Bodybuilders “are a special breed,” as one practitioner put it on a Bodybuilding.com discussion board back in 2007. It is a lifestyle, the same person wrote, that demands a lot of discipline, patience, and consistency.
In fact, bodybuilders pride themselves on being called “perfectionist” or “vein bodybuilder.”
This leads to an interesting question: Are those bulging veins–called vascularity–bodybuilders proudly display evidence of extreme fitness or are they varicose veins?
Any Vein Protrusion is a Vascular Event
Vascularity refers to a protruding vein, regardless of the underlying cause.
When bodybuilders and competition judges talk about vascularity, they’re referring to a must-have characteristic to win competitions. Bulging veins are desirable features in the these “key areas,” according to Bodybuilding.com:
Forearms, which should be “ridiculously vascular” with veins that “ripple down your lower arms like snakes.”
The best, and safest, way for bodybuilders to get ripped is to reach a very low percentage of body fat, seven percent or lower according to Bodybuilding.com.
A varicose vein is vascularity that’s the result of swollen veins and can happen regardless of body fat percentage. It looks a lot like the snake-like veins bodybuilders strive for their arms. But a bodybuilder’s vascularity is the result of higher blood pressure in the arteries, according to Scientific American.
During a high-intensity workout, plasma fluid that normally remains in the capillaries are forced out through their surface and into the surrounding muscle, a process called filtration. The muscles swell and harden, and push cutaneous veins just under the skin to flatten. In a person with very low body fat–like a bodybuilder–the veins will bulge out.
Bodybuilders Can Get Varicose Veins, Too
As we noted above, varicose veins condition can be genetic. If a parent had them, chances are that a child will, too. They can also develop after intense training.
Bodybuilders do a lot of weightlifting. According to an article from Common Medical Questions, extreme weight lifting can stress the circulatory system, specifically the blood vessels and capillaries. Sometimes blood will pool in weakened veins. Both can cause varicose veins.
There are a few ways weightlifters can avoid this development:
Mix up the workout routine and include some cardiovascular exercises to keep the blood flowing properly
Alternate between standing and sitting for leg workouts
Elevate legs after workouts
Don’t add more weights until you’re really ready for the additional load
Drink plenty of water throughout the day
Don’t train on hard surfaces
Wear compression socks
Warning Signs of Varicose Veins
Thankfully, varicose veins don’t happen suddenly.
Bodybuilders and trainers should look for signs that they may be stressing their veins too much. Here are some of the symptoms to watch for:
Itching around the veins
Pain or cramps, particularly in the legs
Sensation of heaviness
Thinning or dry skin
Swollen veins that do not go down after workouts
Keep in mind that vascular swelling is normal during a workout. If the swelling doesn’t go away, there could be a vascular vein development.
Older people are more prone to develop varicose veins; the same goes for bodybuilders. Weight gain is another cause of varicose veins and is almost inevitable with age. Men may produce less testosterone and more estrogen, one of the triggers for varicose veins (and the reason why pregnant women are also susceptible to them).
Treatment includes many of the preventions listed earlier, including wearing compression socks and elevating the legs. Massage may help as well. A trained surgeon can also remove varicose veins.