For most of us, getting fit and bulking up involves hours of work at the gym. But not so for Kirill Tereshin, a Russian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter who decided to take a shortcut to major gains. Unfortunately for the bodybuilder, however, the method he chose could actually cause him major harm. Indeed, the substance inside his freakishly large biceps isn’t muscle tissue at all, but something far more dangerous.
Despite eventually taking the route he did to achieve his biceps, 23-year-old Tereshin did train extensively in the gym from a young age. However, a couple of years into his fitness regime, he was called up for military service. Following his brief stint in the Russian Army, Tereshin then turned his attention to the world of MMA.
Unfortunately, his MMA career hasn’t quite gone to plan so far. Indeed, in October 2019 he participated in his first bout – but was defeated in under three minutes by an opponent 20 years his senior. While Tereshin did manage to throw his weight around in the opening stages of the fight, he soon found himself on his back.
The showdown then came to a swift end when Tereshin’s opponent, a blogger named Oleg Mongol, placed his forearm on the younger man’s windpipe. Prior to the fight, Tereshin had trained with Ashab Tamaev, a teenager dubbed “The Russian Hulk” for his enormous size. Unhappily for Tereshin, that training didn’t pay off on his MMA debut.
Beyond the world of martial arts, Tereshin has made a name for himself on social media. He currently has around 430,000 followers on Instagram, for instance, where he regularly posts images of his gargantuan biceps. Those pictures rack up thousands of likes and comments, while videos of his lavish lifestyle attain hundreds of thousands of views.
As a result, Tereshin lives much of his life in the public eye. It’s no surprise, then, that two of his engagements have been covered by news outlets around the world. The bodybuilder was originally due to wed Olesya Malibu, a Russian TV personality and model. However, she publicly and dramatically ditched Tereshin in September 2018, claiming the MMA fighter was hanging around with other women.
Three months later, Tereshin was engaged again, this time to Victoria Yakynina, a blogger and social media personality. Yakynina subsequently posted images of herself trying on wedding dresses on her Instagram profile in December 2018. In the weeks between his engagements, however, Tereshin uploaded a bizarre video to his own social pages.
In the clip, Tereshin attempted to turn his fortunes around by shaving his eyebrows, claiming it would improve his love life in the wake of his split from Malibu. He then demonstrated for his viewers exactly how to shave, emphasizing that he was using an “ordinary razor.” Despite the strange video, there’s no telling whether the bodybuilder’s lack of eyebrows were a selling point for Yakynina.
Nevertheless, it’s undoubtedly the Russian’s eye-wateringly large biceps that have gained him the most attention. And it’s no wonder: they’re massive, and hugely disproportionate to the rest of his slender physique. In fact, Tereshin’s arms have each swelled to a whopping 24 inches, earning him several nicknames – including “Bazooka arms” and “Popeye.”
Alas, Tereshin’s arms haven’t been built up through natural means. And the manner by which he achieved them could prove not only harmful, but even fatal in the worst circumstances. Yet the Russian bodybuilder isn’t the first to turn to potentially dangerous methods to boost his performance and physique. In fact, there’s a long history of humans artificially improving themselves.
Indeed, performance-enhancing drugs have been widely used across sport, academia and even in the military. But in most instances, they’re either frowned upon, or outright banned. In sport, for instance, the use of performance-enhancing substances is more commonly referred to as “doping” and it’s viewed as highly unethical. But it’s also as old as sport itself, dating back to ancient times.
In ancient Rome, for example, athletes would consume mixtures infused with herbs to boost their strength. And the ancient Olympic Games weren’t free of doping either, with contestants reportedly ingesting mushrooms and sheep testicles to improve their performance. Even then, cheating was prosecuted: if you were caught using any of these methods, you’d be banned from the games for life.
Despite those early punishments, though, the use of performance-enhancing drugs has endured over the centuries. In the 19th century, pedestrianism – a type of walking race – was all the rage, but it required extreme endurance from participants. And one contestant, Abraham Wood, admitted in 1807 that he’d consumed opiates to stay awake for an entire day.
These walking races soon gave way to bicycle races, which were thought to offer more enjoyment for spectators. And as their popularity increased, so too did the prize pool, further incentivizing participants to dope. Nitroglycerine, a stimulant normally given following a heart attack, was commonly used to help with the riders’ breathing.
The effects on riders were strange, whether directly from the drugs or indirectly from exhaustion. For instance, many competitors experienced hallucinations. Indeed, American cyclist Major Taylor was once quoted as saying, “I cannot go on with safety, for there is a man chasing me around the ring with a knife in his hand.”
And yet it wasn’t until the 1920s that sports organizations began to crack down on doping. The first such body to do so was the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which banned performance-enhancing substances in 1928. But its power was limited: unlike today, rigorous tests were impossible to conduct, so the organization essentially had to take athletes at their word.
Eventually, though, other organizations began piling into the war on drugs in sport, and tests were established. The first such checks for athletes were undertaken in 1968 by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for both its summer and winter games. Soccer’s governing body FIFA followed suit two years later. And in 1999, the IOC established the first World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), improving the effectiveness of its drug tests.
This harsh view on doping hasn’t stopped plenty of high-profile individuals from partaking of performance-enhancing substances, however. For instance, renowned cyclist and Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong spent years denying allegations of doping. But in 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency concluded that he had in fact fronted “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
What’s more, 11 years before Armstrong had first doped his way to success in the Tour De France, Canadian athlete Ben Johnson sprinted his way to an unbelievable victory at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But there was a reason it was so hard to fathom, particularly given Johnson’s stiff competition from former and future champions. Indeed, it quickly transpired he had used steroids to win what’s since been described as “the dirtiest race in history” by author Richard Moore.
While many consider the use of performance-enhancing drugs to be unethical, not everyone shares that view. For instance, philosophy professor Alva Noë argued in 2012 that doping is simply an inevitable solution for athletes trying to outdo each other. “I honestly can’t see any principled difference between blood doping, and carbo-loading or high-low altitude training,” he wrote in an article for National Public Radio, adding, “The project is to figure out a way to transform themselves so that they can do it better than anyone else.”
In modern sport, the most common substances used by athletes are those that fall under the far-reaching umbrella of anabolic steroids. “There are about 2,000 different tweaks you could do to a steroid molecule that would all probably make you big and strong,” University of California pharmacologist Don Catlin told Nature magazine in 2012. Indeed, combining steroids with regular exercise can reportedly increase the user’s strength by around 38 percent.
Steroids aren’t the only drugs favored by athletes hoping to dope their way to the top, however. Human growth hormone is also popular for supposedly fast-tracking muscle growth, but its effects aren’t quite as widely proven. In fact, just one study has demonstrated beneficial results, increasing the user’s sprinting capacity by 4 percent.
While these substances may have short-term benefits – provided their users can evade detection – they also carry potentially negative side effects. Human growth hormone, for instance, can lead to increased cholesterol, carpal tunnel syndrome, and joint, nerve and muscle pain. What’s more, it can even lead to an increased risk of diabetes, and perhaps even worsen tumors.
Meanwhile, anabolic steroids can have similarly damaging effects. For example, they can cause baldness and sterility in men, and hair loss and bad skin in women. But neither anabolic steroids nor human growth hormone are what Tereshin pumped into his arms. In fact, the Russian bodybuilder used a substance that could have even more severe consequences.
Indeed, Tereshin actually used synthol to achieve his seemingly massive biceps. While steroids cannot be legally purchased without a prescription, you can simply buy synthol online. And that’s led to a trend in the bodybuilding world, with many people relying on the Vaseline-like substance to build what’s effectively empty muscle.
Synthol contains small amounts of alcohol and lidocaine, a type of local anesthetic. But its primary ingredient is purely oil, and that’s what Tereshin and many other bodybuilders are using for instant muscle growth. Indeed, it takes effect immediately after being injected, so it’s little surprise that it’s often marketed as the quickest way to make gains.
According to personal trainer Chris Muir, the recent synthol pandemic has been driven by usage across Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. “Taking synthol is a quick and easy way to look big and muscular without actually having to lift weights or be strong,” he wrote for fitness website CALIBER in 2015. “For that reason, it often appeals mostly to younger guys who don’t train properly, or who are just getting into bodybuilding, and want that quick fix.”
While it may be a quick and easy route to looking the part, synthol also carries all kinds of health risks – as Tereshin has since discovered. Following his heavy use of the substance, he was told that he could die – or at least suffer a double amputation – if he didn’t undergo surgery to remove the oil from his arms.
Indeed, as far back as 2017 medical experts expressed concern over Tereshin’s methods for bulking up. For example, Dr. Yuriy Serebryanskiny told British tabloid newspaper The Sun that things could end very badly for the MMA fighter. “He could lose movement in his arms,” he said. “The muscles could turn into ballast that he won’t be able to use to lift things. He could end up disabled.”
In total, Tereshin injected approximately six liters of synthol into his arms, saturating the muscle tissue. This had the effect of blocking the flow of blood through his body, causing the tissue to die. As a result, the bodybuilder experienced external symptoms including fever and pain, leaving him with no choice but to undergo an operation to remove the oil.
In the end, it was 32-year-old campaigner Alana Mamaeva who finally persuaded Tereshin to go through with the surgery. And she helped him raise the three million roubles – about $48,600 – needed for the operation, telling British newspaper Metro in November 2019, “We are going to try and help this young man.” And before he headed in for the first stage of the procedure, Tereshin told her, “I am ready, I am even not afraid.”
The bodybuilder underwent the first stage in November 2019, but requires at least three more sessions to fully remove the vast amounts of synthol in his arms. In a video filmed immediately after that first pass under the knife, Tereshin can be seen anxiously asking the surgeon, “How many muscles have I lost?”
The operation took place at First Moscow State Medical University, led by surgeon Dmitry Melnikov. In that first session, the medical staff removed a whopping three pounds of dead muscle from Tereshin’s arms, along with three liters of petroleum jelly. The mass had formed into a single, solid lump, which Melnikov described in another video as “scar tissue with fragments of muscles.”
“Petroleum jelly saturates the muscles, under skin tissues and the skin itself,” Melnikov told The Sun. “All that has to be removed, but we need to keep the vein, nerves and other functions of the limb.” Meanwhile, Tereshin showed off his post-surgery arms in another video, including the lumps of tissue that had been removed. He then referred to them as his “treasures,” before adding, “Get yourself a piece, it’s ‘sale’ time.”
Melnikov also stressed that Tereshin was fortunate the damage had been constrained to his limbs, rather than spreading to other parts of his body. “Petroleum jelly affects the whole body, kidneys in particular,” the surgeon told Metro. “I think Kirill did not fully realize the consequences of what he had been doing.” Once the surgery is complete, it’s hoped that Tereshin will be able to move his arms – he just won’t have any more fake muscles.
According to Melnikov, the use of synthol as a quick beauty treatment is on the rise in Russia. Indeed, it’s seen by many as a cheap alternative to plastic surgery, which can be prohibitively expensive. “We have seen petroleum jelly injected into breasts, buttocks, and other parts of the female body,” the doctor told The Sun. “We are warning that it is extremely dangerous.”
His freakishly large biceps aren’t the only physical enhancement Tereshin has put his body through, however. In 2018 he underwent surgery to have silicon implanted into his legs – but only after promising surgeons that he wouldn’t then inject synthol into them. “I will make my calves look like my arms,” Tereshin boasted on social media at the time. “My nuclear weapon will be the most powerful and big.”
It’s not just medical professionals who have shared their concerns over Tereshin’s extreme shortcuts to bodybuilding. Powerlifter Kirill Sychev told The Sun in 2017, “You can see it in his face, there is something unhealthy about it. This is a person who needs complex medical help. Not just to drain his arms and detox his blood, but also psychiatric help.”
Nevertheless, Tereshin certainly isn’t alone in his pursuit of beefy limbs by unconventional means. Valdir Segato, who hails from Sao Paulo, Brazil, has injected copious amounts of synthol into his body, earning him the nickname of “The Monster.” Like Tereshin, Segato has been warned by doctors that he’s risking amputation, but he has seemingly refused to stop using the substance.
According to the New York Post newspaper, Tereshin had originally planned to inject the synthol into other areas of his body. But when he began developing problems in his arms, he kicked those plans to the curb. Now, he’s a quarter of the way through the surgery needed to rescue just those limbs from amputation – perhaps proving it doesn’t pay to take shortcuts in the world of bodybuilding.