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The bodybuilding dilemma

A man training in a gym.

I had a chance over Christmas to talk to a German friend of mine about his experience of bodybuilding and taking regular testosterone shots as part of his training regime.

My friend, in his late 30s, told me he started this regime of supplements and training earlier in the year because it had been something he had always wanted to try. Up until this point he had trained regularly at the gym and maintained a healthy diet. At the back of his mind had always been an interest in “getting big” and turbo-charging this process through testosterone injections.

His experience of this did not exactly meet his expectation of what would actually happen. As he describes it, for months, during which time he did indeed bulk up (adding 20 kilogrammes in the process), he found himself trapped in a punishing routine of constant eating and almost mechanistic exercising.

The former meant starting each day early with a protein shake and then eating or consuming a shake every couple of hours (what he describes as an exhausting and soul-destroying experience), while attending the gym to a rigid schedule so as to work with weights and on specific body parts in rotation.

This particularly became a problem if he was held up at work or with other commitments, leading to stressful and elongated days where everything revolved around working out or eating.

He also told me that during this period his genitals shrunk.

Not an entirely encouraging picture, all in all.

Today, my friend is a happy, relaxed and fit guy, back to his normal gym routine and diet. He looks fine and is happier in himself. From my point of view, he also looks great (better, I would say than during his bodybuilding phase, when he looked completely different; much heavier and thicker).

I find bodybuilding and the culture that surrounds it fascinating. I understand the driving motivations, how powerful they are to the male psyche, and how bodybuilding can pay off in (slightly obvious) aesthetic terms for men. The shrinking genitals part I can do without, and which sits ironically with the supposed benefits in making men appear more attractive in a certain way and to a particular constituency.

I also appreciate how attractive the turbo-charging aspect of using supplements such as testosterone can be.

For myself, however, my concern with such intense (bodybuilding) training is not the discipline or methods themselves, but the regime that can come with it. Committing to such a regimen requires focus, determination and staying power. It can also mean wrapping your entire life around the training experience - not unlike training for a major sporting or competitive event. It requires total buy-in and can only deliver as long as the training (and supplements) are maintained.

It is an investment.

For myself, though I respect the bodybuilding discipline and those who do commit to it, I favour a balanced and long-term training programme which balances a healthy, less-regimented diet, balanced (though equality technical!) exercise and which delivers flexibility and rounded fitness for the long-term.

There is a lot to be learned from bodybuilding and the results can indeed be spectacular. But it is not in any sense an easy training option or one which comes without real inner strength and sacrifice.

Just ask my friend.


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