Benefits of Strength Training for Mental Health
Strength training can improve one’s overall physical fitness and promote better body aesthetics. Whether you want to look better at the beach or improve your sporting performance, regularly picking up a barbell as part of a weight training routine will go a long way towards helping you achieve these goals.
As well as the physical benefits, strength training – whether powerlifting, Olympic lifting or strongman – offers a path to focus, clarity and an increased sense of well-being. Let’s look at 3 mental health benefits of strength training…
1. A remedy for anxiety and depression
According to the mental health charity, Mind, 25% of people in the UK experience a mental health problem. Anxiety and depression are amongst the most common ailments and the charity warns increasing numbers of people are resorting to self-harm.
Fortunately, some help is available for sufferers with 1 in 8 people seeking treatment and/or taking medication according to Mind. However, medication – while necessary for some – is not always a ‘silver bullet’ for sufferers of conditions like anxiety and depression.
Strength training can offer an antidote to the grip of depression and unrelenting gnawing of anxiety. A 2018 meta-analysis of studies recognises strength training as an elixir for mental health conditions: “Resistance exercise training significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults regardless of health status”.There are also indirect ways strength training benefits mental health. For example, training in a community like Taylor’s Strength provides a support network for some whilst the accountability provided by a strength coach offers a sense of purpose, security and routine to alleviate symptoms for anxious and depressive people.
- Opportunity for mindfulness
‘Mindfulness’ has become a buzzword in recent times as people search for internal respite from modern life’s stresses, strains and distractions. Mindfulness (the practice of being present in a moment) sounds simple but it is difficult to achieve for some. Fortunately, strength training is an accessible path to mindfulness for many.
Nothing is as effective at bringing my attention to the present moment than lifting a heavy, loaded barbell. Pulling yourself into position in a squat rack; setting your feet; engaging your lats; unracking the bar; breathing and bracing; squatting to depth and returning to the start demands total focus on the task at hand.
For those brief few seconds it takes to initiate and complete a lift, my mind and body are one. I am fully present in the moment. Nothing else enters my mind. My stress and worries dissipate beneath the metallic, crushing forces of the barbell, cleansing me of any anguish and restlessness accumulated of a working day.
Strength training is a path to mindfulness and therein lies the key to the mental health benefits of strength training. If focus and inner peace are difficult to achieve, strength training offers a solution.
3. A Healthy Dose of Reality
It can be easy to feel down about oneself: Too fat. Too thin. Not smart enough. Too broke.
And for some, it may be just as easy to be ruled by an over-inflated ego and lose sight of reality.
Amongst its many mental health benefits, strength training offers a healthy dose of reality for both the diffident and the cocksure. Barbells and dumbbells (to name a few strength training implements) are barometers of reality. These objects are tremendously powerful tools. In his essay ‘The Iron and Soul’, singer Henry Rollins aptly states,“ ‘the iron’ will always kick you the real deal. ‘The iron’ is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver, always there like a beacon in the pitch-black”.
Rollins is right – there’s nothing quite like an intense strength training session to remind you simultaneously of your immense potential and limitations as a human being.
When I first trained at Taylor’s Strength, I had no real idea how strong I was (or wasn’t as it turned out) but I left that team-training session with a reality check – I wasn’t as strong relative to others as I might have thought – but I was awakened to new possibilities and so my journey began.
Strength training is a lifesaver
The mental health benefits of strength training are significant reasons for my continued pursuit of powerlifting personal bests. Strength training has been a source of relief and an outlet in difficult times which have saved me from the depths of despair.
During the darkest time of my life following my mother’s unexpected death last year, Danny Taylor – my coach at Taylor’s Strength – spoke of training as a “lifesaver”. He was right. While nothing could take away the internal pain, time in the gym provided a healthy, productive escape which strengthened me mentally through the worst of my grief.
The mental health benefits of strength training are significant and lasting.
Want to experience the mental health benefits of strength training for yourself? Sign up to Taylor’s Strength’s ’14 Day Strength Experience’.
Mind.org.uk. (2019). How common are mental health problems? | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems. [online] Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#.XfDmy_ynxPY [Accessed 11 Dec. 2019].
Gordon, B.R., McDowell, C.P., Hallgren, M., Meyer, J.D., Lyons, M. and Herring, M.P. (2018). Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms. JAMA Psychiatry, 75(6), p.566.
Art (2018). “Iron and Soul” by Henry Rollins | The Art of Manliness. [online] The Art of Manliness. Available at: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/henry-rollins-iron-and-soul/ [Accessed 11 Dec. 2019].
Author: P Modaley