubt that insulin is the drug for them, as nothing is capable of increasing muscle fullness as rapidly. It is quite common for insulin users, when just starting up on the stuff, to add 10 lbs of bodyweight within 1 week, hyper-volumizing one’s musculature to the max.

Unfortunately, the risk of unacceptable water retention is extremely high, especially when using the drug to its utmost potential, and as you all know, trading condition for size is a move that rarely pans out well in competition. Now, it is possible to use insulin successfully, but before one goes and starts blasting a bunch of slin the last 1-3 days before their comp, consider the following.

First of all, in most cases some degree of sub-q water retention is inevitable. This is because the large majority of people are pre-disposed to experiencing some degree of visibly noticeable sub-q water retention upon initiating use. On the other hand, some people can use meaningful quantities while holding very little to no visible water. Regardless, there are a few things that should never be done, no matter which group you fall into. The most obvious of these is to never experiment with insulin for the first time right before you show (1-3 days out).

Before even contemplating its use during peak week, you should have considerable, previous experience with the different forms of insulin at various dosages, as not all versions and dosages affect everyone uniformly. This way, you will have a better idea of what to and not to do during peak week, should you decide to use it. Secondly, don’t attempt to take full advantage of the drug’s full muscle volumizing effects, as doing so is guaranteed to lead to water retention.

When in such an insulin-induced hyper-volumized state—a state beyond what the body can achieve on its own—the massive influx of carbs required to maximize insulin’s volumizing effects will naturally result in spill-over. This is part of the reason why off-season bodybuilders, when glycogen levels are loaded to the max, frequently display a puffy look. It is dangerous enough to try and max-out muscle fullness via glycogen loading even when insulin isn’t in the picture; just think about all the examples of non-insulin using competition bodybuilders who’ve spilt-over during peak week.

Once insulin is brought into the equation, the sole reason of which is to increase glycogen levels beyond what the body is capable of naturally, the risk only climbs. Like I said before, when it comes to carb-loading, you won’t know when you have crossed the line until you have crossed it, so you are better off stopping short and not taking the risk, rather than chancing it and screwing yourself over. The take home point here is if you are going to use insulin, use it sparingly; don’t attempt to extract maximum benefit from it.

Another safety precaution one could take would be to never use insulin the day right before a competition. A better alternative would be to use it at 3 days out and if all goes well, possibly 2 days out, and then stop. This way, if you do end up holding some water, you will have some time on your hands to help rectify the problem. Lastly, do not use large dosages at once. Keep them small —a few IU here and there with meals, and pay close attention to what transpires after each feeding. This will allow you to better gauge where you stand at regular intervals, rather than using 1-2 huge dosages and then regretting it.

Even with the most precise usage and with all of the above precautions in place, you are not guaranteed immunity from insulin’s water-retaining effects. Sure, just a few IU isn’t going to do any harm, but neither will it help. In my opinion, unless prior experience warrants its inclusion, the risk factors alone should be sufficient to deter you from its use during peak week.

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