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YOUR FIRST CYCLE
By CFC, Genetic Freak and -Guido-
We get it, you probably don't want to read any long-ass newbie guide, and instead you're just anxious to jump onto your first cycle and get HUGE. Who wouldn't? But as an aspiring bodybuilder new to steroids, even if you're experienced as a natural, we hope you do take the time to read and absorb as much information as you can, even the bits that seem boring or irrelevant at the moment.
Steroids Are Not Miracle Drugs
Steroids, which are usually referred to as AAS (anabolic androgenic steroids) to differentiate them from the non-anabolic kinds of 'steroids', accelerate protein synthesis and reduce levels of muscle-diminishing and bodyfat-elevating myostatin, among other helpful mechanisms. This ultimately permits both dramatically faster muscle gains and the potential to achieve a final build, in terms of both size and leanness, beyond anything that could be achieved naturally.
However - and regrettably - they are not miracle drugs. You still have to have a great diet and training program to see results, as well as a well-planned cycle. Many people don't believe this, and think we're just trying to put you off. But these two factors, and especially diet, really are more critical than AAS.
If you don't believe us now, you will in 5-10 years when you realise you aren't massive and haven't become a pro. So often bodybuilders (even very experienced ones) believe their problem is a lack of AAS or supplements, when in reality they just don't know how to eat or train for their own genetic makeup, and haven't experimented with enough alternatives.
So if you find us querying your diet or training, you shouldn't be offended or defensive. It's our job to think of things you probably take for granted and can't (or won't) see for yourself, and to give you a little perspective. It never hurts to have a second opinion, and ultimately we still know it is your decision not ours.
For these reasons, we strongly recommend you've trained consistently without AAS for at least one year, but preferably more - both to build basic experience and because you should still be making decent gains (5-10lbs pure muscle/yr) for the first 3-5 years. In fact you'll find most bodybuilders do generally wait an average of 3-5 years before starting AAS (and some many more).
Don't fall into the trap of thinking, as many do in their early years or when they see incredibly massive or ripped guys at the gym, that bodybuilding is all about AAS. In all honesty it's actually about genetics, and generally you can't do much about those. AAS can certainly be a quicker way to get in shape, but if you use them at high doses and for long cycles to compensate for sloppy training and a poor diet, your health will suffer VERY badly.
Think of it this way, if AAS really were the only factor, as many bizarrely assume, and all gains could be retained post-cycle, then after a few years on AAS all bodybuilders would be colossal. This is clearly NOT and never has been the case. Only a few genetically gifted can ever become top competitors, in the same way that only a few intellectually gifted can become top theoretical physicists or mathematicians. The rest of us need to be honest with ourselves about our innate abilities, and think both sensibly and long-term.
AAS Are Not For Children Or Teenagers
AAS have very peculiar and most of the time dangerous effects on adolescents. Through aromatizing into estrogen, they cause the epiphysis (growth plates) to calcify (close) which will leave a person unable to grow any taller.
They also interrupt the hormonal balance of the body, and during puberty these hormones are critical to proper physical and mental development. So if you're a teenager, please don't use AAS. If male, your natural testosterone production should actually be high enough to make above average gains well into your early twenties.
You Should Get Used To Injecting
Though not all steroids are injectable, in order to run a quality steroid cycle you will ultimately need to be prepared to inject predominantly oil-based AAS either intramuscularly (IM) or rarely subcutaneously (SubQ).
The main reason is that oral steroids are to varying degrees toxic to the liver (hepatotoxic) since they generally have to be alkylated in order to avoid destruction on the 'first pass' through the liver. Oral-only cycles may thus cause excessive liver harm, and as a result tend to amplify other common AAS harms such as poor cholesterol values (HDL:LDL ratios), raised triglycerides and altered insulin sensitivity.
Therefore it's preferable to build most of your cycles around oil-based injectable AAS, and especially your first cycle. Intramuscular (IM) injections should ideally be done with the Z-Track technique to prevent the oil from leaking out, as pictured below:
Typically you'll want to use a larger needle to draw up the compound (it makes it easier), and a smaller one to inject. The smaller the needle, the less tissue trauma and subsequent scar tissue you're likely to develop.
Examples for drawing up are usually 21G (green) and 23G (blue). To inject, a 1" 25G (orange) should be suitable for most people and for most sites. In the glutes, some with higher subcutaneous fat levels may prefer to use a 23G (blue) to ensure it hits deep into the muscle.
You should always practice sterile procedure, so use FRESH STERILE needles every time you inject and draw up from the vial. You should also swab both the vial and the area of the injection with isopropyl alcohol or surgical spirits (in one direction only, multiple times, to prevent smearing of bacteria) and allow it to evaporate slowly. The merits of swabbing have been debated widely - some hospitals no longer do so - however we err on the side of caution for now.
Typical sites to inject for first timers are the glutes and/or quads. For instructions on exactly where to inject, please head over the the handy SPOTINJECTIONS website.
Warming the AAS slightly beforehand can make it easier to inject, and after injection you should massage the area used deeply for a few minutes to try and spread the oil around, as this reduces post-injection pain (PIP).
Indeed, when you first start injecting AAS and when you open up a new site for injections, or when you start using a new compound for the first time, it's quite common to develop PIP in the hours and days afterwards.
Sometimes this can be very painful, restrict proper movement, and be worrying. Usually it's just your body's natural reaction to a foreign substance and it will lessen over time. Also some AAS are generally much more painful to inject than others, especially highly concentrated ones with shorter esters. Fortunately the ones used by most beginners are generally free of major PIP, and pretty easy to tolerate.
However, occasionally you may develop an infection or abscess. Feel free to ask for advice on the forums if this happens, but also be prepared to seek medical assistance if the inflammation becomes severe.
You Need A Good Training Programme
It's probably obvious that you need to train in order for your muscles to grow properly, but it's always good to reiterate the point.
Remember that a training program that works for someone else might not work for you. Find or create a program that will help you reach your goal and that is suited specifically for you. Research as widely and thoroughly as you can. And always listen to your body. If something hurts, even if everyone else is doing it, don't do it! Find your own way of working the muscle.
The internet is full of different training programmes, YouTube workouts and websites offering advice. However sometimes a good, experienced personal trainer (PT) can give you a major experience boost.
While it may seem obvious that the bigger PTs who have the body you aspire to develop yourself will be the most helpful in this regard, do bear in mind that some are so genetically gifted and have never had to struggle that they are actually pretty useless as PTs. And unfortunately others are more interested in their own body than helping you with yours.
It may be a cliché to say so, but undeniably the old school hardcore gyms are generally the best places to learn quickly from very experienced bodybuilders. Don't be scared, the guys may be scary-massive and rough around the edges but are usually pretty welcoming to enthusiastic newbies.
The Leaner You Are The Better AAS Work
Being at 10-15% bodyfat or less is optimal for a cycle, particularly a bulk where further fat gain is likely to occur. Not only does it reduce blood pressure, it also increases insulin sensitivity (ideal for gaining muscle) and lowers the concentration of aromatase enzymes.
This is important because aromatase is heavily concentrated in fat cells and converts testosterone into oestrogen. So the more fat you have, the greater your conversion of testosterone into oestrogen. This not only lowers your precious testosterone levels - despite the AAS - it also worsens oestrogen sides, such as gynecomastia, water retention and testes atrophy.
And from a purely practical point of view, the leaner you are, the more easily you'll see changes in definition, vascularity and mass from AAS. Seeing these changes occurring very quickly can be extremely motivating, boosting both your confidence and your dietary and training discipline, creating a positive feedback and improving your cycle.
You Need To Have All Ancillary Compounds On Hand Pre-Cycle
Ancillaries are compounds that are used to prevent or lessen the side effects of AAS use, for example by inhibiting or blocking aromatase or preventing oestrogen or other hormones such as prolactin or DHT from interacting with their receptors and causing side-effects.
So this is a basic case of good practice: don't risk starting a cycle and then running into difficulties without anything to fix them. For example problems like male breast growth - called gynecomastia (or 'gyno') - if left too long, can become irreversible without surgery.
Ideally you should always have an aromatase-inhibitor (AI) such as Letrozole, Anastrozole, or Exemestane on-hand in case you need to prevent test from excessive aromatization into estrogen, even when using a SERM, because estrogen has non-receptor mediated effects that can be undesirable. But equally you should have a SERM such as Tamoxifen, Clomiphene or Raloxifene on-hand in case you begin to develop gyno, which you'll probably notice first as intensely itchy nipples.
However you should NEVER use these compounds unless strictly necessary and advised to do so by other experienced users. There are numerous reasons for this approach: for instance, lowering oestrogen levels too far with an AI can actually be counterproductive to muscle growth and may harm your blood lipid profile and even your joints.
Furthermore for many bodybuilders these side-effects may never actually manifest at any dose, as all bodies react differently, while those following sensible low-dose cycles are similarly at lower risk. And most obviously we want to ensure you use the fewest drugs possible, not only to save money but to avoid adding other side-effects or drug interactions (a potential outcome of 'polypharmacy') and protect your health.
SERMs are also the main drugs bodybuilders use for something called post-cycle therapy (PCT). A PCT is a practice undertaken in the first few weeks after your cycle has finished to try and restore your natural testosterone levels, which will be badly suppressed by taking exogenous (oral or injected) AAS.
However a PCT will NOT normally be required for your first cycle, as that should be a single low-dosed compound, and easy to recover from without the use of excessive drugs. In fact, despite the recommendations on many other bodybuilding forums for bodybuilders to use a PCT on every cycle, the reality is that they probably do very little to enhance long-term recovery.
Most PCT drugs are only capable of providing a temporary boost to GnRH, LH and FSH levels, and therefore your own endogenous testosterone while you take them. But frankly this rarely seems to accelerate long-term recovery afterwards, compared to guys who never bother at all.
Indeed, the most recent research corroborates this, suggesting that most bodybuilders never fully recover their former testosterone levels after they've used AAS at high doses or for multiple cycles.
Therefore YOU NEED TO BE AWARE OF THIS RISK before you start messing around with your hormone levels. This is true even if you only plan, at this stage, to do a single cycle.
Learn All About The Common AAS Harms
On some bodybuilding forums, members and moderators will often work together to downplay or dismiss the potential risks and side-effects from the use of AAS - especially the long-term ones - and to ridicule anyone challenging that orthodoxy. We neither support nor respect that approach. When it leads to the outright denial of facts from the available published scientific literature, it appears motivated purely to encourage newbies to use more AAS and ancillaries than necessary.
We can only assume this is to increase sales of various products, ancillaries and AAS bought via websites and online stores, forum owners, moderators and other experienced members. A similar experience may also be had in a gym if you meet contacts there and they advise you on a cycle, so be wary of who you trust and any financial incentive they may have to 'upsell' you.
Because of this, the onus is upon you to educate yourself about the risks and to challenge the preconceived notions and accepted wisdom - such as the correct AAS dose for a first or second cycle etc - parroted by members on many bodybuilding forums. We want you to learn more about the various risks and potential short and long-term harms harms - especially the cardiovascular harms - before you even think about your first cycle, so you can make an informed choice.
So to begin, we advise you to start reading the 'Harms' threads we've discussed before on this forum, and to make sure you ask questions on those threads if you have any, or to start a new thread of your own, even if you think the question is stupid. The only stupid question is the question you don't ask!
You can find all these threads listed in our forum's 'Study Corner' through >>this<< link.
AAS Will Work Poorly If You Abuse Recreational Drugs
Though this may seem obvious, given the emphasis of the rest of Bluelight it's worth making it clear: being heavily addicted to opiates, stimulants or other drugs and trying to run a cycle will generally result in negligible gains. It's usually a waste of time and money. You will spend more time being high than lifting, discipline will slip, and you'll either end up not eating enough or eating too much junk food.
However if you're taking prescribed medication under medical supervision for symptoms such as pain, depression or anxiety, or others such as methadone - or suboxone for maintenance - you should still be able to achieve quality results. It's only when you abuse drugs that it becomes an issue and a problem.
What Should Your First Cycle Look Like?
When you first start using AAS, you have no idea how your body will react, what side-effects you might experience, and what specific AAS will work best for you. Therefore your first cycle should be as simple and easy to follow as possible, and should consist of just a single low-dosed AAS.
Conventionally bodybuilders begin using AAS with the most straightforward compound: testosterone (test). Since the average adult male body naturally produces between 3-7mg of this hormone per day, you're already very familiar with it, albeit at low doses, and so hopefully it won't be too much of a shock to your body when you add some more.
The most common and (for our purposes) useful forms of test are test enanthate or cypionate. These esterified forms of test deliver a relatively steady release of the hormone over the week, rather than releasing it all too quickly, ensuring your blood levels always remain nicely elevated and that you only have to inject twice a week to achieve a decent cycle.
Although you're only going to use a single compound for your first cycle, you'll actually find that for their first few cycles, most bodybuilders prefer to use just one or two compounds in order to learn how they react both to the different individual compounds and various combinations and dosages of them.
Furthermore, even many experienced bodybuilders prefer to use just one or two compounds, as it helps to lessen side-effects, keep things simple, and still provide ample stimulus for growth.
This contrasts with the large, complex, highly-dosed and long-duration cycles some bodybuilders promote online, which can look very advanced, tempting and jaw-droppingly expensive. These cycles are often described as special, the ultimate 'perfect cycle' and uniquely worthy of praise.
They'll contain a lot of this, a lot of that, growth hormones and secretagogues, insulin, IGF-1, and various more obscure compounds and pharmaceuticals all stopped and started in particular phases of the cycle and all apparently designed to turn you into a pro from a single cycle.
While such an extreme approach may indeed work for a tiny minority of exceptionally gifted professional bodybuilders, the reality is that the vast majority of us simply can't hold on to most of the gains we make on a cycle over the longer-term (months and year). If this was not the truth, we would all be massive by now!
Therefore even if your complicated and excessively dosed cycle looks great in theory, and even if you manage to gain a substantial few extra pounds compared to an equivalent simple, low-dosed cycle, the reality is that over the long-run it won't make ANY DIFFERENCE AT ALL.
Most depressingly you'll simply lose most of your extra gains when you come off all the drugs, as you'll be so far above your previous lean body mass (LBM) 'set-point' (the amount of muscle your body was comfortable feeding and maintaining before) that your natural homeostatic systems (such as myostatin levels) will rebound strongly and bring you right back down to earth.
But perhaps worse than losing all your very expensive gains, your body will experience more extreme side-effects, requiring yet more drugs to counteract them, and you'll risk worse long-term harms such as severe mood changes, chronic HPTA shut-down, and things like heart damage and even blood clots from the extreme hormonal gyrations.
If you don't believe me, please take another look at the 'Harms' section of our forum's Study Corner and see for yourself just how many bodybuilders have been harmed and even prematurely killed from abusing AAS.
So, with all these thoughts in mind, one of our recommended first cycles is an admittedly unsexy but very simple, practical and highly effective:
12-Week Starter Cycle With 2-Week Taper
250mg Testosterone Enanthate per week
*Split into two injections (eg 125mg Monday and 125mg Thursday)
Week 13 - Taper Week 1
100mg Testosterone Enanthate per week
*Split into two injections (eg 50mg Monday and 50mg Thursday)
Week 14 - Taper Week 2
50mg Testosterone Enanthate per week
*Split into two injections (eg 25mg Monday and 25mg Thursday)
*Taken every other day (EOD)
*Taken every day, split between morning and evening
1The reason for using the anastrozole is to lower oestrogen levels closer to physiological norms. As already discussed excessively high oestrogen levels can lead to various common side-effects that may not actually happen. But what we're using it for here is to reduce the free-radical (oxidative) damage caused by excessive aromatase activity and oestrogen on the HPTA and testes. By preventing this serious harm from happening in the first place, this should diminish the testicular atrophy caused by AAS and ensure a more easy recovery post-cycle all without the need for SERMs. We extend the use to Week 16 to prevent any rebound in oestrogen levels (as a result of its longer half-life), thus permitting GnRH and LH/FSH levels to return to normal and 'switch on' the testes.
2The reason for using Taurine at this dose is because, aside from having a large number of potential benefits and very few documented harms even at far higher doses, it may further prevent the damage that occurs to the testes during a cycle of AAS. You can have a read about this theory in the Study Corner or click >>here<<
To be continued...