The scene was the 1999 NPC California Championships in Redondo Beach, prejudging. Shouts of encouragement, "stay tight!" and "legs!" rang our from the darkness up to the stage, bathed in almost blinding bright light as glistening light-heavyweights kept entire bodies tense under the scrutiny of the judges. In a lineup of nearly thirty top-notch Golden State physiques, one man stood out from the rest, garnering the majority of the spectators' attention as they pointed and whispered about him. It wasn't because he was in contention for first place. In fact, he was unofficially disqualified the moment he strode out from the theater's wings. This sorry bastard, in hopes of becoming Mr. California like Flex Wheeler, Chris Cormier, Dennis Newman and many others before who went on to stardom, had injected what appeared to be gallons of the infamous Synthol into his delts, arms, calves, and traps. Oddly shaped but gigantic arms that would rival any pro led down to spindly forearms that were no bigger than the average guy in the gym. Delts that looked like they were stolen from Paul Dillett tied into average-sized lats and pecs. The oil-inflated muscle groups were so shiny and round that they would look out of place on any human body. "Skeeter bites!" the guy sitting next to me shouted. "Looks like he got attacked by some giant mosquitos!" he brayed. Laughs and jeers echoed in the air at his ridiculous appearance. He had hoped his ruse would be successful, but he ended up being nothing more than a silly joke, comic relief at a serious athletic competition.
Scenarios like the one above are becoming more common every month. Our unfortunate would-be Mr. California is much like many thousands of frustrated lifters out there who refuse to settle for what their genetics limited them to in terms of muscular development. Of course, steroid use in and of itself is the most widespread expression of this dissatisfaction and rebellion. For decades now, men and women all around the globe have taken pills and injections that allowed them to far surpass the degrees of size and strength they would have been capable of naturally. We have witnessed entire generations of bodybuilders swell up to mammoth proportions thanks to steroids. Just ten years ago, anyone over 220 pounds was considered a giant. Now, to earn the same classification, one must tip the scales closer to 300 pounds!
Surely the chemical array of steroids, growth hormone, IGF-1, and insulin have provided bodybuilders with all the tools needed to achieve the bodies of their dreams and at last be satisfied? Sadly, the answer is no. Bodybuilders are perfectionists, determined to keep building until every muscle group meets their approval. Even with steroids, however, nearly everyone has one or more bodyparts that simply don't respond very well. Until a few years ago, that was just the way the cookie crumbled. Many bodybuilders were stuck with wimpy 14-inch calves, though they may have had 30-inch thighs. Others were consigned to undersize 17-inch arms on a 240-pound frame, despite massive chests, lats, and delts. It's as if these stubborn parts got left behind while everything else continued to grow and grow. In the new millenium, these once doomed individuals have two powerful new weapons with which to 'complete' their lacking physiques - calf implants and Synthol.
Calf implants are actually not very new. Like breast implants, the procedure is several decades old. Bodybuilders make up a large percentage of calf implant patients, as this muscle is notoriously hard to develop with inferior genetics. Black athletes in particular seem to have an especially arduous time building up the calves, due to higher muscle insertions. Nearly everyone with great calves is gifted with very low insertions, close to the ankle, meaning that there are many more muscle fibers capable of growing. With higher insertions, nearer to the knee joint, there are just not many muscle cells in the first place. It is almost unheard of for someone with terrible, 'high' calves to ever build them up to impressive proportions. Just a couple years ago, prior to the Mr. Olympia contest, Shawn Ray challenged IFBB head honcho Wayne DeMilia to investigate Flex Wheeler for calf implants, as his calves had dramatically improved over the past two years from mediocre to excellent. An MRI showed that whatever Flex had done to his calves, it wasn't implants. Arnold Schwarzenegger is another famous bodybuilder that has been accused of having them, though almost everyone knows the legend of how Arnold only started truly training his calves correctly after visiting Reg Park in South Africa. Arnold returned to Venice Beach and cut all of his workout sweats into knickers so that he was constantly reminded of his poor calves. If Arnold did have implants put in, they were certainly superior in appearance to nearly all the calf implants we see today.
To be sure, there are indeed many bodybuilders today who have opted for calf implants after giving up on bringing their actual calves up to par. Typically, implants are a cinch to spot. Most calf implants have a look to them that singles them out as artificial. Either they are too big for the rest of the leg, too round, they stick out to the sides too much, or they constantly look flexed, even when the owner is standing with both feet flat on the ground. One guy at my old gym got calf implants that were believable in size, but the shape was as if a raquetball had been shoved under his real calves. Once in a while, in an effort to 'throw us off the trail,' he would do a few sets of calf raises. In his case, nobody bought them as genuine. Of course, when expert surgeons with a great deal of experience perform the surgery (for those willing to pay for quality), the results are usually much more natural-looking.
The Calf Implant Procedure
Calf implant surgery is an ambulatory, or outpatient, procedure. This means that you go home when it's finished. The implants themselves come in varying sizes and are made of a solid but pliable inert material. The most common brand name used is Silastic. There is always an initial consultation wherein the doctor determines what an appropriate size would be for the individual, based on their overall size and proportions. The goal is always for the implants to look as if they actually belong in that particular body. Just as 100-pound strippers with 36 DDD breast implants look ridiculous, so would a 150-pound man with a runner's build look bizarre sporting 20-inch calves. Anesthesia can be either sedation or full general anesthesia. A small incision is made in the crease behind each knee, and a pocket is formed beneath the muscle fascia. What happens next depends on whether the degree of enlargement is average or excessive. If it is a standard procedure, with average-sized implants, two implants are placed in each leg over the heads of the gastrocnemius. If a large degree of enlargement is desired, as is often the case with massive 220-pound plus bodybuilders wishing for calves that match their physiques, tissue expanders are inserted. These are balloon-like devices that can be gradually increased in size over several weeks. This enables the tissue to slowly stretch to a size that would not be possible all at once. Once the desired size is achieved, the expanders are removed and replaced by the actual implants. The average price for calf implant procedure is about $5,500. Unless you lost your calf muscle in an accident, the surgery is considered elective and not covered by medical insurance.
Recovery And Risks
There is, as you would expect, significant pain following the operation until the body adjusts to the pressure of the implants inside the lower leg. Bed rest is advised for the first few days, with walking being introduced very gradually afterward. During the adjustment stage, walking on top-toes or in high heels is most comfortable. (Just try to find a pair of nice pumps in a men's size 12, though. Lotsa luck!) You can return to training the upper body in a week, and start working the legs again lightly in three weeks. By six weeks, you should be easing back into full-bore heavy training for the legs. As in all surgical procedures, infection is a possibility. Other possible complications from calf implants include shifting of the implants, bruising, and rarely, muscle weakness. The majority of complications arise when patients resume activity levels too soon, before the implant is solidly healed in place. Bodybuilders are especially prone to do this, as most are paranoid about missing any amount of training. Keep in mind that nearly all bodybuilding federations ban calf implants, so only non-competitors should consider filling out their gastrocs artificially.
Origins And Meteoric Rise
The genesis of Synthol was an Italian steroid called Esiclene that was quite popular in the 1980's. For those unfamiliar with Esiclene, it was not used for lasting mass gains but instead immediately before a contest as a quick fix for visually weak body parts. Acting primarily as a muscle inflammatory agent, competitors injected it directly into the calves, arms, or shoulders for a bit of extra size and fullness in whichever of these smaller muscle groups were lagging. The effect was fleeting, but the drug served its purpose. In the early 90's, a German named Chris Clark began to tinker with the idea of an injectable substance that would yield more lasting gains in size. He came up with a formulation initially named Synthol, which he later learned was already a registered and trademarked pharmaceutical name. Clark quickly renamed his product Pump N' Pose, but the first name stuck. Now, the word Synthol is as much a part of the hardcore bodybuilding lexicon as Dianabol or Deca. Clark hit upon a gold mine, as there were thousands of steroid-using bodybuilders who were dissatisfied with the size of their arms, delts, and calves. Let's face it, few have the genetics to build an upper arm of twenty inches or more in lean condition, even with a boatload of anabolics and the most brutal training regimens imaginable.
One of its first users was a German strongman who billed himself as having "the world's largest arms" at 27 inches. Now, though the effect is quite obvious, as the Synthol-enhanced muscles take on shapes never found on any actual human being, you can go to any contest or large fitness expo and see several men who have injected enough oil into their bi's and tri's to satisfy their most extreme desires. Gains of two inches or more in the arms alone are quite commonplace. Synthol is also commonly used in the side delts and calves, as was Esiclene. Ironically, it is available legally, since the $400 bottles are labeled as posing oil. You sure could buy a lot of baby oil with 400 smackeroos! Despite the high price tag, its makers have found it difficult at times to keep up the worldwide demand from bodybuilders.
What Is Synthol?
Synthol is composed of 85% medium-chain triglyceride oils (a fatty acid), 7.5% lidocaine (painkiller), and 7.5 5 benzyl alcohol. The preparation is injected deep into the muscle where it is encapsulated between the fascicles (bundles of muscle fibers) . With repeated injections, a larger volume of oil builds up inside the muscle, expanding its size like a balloon filling up with air. About 30% of what is injected is metabolized by the body. The other 70% remains lodged in the muscle where it breaks down very slowly over three to five years. There seems to be some issue of debate among bodybuilders as to whether or not Synthol actually lasts this long, and some believe it is even longer. Chris Clark, its inventor, is convinced that it somehow leads to permanent muscle growth in the effected areas, though even he is unsure of the mechanisms that would make this possible. Synthol users report amazing pumps while training, though this could be a result of the extra pressure of the accumulated oil.
Risks Of Synthol Use
Although Mr. Clark claims Synthol is completely safe to use, he also made a point in Greg Zulak's "Uncensored" several issues ago that he is not legally responsible for bodybuilders using it for anything other than a posing oil. Of course, injecting any amount of fatty-acid material intramuscularly can be perilous. This is complicated by the fact that scant few bodybuilders have any medical training. Without knowing the location of major nerves, it's easy to hit one by accident and cause permanent paralysis of muscle fibers in the area. With an injection of any type, abscess infections at the injection site are always a possibility. Often abscesses (extremely painful build-ups of infected tissue) require surgery to remove, not unlike a tumor. You haven't heard the worst yet. Should you inject into a vein or artery by mistake (avoided by drawing back on the syringe to make sure there is no blood, a simple precaution many folks are too squeamish to take) the fatty acids could be transported to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, the heart, causing a heart attack, or perhaps even into the brain, leading to a cardioembolic stroke. All three cases are potentially fatal.
Allegedly, IFBB pro Milos Sarcev had a scare recently when supposedly, some of the Synthol in his arms traveled to his heart. This sounds like an enormous amount of risk simply for the benefit of inflated arms and calves, but bodybuilders are not normal people. To some, it's worth the risk of death to finally have 21-inch bazookas just like the big genetic freaks they idolize. To date, there have been no publicized deaths related to Synthol or any of its several knock-offs currently available. Of course, this is a fairly new product that has only skyrocketed in use over the past two years. Ultimately, Synthol users are adults who are responsible for their own health and safety and are free to make the choice themselves.
Ethical Issues Of Calf Implants And Synthol
Now we come to the nagging question, is all of this cheating? Cheating is a difficult word to define in a sport where a large amount of the participants do not consider it an unfair advantage to inject synthetic hormones designed to increase muscle size and strength. To a point I have to agree with them. Though it gives many bodybuilders an "unfair advantage" over natural competitors, there are at least ten major organizations that promote drug-tested events where steroids are very much considered cheating and those who test positive are disqualified and/or stripped of their titles. In non-tested contests, anyone is free to take whatever drugs they choose. Calf implants would have to be classified as cheating in any competition, since judges are supposed to be comparing physiques composed of muscle, not implanted hunks of silicone that required no effort to attain. For recreational bodybuilders, calf implants are simply a matter of personal choice. It's really no different from a woman getting breast implants to feel a little better about her appearance. Synthol, though, smacks of cheating any way you look at it. It's not fair to stand up there with a 22-inch arm in a lineup when up to four inches of it are injected oil. Though it may be unfair that some are more genetically gifted, it's even less fair to blow up a weak bodypart with oily injections and pass it off as a product of your own hard work. Steroids may be of huge assistance, but you still need to do the work, the training and eating. Synthol is a sham because these muscles aren't outstanding due to anything more than your having the money to buy the product and the ability to endure the painful injections.
Of course, the moral high ground here would be to do your absolute best with whatever God gave you. Steroids, implants, and oils can all make your body inflate to dimensions you never dreamed of - but do you really own that body? In the cases of steroids and possibly Synthol, you eventually give all that muscle back when you stop using it. You might be able to fool yourself into thinking you own the incredible image staring back at you from the gym mirror. You might be able to fool friends, fans and bystanders. In the end, though, you can't fool Mother Nature. She's one smart bitch.