Everyone should lift, and not for the reasons you think! Big biceps, looking good in tee shirts and a smaller belly are the obvious reasons that people train, but they are by-products. The real benefit of training is between the ears. So, why does physical training help the brain and mental health? Humans have three primary motivating factors: Find pleasure, avoid pain and do so with the least amount of effort.
If an orgasm felt like slamming your genitals in a car door, we wouldn’t be quite as motivated to procreate. Things feel good; you do them again. Something hurts, you avoid it. Simple! Training hurts, it takes a lot of effort and often isn’t so pleasant. Why then do we do it and why does it have so many benefits for our mental well-being? Below are five reasons that training is beneficial for your mental health. None of these has anything to do with skin folds or bicep circumference. By understanding the brain benefits of exercise, we can reframe our training into something that makes us happier and healthier. 5 reasons everyone should lift:
1. Growth mindset:
So many of the essential things in life aren’t measurable. It’s difficult to tell if you are making progress. Lifting is different! If I could only do “X” reps last week and I can do “X+2” reps today, I must be getting stronger. The belief that you can improve is the key to a growth mindset. If you can improve in the gym, you can develop at work, in relationships and all aspects of your life. A growth mindset is essential for happiness. The belief that things can improve will lift you when things get tough. You need a growth mindset, and the gym is one place to build start building one.
2. Develop a “drive to thrive”:
One of the key ingredients to achieving your goals is the brain chemical dopamine. It’s your drive to thrive hormone and keeps you going even when things get difficult. Every time you set a target in the gym, you are dopaminising (I made that word up) your training. 2km on the rower or 6 reps of a heavy bench, both have a goal you are getting to, and both release your drive to thrive chemicals. If you can punch out the extra two reps in the gym, maybe you can convert those problematic sales calls or nail the big presentation for your boss. Dopamine keeps you on track and exercise will help you learn how to harness its powers.
3. Pride from inside:
Gym work (particularly training with others) will increase your pride from inside chemical Serotonin. Depression, anxiety and weight gain are often symptoms of a lack of serotonin. It’s your brain’s mood hormone, and it is essential for vitality and happiness. It feels great when you do a PB squat, and the hi-fives from your training buddies will increase serotonin levels for everyone. You even get an increase in serotonin by watching a friend achieve their goal. It’s a communal hormone, and it’s why it’s always more fun training with friends. Pride is the feeling that “it’s good being you” and the feeling you get from a hard gym session will spill into other parts of your life.
4. Builds resilience:
Failing sucks! Not being able to lift something on the first attempt is always disappointing. In the gym, you keep trying. No-one was born being able to dead-lift 200kg. Resilience, along with a growth mindset is essential to achieve anything in life and the gym is one place where these characteristics become part of your personality. Challenging your own body is the greatest method for discovering the strength of your mind. Nowhere is this truer than with strength training. There will be days when you don't feel like going to the gym, but if you go anyway, you'll develop the mental fortitude to get past failure, work when you don't feel like it, and discover what you're made of mentally and physically.
5. Develop self-worth:
There is nothing more personal than the relationship you have with your own body. Having confidence that you can move through physical space with control and competence is a deeply satisfying feeling that filters into every other area of life. If you set a new personal record in the gym this morning, you can be sure that you'll be feeling more confident at work this afternoon. Your self-worth should never be defined by numbers on the scales or the amount you bench-press. Self-esteem is built on the quality of your character. Committing to training helps build character and develop self-worth. There is one trap with lifting that can’t be ignored when we talk about the psychology of training, and it’s all to do with comparisons.
The day you start lifting is the day you are forever small.
We have all heard this before and nodded in acknowledgement. There will always be someone bigger, faster or stronger than you. Goals are great and aiming high is essential for optimum performance but, be sure not to fall into the trap of constant comparisons with others. You only have one person that you need to compare yourself to, and that is you…. yesterday! Continuous improvement is the key to the psychological benefits of training. “The fixed mindset makes you concerned with how you’ll be judged; the growth mindset makes you concerned with improving.” - Carol Dweck Stanford University professor Being physically strong allows you the freedom to do the things that make life fun. One of the biggest benefits of weight training: it enables you to transform into a better version of yourself (more confident, more self–aware, more mentally and physically healthy), so that you can become a better person for the people around you. You may look great in a tee-shirt, but it’s the muscle between your ears that will benefit most from lifting.