How Resistance Training Can Improve Mental Health

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

The rate of mental health issues and especially depression have been significantly on a rise for the past few years. We can speculate about the reason and try to blame certain institutions and industries and that might help to some extent, but in many cases, it can just lead to further worsening the issue.


Instead, I think we should try to find some proven ways to improve our current state.

I am not an expert in that field and I definitely think that you should seek help from qualified professionals. But, here is what you should also consider if you are someone struggling with mental health – Resistance training.


Wait, what?


Resistance training has been shown to not only improve physical but to also positively impact mental health as well.


It makes sense of course, as it teaches you to discipline, it teaches you that in order to get results, you have to put in the work. Personal trainers knew that, as they have seen the effects on people. I don’t think there is a personal trainer that has not seen the positive effects of resistance or any form of training on people.


In fact, the very first person I consistently trained had suffered from depression. That was around the time I was doing my personal trainer certificate. I had a friend of mine that was struggling with depression. She had dropped out of college, felt like she doesn’t have friends and her family does not support her. She even had scars on her hands, from a razor blade. She explained that the physical pain is easier to handle than the mental one, so it was a good distraction.


I don’t know how, I am probably a very persuasive person, but I managed to convince her to be my client. For free. Without even going to the gym. I bought some resistance bands and 2 small dumbbells and set up a tiny space in my kitchen. Later one, we managed to go out in the garden. The reason being was that she did not want to be seen by anyone.


We trained three times per week, with what we had. We did squats, shoulder presses, lunges, dumbbell rows, and push-ups. Ouf, those push-ups man. This was the thing that she struggled the most with. She said that is too much effort for nothing, it is never going to work and there is no point.


We trained for 3 months and she managed to do 2 full push-ups. That was the moment when she realized that even though everything seems to be against her, if she puts enough work towards something, eventually she will succeed.


That girl then agreed to train with me for another 12 weeks in the gym. That was my case study for the PT certificate actually. We then used barbells, did loaded squats, and even more push-ups.


Over the course of 6 months, I witnessed a lot of interesting changes. Apart from her physique, I saw a smile on her face. She slowly started to walk more upright. She became more social. And she even found a boyfriend. Then she decided to get back into college and found a job. The tight schedule, and the fact that I was now also a trainer at the gym, made training less of a priority, so we stopped training.


The amazing thing was that she came back to the gym on her own. She felt way better, both physically and mentally while having as little as 2 sessions per week, so she couldn’t do anything but keep training.


I am not sharing this story to make the case that I am the best trainer and you are better off at the gym than with a professional. I just want to share my personal experience. That girl is a living (happily) proof that resistance training does improve your mental health and well-being.


Even though we were very certain about the positive benefits of resistant training, there was nothing that could prove it. Why would we need proof? Well, believe it or not, our job, as fitness professionals, is to sell health. And the way we do it is by either giving examples or promising people results. Well, I am happy to share with you that now we finally have support from a recent study, which I am about to share with you.


So the study was simple. They split 150 middle-aged women into two groups. One half was doing group counseling, while the other, was on a strict 3 days per week, resistance and aerobic training routine. The goal was to observe the changes in mental well-being and emotional distress over the course of 16 weeks.


Ready to know the result? The resistance training outperformed the counseling one. How crazy is that? If you want to read the full study you can find a link down below.


This is exciting to me because now there is actual proof that what we do, works and hope that it can reach and inspire more people to start.


And speaking of doing something for your mental health, I want to note that there is no perfect approach. For some people, like my friend, it could work perfectly, for some may not. The goal is not to focus on one way, there is no perfect way. But you've got to start somewhere. And this is my very first advice to you before you jump to the conclusion.

Get started. Get help. Get more information, seek a professional’s opinion, attend a group therapy sessions, and talk to a close one. But address it. A lot of people ignore it or are ashamed to even admit that they struggle with their emotions.


What I am trying to say with this blog is that apart from seeing a professional, which should be one of the first things you do, you can also consider going to the gym or starting a program at home. Go talk to a trainer. A lot of them are highly knowledgeable about this subject. If you are like my friend and going to the gym is too uncomfortable for now, nothing stops you from working out at home. Pick an exercise and work towards perfecting it. Squat, push up, handstand, pull-ups, etc…


Give yourself a reason to move. Look at these exercises as something challenging that in order for you to overcome it you must be willing to put the work in.


It is not an easy process. It is not a fast one either. But nothing stops you from trying out different options. I mean, if it doesn’t help you much with your mental health, it will for sure do a lot of good to your physical one. It is a win, win situation, right?


Study:

A 16-week concurrent exercise program improves emotional wel... : Menopause (lww.com)


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