Bars and weights. Chalk and sweat. There is nothing more masculine and virile than lifting weights and unleashing the potential that is in your body but sadly things are a little different when you mix in two aspects that many people overlook when looking at male athletes. Low Testosterone and Depression. As a male strength athlete who suffers from both of these conditions I can tell you right now that they are factors when looking at training and competing. This article is not going to be full of science and I’m not going to pretend that I know everything there is about depression or low testosterone but I will give you a hands on analysis on how an individual with these factors feels and how that effects their training. How this article will progress is I will talk about my experience with Low Testosterone and then Depression followed by the conclusion on how do these effect the male athlete and how to train with/coach an individual with these traits. Ready? Let’s begin.
First lets talk about Low Testosterone. I was 20 years old, busting my ass in the gym for 4-5 hours a day, eating a ton (4,000-5,000 calories a day), and barely getting stronger but definitely getting fatter. I was depressed (which we will talk about later) and I realized that I was almost developing breast. Not fat pectorals, straight up boobs. On top of that my sex life wasn’t as great as you would expect a 20 year olds to be. Minimal want for sex and when I did want it I usually wasn’t up for the occasion. HA. Get it. UP.
Ahh, you get it.
I went to my doctor who mentioned that all of the signs pointed towards Low Testosterone and decided to run a blood test. Sadly they have to send out the blood for their Testosterone level test so it took about 2 weeks to get the results back to me. I don’t remember how low my test levels were but I remember it being extremely low; low enough for my doctor to do a triple take at the results. He told me that he definitely recommends Hormone Replacement Therapy and pointed me to their Endocrinology department. When you get there they ask about 500 million questions based on eating habits, activity level, sex, water intake, and recreational drug use. If you mention that you lift weights they will ask you around 70 thousand more questions to make sure you aren’t just trying to get Trenbolone and Winstrol from them.
After the inquisition they take your blood AGAIN and basically say SEE YA IN A FEW WEEKS. Don’t ask why they are doing the blood tests again because they will say something stupid like, “because we want to make sure that these results are really yours” or something stupid like that. Two more weeks of wondering what is going to happen pass and the results come in as the same as the first time. Imagine that…
Now you get to meet your Endocrinologist who, if you are lucky, won’t think that you are just some meathead trying to get swole for summer. She recommended that I get on this gel and gave me the LOWEST dose available. This is when I realized that my super low testosterone levels didn’t mean dick to her and that I was never going feel great. I start the day by rubbing this goop all over my shoulders and chest around 8am and by 9am most of it has rubbed off on my shirt and I have sweat the remainder off. Basically the worst option for a sweaty guy like me. At our next meeting I tell her that I want to switch to injections and she once again puts me on the lowest option available (150mg of Testosterone Enanthate every 3 weeks) and the realization that my health and mental well being is not very important to her starts to solidify.
The next day I go and get my first shot and that’s when it happened.
Clarity. Mental bliss. Almost Nirvana-like. Happiness.
Within minutes of having the first testosterone shot in my system I felt better. Mentally I felt like I could handle my problems better but I didn’t feel anything physically until around my 3rd injection. Better contractions in my workout, more energy, and a libido that was starting to make a comeback and would make the sex gods proud. That all sounds great right?! The sad part of this is that all of the mental aspects of having more testosterone would all be gone after 5 days and most of the physical aspects would be gone by day 8. That’s the way testosterone injections works, it only stays as in your system as long as the ethers allow it to. Though Enanthate is one of the longest ethers it wouldn’t stay in my system long enough to get to the next injection. This was my life, Highs and lows. A literal roller coaster of hormonal torture where you felt awesome for around 5 days and for the next 16 days you would be dragged down to the slums.
It went this way for 8 months. These were the first 8 months of my life as an amateur strongman. That’s when I decided to find another Endocrinologist who would listen to my complaints and start doing what was good for me rather than what they just wanted to do.
Since around 5th grade I have dealt with depression, only I never knew I was depressed. I knew that I felt good one day and for the next few days to month I would feel utterly worthless. There is no tick that sent me into these manic states of depression. There was no rhyme or reason, it would just happen and I had no control over it. Because I had no control over it I also never knew what to do to make myself feel better. I went through school and life doing the bare minimum, which effected me negatively, which would make me feel badly about myself, and resulted in me feeling even worse when I went through a bout of manic depression. Whatever that was bad is INTENSLY multiplied when I am going through a depressive state and there was nothing that can be said or done to make me think clearly enough to realize that it is will pass. Suicide felt like a valid option for a while during high school especially since I didn’t have many friends. I didn’t think anyone would miss me and if they did, there would only be a few and I would be dead so who cares, right? Luckily enough for me I was saved by British comedy.
Stephen Fry, one of my favorite British comedians and actors, made a comment on how depression affected his life. He said that depression is like your personal weather and…
“If you go outside and it is raining, it is not you who made it rain. It has rained
and it is real. You can’t unthink the rain. You can’t see that it is raining and
say ‘Oh I’ll just walk it off’ and that will make it sunny. The weather makes up
its own mind. The two mistakes made are to either deny that it’s
raining, when it clearly is, and the other thing is to say ‘It’s raining, therefore
my life is over’. We all know it is a nuisance when it is raining but we should
all realize that eventually, the sun WILL come out.”
When I went into a manic depression episode, nothing seemed possible. Tomorrow seemed years away, or even impossible to think about. Goals seem pointless. It can be painful. Very painful. So painful that sometimes you think that there is only one option left. Without help these thoughts become more and more prominent and sometimes you try something stupid. Luckily for me, I never stepped over the like separating ideas and action.
Fast forward to when I am 20 years old. I am talking to my doctor about my low testosterone and he mentions that low testosterone can actually affect your brain chemistry and can lead to depression and even manic depression if untreated. “Ok” I thought, “so now not only am I going to actually feel like I am supposed to feel physically and mentally, but I am going to be happy while doing it! Sign me up!” The mental clarity and euphoric feeling that came with the testosterone injections definitely helped keep me out of those depression phases but just like the testosterone in the testosterone treatments, those feeling seemed to fade between injections and I found myself crashing every week now. Once I changed endocrinologists and got on a weekly regimen, I began to stay out of depression’s grasp more often. I still get suffer from depression but not nearly as much as I used to.
SO WHAT’S ALL THIS ABOUT?
When looking at what the most successful male strength athletes, you tend to see a few common traits.
1 – They are goal orientated and work hard towards their goals.
2 – They find ways to motivate themselves internally.
3 – Testosterone. Lots of Testosterone.
That third trait is achieved through parent given genetics or through hormonal enhancements. Not much more to say about that, so we are going to concentrate on the first two traits.
Goals are reached through hard work and consistency. How else do you expect to show up those sheep/cattle/passive barn animal in the gym who the wolf/lion/beast mode animal is? The only problem is how do are you expected to reach these goals if you will be in a deep depressive state at different moments during your training routine? Goals end up being forgotten and brushed away or, in my case, constantly re-made. The problem with re-making goals is that no one takes you seriously anymore. I have re-made my goal of weight loss many times, so many that some people have even mocked them. Though I don’t blame them for doing so, it’s hard to stay motivated and on track when people act that way towards you. This leads me to the second trait…
Motivation is an important aspect of sport psychology and without it getting up in the morning to do your cardio or lifting is a massive obstacle. Looking at training through motivation alone, depression will keep you unmotivated and out of the gym and low testosterone will probably end your training sessions early. When I get in my depressive state I can’t even get motivated enough to shower daily let alone get out of bed, drive to the gym, and train. What was the point? In my head nothing mattered, not even my health. I found that most of my motivation had to come EXTERNALLY, from outside sources. I got motivated watching the best strongmen and powerlifters compete. Those stupid motivation posters on Instagram motivated me. Music motivated me. It never came from within.
SO HOW CAN YOU HELP?
When dealing with an athlete who lives with low testosterone, make sure they are getting treated. Have them meet with their doctor and an endocrinologist to get them the help they need. There are plenty of clinics out there that can help or point you to somewhere that can. The increase of testosterone will increase their mood, energy, endurance, and their libido as well, which is a nice perk.
Dealing with an athlete with depression is a bit harder to help. First of all, the athlete will probably not have an alpha personality. Shyness, a need to impress/keep you happy, and docility are pretty big traits. They will most likely not tell you they suffer from depression and will seem to be flaky but try to stay with them. Don’t tell them to snap out of it or to cut it out and definitely don’t compare their depression to “that one time you got sad” or some stupid shit like that. Support your athlete/teammate by letting them talk about it if they want to. If they prefer to be home, call or text them after training and make sure they know that they are important to you and/or your team.
This may be hard for a lot of you, especially those with Alpha personalities. Just remember that this is not babying your athlete/teammate. You are not enabling their behavior. You are not coddling them. You are not pampering them. Instead you are helping them realize that there is something to look forward to, a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. You may even be giving them a reason to live.
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