1. Seriously competent strength coaches with good client bases and reasonable cashflow need to recognize that some of their lifters, or even many of them, are struggling with mental health. Each of those lifters may be strong as an ox, but that isn’t the only measurement of overall health.

  2. Strength coaches are not shrinks, doctors, or counsellors. Providing therapy or counselling isn’t their business, literally or figuratively. But recognizing that this population exists, and meeting its needs, is a strength coach’s business.

  3. A strength coach with some headroom in his budget should set up a Mental Fitness Workout, where lifters with psych issues can work out in a confident, as opposed to safe, environment. That means lifters can confidently lift even if they’re having a bad day psychologically or emotionally.


I’ve spent the last two years getting annoyed at (bordering on angry with) strength coaches and giant weightlifters who nag readers about the need for “mental toughness” or “emotional strength.”

  • In one case, I posted a complaint that I still stand by. The context was ginger strength coach Matt Nichol as seen on Instagram. (Some edits.)

    You’re a millionaire ginger colossus. Some of your best friends are professional athletes. But you’re using a popular medium to communicate to thousands of civilians.

    Hence you shouldn’t be ignorant of the context. Like Jocko Willink posting a photo every day of the hour (04:30) when he gets up to work out, whenever a wildly accomplished giant poses the question “What’s your excuse‽” the outcome will be this: Some readers, especially young males, who have real and serious conditions limiting their ability to exercise will feel more like losers than usual.

    Keep up this kind of pressure and you and up with Wade Belak.

    Belak played in the NHL, but ultimately committed suicide.

    Men who follow you want to be as big and strong as rich as you are. Some face barriers to which you ought to be more aware. You’re a coach; act like one.

    Nichol’s response? None, apart from blocking me on Instagram like a teenage girl. (Plus he or somebody else reported my comment.)

    I continued, in one of two E-mails Nichol also ignored:

    Some colossi (even gingers: Belak also was one) are dealing with depression and/or anxiety. Just as an example, the two best-known out gay professional athletes in Australia are both named Ian (Thorpe and Roberts) and both have serious mental-health “issues.” (Thorpe is a depressive with previous near-suicidal episodes. Roberts is a depressive with an acquired brain injury who was functionally illiterate until, paradoxically, he enrolled in drama school. And he makes you look like a midget.)

    Body and mind are inseparable, except when ostensibly well-meaning ginger-colossus coaches separate them on Instagram.

  • This giant is pushing 50, which I suppose makes him an eldergay, though few of us look quite like that. He’d mentioned a bit of dysmorphia (or, in a term he didn’t use, bigorexia), but he listed the following in the cutline of his Instagram posting:

    I went social-media-dark this week for a number of reasons, but the primary reason being the worst wave of depression that I’ve had in about 30 years. Didn’t even make it to the gym all week, which was troubling. Anyway, I picked up the pieces this morning and did a quick routine to get the blood going.

    (I did send this fellow a note and ask for a comment.)

  • A more sobering example was that of Chris Duffin (q.v.), very much an army of one and possibly the third-strongest man in the United States.

    Duffin and various others shirtless. BUILDING PHYSICAL, MENTAL, & EMOTIONAL STRENGTH with Chris Duffin

    I wrote a couple of comments along these lines:

    …what you have not addressed is your de facto boss or spokesman Chris Duffin’s repeated insistence, in podcast interviews, that a man must demonstrate “mental toughness” (his exact words). At the very least this sets up an implication that mind can always triumph over matter.

    After all, look how much Duffin overcame and what an amazing specimen he now is. You, the lifter who isn’t as big as Duffin (who is?), obviously really must have something wrong with you if you can’t achieve his levels of “mental toughness.” […]

    Duffin… needs to make much less ambiguous statements about what he truly believes “mental toughness” means. He has more than enough forums available to do so, and, at a certain point, his refusal to clarify what he means becomes indistinguishable from expecting us to take him at face value.

    Even walking into the whole topic with antennæ up and alert to strongman mental health, someone I assailed for ignoring that topic was living it. I’m glad I waited a year and a half before writing any of this, because Duffin’s interviews with Chad Aichs showed just how wrong I was. While he doesn’t talk about it much, Duffin inherited bipolarism from his father, and Aichs dealt with – “battled” is not a cliché – sleeplessness, anxiety and depression, and a suicide attempt.

This shit is real, and it was happening even where I was already looking. I don’t abide suffering (hence I’m a pro-life vegan); I will not sit idly by while men suffer. Whether it should be or not, it is more shocking when depression and the like strike men who are otherwise pictures of health.

One solution:
The Mental Fitness Workout

As I described it to Nichol (edited):

Start up, and advertise the existence of, a training period each week set aside for athletes of the calibre you generally coach who also are dealing with some kind of mental-health “issue.” The Australians always have a good turn of phrase for such things: “mental fitness.”

You’d list your Mental Fitness sessions on, say, your Web site, but wouldn’t list the place and time. That’s for members only and is nobody else’s business. (But if you don’t advertise that the sessions exist, nobody will know they exist, hence nobody will show up. People can just ask about meeting times and suchlike.)

You would be establishing a confident space for high-performing athletes where they can perform at high levels without feeling like a total fucking loser because they can’t live up to your actually oppressive inspirational messages on the Internet. They can be depressed and/or anxious the rest of the week. When they’re with you, they can train. That’s what you’re for.

You have enough rich and famous clients. You’re rich and famous enough yourself. You can set aside two hours a week for a Mental Fitness Workout.

Further on logistics:

  • You the participant would just show up at the coach’s weightroom. Because the times are unadvertised, nobody’s hovering around the entrance waiting to finger you as defective.

  • You wouldn’t be alone.

  • You can talk about what’s going on or not. This still isn’t therapy. [Except inasmuch as it is therapeutic to lift weight(s).]

  • Obviously you can also show up at other times; it isn’t either/or. But a specially designated time can get you unstuck. If you can go to the gym anytime, then when you’re feeling lousy you might not go at any time… except at this specified slot that you, your coach, and your friends all use.

  • Should the sessions be free of charge? I say yes. Americans would errantly dismiss that as “charity”; it’s merely another incentive, another way to get you unstuck.

I think this idea could work. It doesn’t need publicity beyond the discrete local level handled by each coach and gym.

(Who wouldn’t give this a shot in a million years? Rippetoe.)

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2018.03.05 14:52. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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