By Courtney Roselle
The misconception I hear most as a coach, among men and women of all ages, is that the true value of strength training is in gaining “more muscle.” Another common one is that strength training isn’t for everyone. “I am too old.” “I am a woman and don’t want to be bulky.” “I am an endurance athlete this does not apply to me.” Most who are looking to be fit are constantly struggling to find the happy medium between cardio/endurance and strength training.
What if I told you that strength training does not only produce a physical transformation, but psychological one as well? It improves your “emotional fitness” almost as much as your physical fitness. Emotional fitness can be defined as “the state wherein the mind is capable of staying away from negative thoughts and can focus on creative and constructive tasks.” Anyone can benefit from strength training, it does not discriminate. Anyone of any age, gender, race, heritage, nationality, or gender can become more emotionally and physically fit from it. A barbell only knows if you are strong enough to lift it and put it back down, not who you love or where you are from.
Strength training helps change the neurological chemical structure of the brain. A study done by Harvard University showed that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms by a bigger percentage than ten weeks of counseling. Considering many different factors when speaking of mental wellness, the results conclude that basic strength training has significant effects on the chemical and hormonal responses of the brain.
The instant release of the chemical hormones known as “endorphins” (the happy hormones as I like to call them) from strength training last FIVE times longer than a conditioning fitness routine! In the busy world we live in the everyday stressors you face and how you handle them make up a significant part of your mental health. Many studies show a direct correlation of stress pertaining to energy levels and mood patterns. The feeling of accomplishment after a grueling strength workout boosts your natural endurance levels by 20% which in return gives you more energy to tackle those everyday stresses and take on new tasks.
One of the biggest mental challenges to overcome is low self-esteem; and no this does not just apply to women. With social media at the end of our fingertips dictating the definition of “handsome and beautiful” there is constant pressure to fit into a certain mold physically. Which puts pressure on our mental well-being and self conception. This is seen by the evolution of young adults trying to follow in our footsteps with their heads constantly facing down into their cell phones. Constantly swiping through to get to the next social media app.
A study known as the “Effect of a Weight -Training Program on the Self-Concepts of College Males” compared 60 college males who enrolled in a weight training class against 45 college males who were not. The results at the end of the study confirmed that “males who participate in a weight-training program tend to develop significantly better self-concepts than those who do not participate in such an activity.” The study also concluded: “Apparently, regular training with weights tends to bolster significant feelings of personal pride, confidence, and self-worth which are carried over into the outside world.”
When it comes to women, a study known as “Effects of weight training and running exercise intervention programs on the self-esteem of college women” compared undergraduate females split into three groups: weight training, running, and a control group. After weeks of the three groups enduring the physical training programs the post study results concluded significant increases in everyday mood for both the weight training and running groups. In addition, the strength group was found to have the greater increase in self-esteem scores: “Although 35% of the running group felt both physically and psychologically better, 83% of the weight training group felt the same way.”
Between both studies the outcome was pretty simple: there is a strong correlation between physical activity and mental health. Both models concur that physical activity (in particular strength training) increases an individual’s physical ability, which in return creates a higher boost in a person’s self concept, resulting in a higher self-esteem.
Now, I know some of you are probably sitting there saying to yourself, “I probably could of told you that!” But most of you are probably one of our athletes in one of our locations; Brazen or Black House. You are surrounded by a community where strength is the overall goal in our daily workouts. Everyday for at least one hour, you are surrounded by a group of people that are going through the same physically and mentally grueling workout. Before your physical journey with strength training began, would you have told me that your mental well being was in the same state as it is today? Do you notice the changes in how you handle the daily stresses and your outlook on life as much as the physical ones? Take a moment to reflect on your personal transformation from the inside out.
If you are completely new to the world of strength training I want you to take a step back and reflect on how important “emotional fitness” is to you. Physically developing muscle doesn’t have to be the only goal to lead you to strength training. I am not telling you to go to the nearest strength and conditioning gym and put all the weight on the bar and lift it because it is good for you. What I am saying is this:
If developing your mind and its abilities is a top priority for you, then you should try strength training.