BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 17:29 GMT
Weight training too far
David Richards
David Richards lifting his target weight of 400lbs
Father-of-two David Richards weight trains so hard that he has to put his session at the gym before going to see his children in school plays.

He will even attempt to lift weights beyond his physical limit when he has injured himself or he is ill and believes the feeling that it gives him is better than sex.

Don't tell the ladies - it's better than sex. No woman could make me feel like that

David Richards
Mr Richards is one of a growing band of men who have "bigorexia" - a condition that is the complete opposite to anorexia - and features in BBC2's First Sight: Muscle Madness on Thursday.

While anorexics will misrepresent their size upwards, bigorexics misrepresent their size downwards, pushing themselves to develop bigger and bigger muscles and a larger, more formidable torso.

Some people blame the phenomena on the expansion in the number of gyms - 500 in London and another 100 planned - plus the pressure on men through magazines and advertising to be more macho.

'Male baldness'

But while over-training, especially with steroids, can create an inappropriate sex drive, it can also have the less than macho affect of shrinking testicles and male pattern baldness.

Craig Lister, manager of Jubilee Hall Gyms, said: "I have seen an increase in the number of gyms, an increase in the amount of weight that people can use in gyms, an increase in the machines that have very heavy plate load systems.

"I see far more muscular people in gyms.

"Bigorexics have quite good muscularity anyway, but they don't represent that to their own mind and they want to become larger and bigger all the time."

Consultant psychiatrist Dr John Morgan says bigorexia, or muscle dismorphia, is "as old as the hills" and is increasing in prevalence.

Craig Lister
Craig Lister

"It is very much a psychological disorder and will manifest itself in weight training because in that they don't appreciate they have got a condition themselves.

"If you were to approach them and say 'I think you have got bigorexia', they would deny it in the same way that most anorexics would."

Six meals a day

To keep his weight up in a bid to reach his current target of 14 stone, Mr Richards eats six meals a day. He follows this with a routine of weighing and measuring himself.

Meals include eggs, porridge, a few tins of mackerel or tuna at work, chicken breast, bananas, a litre of orange juice, pasta and protein shakes - some at 600 calories per serving.

He spends more than 100 a month on protein and calorie drinks.

It is like being addicted to drugs. You live off the high

Ian Wade
"It came to a point that I didn't even want to walk to the bus stop because I was scared I was going to lose a bit of weight. It's not madness really, it's all in your head," he said.

Mr Lister says of bigorexics: "They have a pre-occupation with their diet. They focus on eating products that are determined to make them more muscular and less fat and more often than not, these products will not supply them with all the vitamins and nutrients they need.

"They are not natural products. They are highly refined products and in many cases, they don't do what they say they are going to do. Their diet is lacking in many essential vitamins and minerals and fibre."

Relationship problems

The condition gets in the way of relationships. "A lot of things come and go. Friendships come and go. Girlfriends come and go. Gym is always going to be there. Female company doesn't really matter to me," said Mr Richards.

When it comes to his children, he said: "Even if I went to that panto, I would have been wishing I was somewhere else, wishing that I was in that gym. I am only going to regret it the next week, that I have missed one day's training."

David Richards
David works out even when he is in pain

Despite having pain in his elbow, First Sight shows Mr Richards pushing himself to lift 400lbs. After he achieves his goal, he says: "That's the best buzz in the world. Don't tell the ladies - it's better than sex. No woman could make me feel like that."

Mr Richards even admits taking a "few sickies" from his job as a bookings clerk at Kings College Hospital, because he was either exhausted from training or was training.

"I don't think anybody could actually tell me I have got to stop. I have got to tell me I've got to stop," he added.

Ian Wade trained excessively until an accident in the gym meant he did not have the use of his hand for some months. He has since given up the gym because he cannot "trust" himself not to push it to the limits.

"There was no messing around. I had to get to the gym. I certainly wouldn't miss a session. If it meant I got to the gym at 9pm or 10pm at night, I would have to have gone because I would have been unbearable," said Ian.


He stressed: "It is like being addicted to drugs. You live off the high. You live off the feeling of when you're doing well and you build on it so it is like taking a stronger drug every time."

Dr Morgan said the excess training was about a person exerting control over the one thing they can control - themselves.

Mr Lister said steroid usage resulted in side effects, including kidney and liver disfunctions and cancers and baldness. "Your testicles shrink. So people want to become more masculine and infact their testicles shrink."

Simon Gellor, editor of Men's Health, admitted using cover pictures of "absurdly genetically gifted men". "They are a kind of reminder of what a man's body can look like," he said.

First Sight: Muscle Madness Thursday, November 15 BBC2 1930GMT

See also:

22 Jun 01 | Health
Mini muscle power at the gym
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories