5 Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training

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Strength training is a form of resistance training with the goal of increasing your physical strength. Because it is clearly measurable, you can see your results in action and observe how far you have come while improving your strength.

Strength training differs from other types of resistance training in that the main goal is not to build muscle size or endurance, although those effects may occur. Instead, a successful strength training routine will result in your body being stronger and able to lift heavier weights.

Strength training offers other benefits as well. Not only does it improve your physical well-being but it also provides unique boosts to your mental well-being. Below are some of the many mental health benefits that a strength training routine can provide plus a sample plan you can follow for excellent results.

Benefits of Strength Training for Mental Health

How strength training benefits you can be a personal and unique experience. Here are some of the common ways strength training may benefit your mental health.

Improves Mood

Strength training can improve your mood in many ways. The act of committing to a goal, building habits, and sticking to a routine can help boost your mood. What's more, endorphins released through strength training can give you a jolt of feel-good chemicals that help you see the brighter side of life.

Research shows that strength training can also reduce other depressive symptoms for many people. It can improve self-confidence, build self-esteem, and improve body image. While several studies have shown the benefits of exercise, including strength training, for improving certain mental health conditions, it is imperative that you seek treatment if you are experiencing symptoms. You should always consult with a healthcare provider about your specific needs.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression or anxiety, follow up with a healthcare provider or mental health professional. For additional information, support, and treatment facilities in your area, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Strengthens Mind-Body Connection

Strength training demands a high level of mind-body connection because with the use of heavy weights comes some risk. It's vital to be aware of how your body is responding.

"If you engage in movement with the intention of letting your body guide you—[such as] listening to your body about how much weight to lift, what movements feel good and what doesn't feel good—we are communicating to our body that it is a trusted and wise guide," explains Alexis Conason, PsyD, clinical psychologist and author of "The Diet-Free Revolution: 10 Steps to Free Yourself from the Diet Cycle with Mindful Eating and Radical Self-Acceptance."

But beware of the fact that strength training can also be done in a way that overrides your body wisdom, says Conason.

"The 'no pain, no gain' mentality or doing what an instructor tells you to do while pushing through signals that your body may be sending you, can lead to misattunement, disconnection, and ultimately injury," she adds.

Be mindful of how you are feeling and take the time to check in with yourself to ensure you are not ignoring any of those signals.

Lowers Stress and Anxiety

Strength training can reduce stress and anxiety by bringing down your stress hormone, cortisol, says certified personal trainer Kristie Alicea, CPT, co-founder of ABC Fit Collective. What's more, when we decrease cortisol, there is a reduction in anxiety.

"When we strength train the mind releases endorphins, the body's 'feel-good' hormones, that can help to bring down cortisol levels and make you feel good after a workout," she adds.

Kristie Alicea, CPT

Strength training can help our bodies maintain hormonal health. Our hormones affect every part of our body, especially our emotions and our mental state of being.

— Kristie Alicea, CPT

Recent research shows that strength training specifically reduced anxiety by up to 20% in study participants. Researchers believe this likely led to feelings of mastery, increasing belief in their capabilities, and coping skills.

The increase in their abilities, most likely increased their confidence and self-esteem, which then could lead to a reduction in anxiety. Researchers also surmise that biological changes to the muscles and brain worked together to improve anxiety symptoms, but more studies are needed to draw solid conclusions.

"Strength training can help our bodies maintain hormonal health," says Alicea. "Our hormones affect every part of our body, especially our emotions and our mental state of being."

Boosts Brain Health

Strength training can also boost our brain, helping with things like memory and preventing cognitive decline.

"Incorporating strength training into your routine can make you feel more mentally engaged and boost your mental energy and focus," says Alicea.

Regular exercise such as a consistent strength training routine has protective effects for memory and cognitive decline. Research shows that 70 to 150 minutes of weekly physical activity, such as strength training, lead to improved cognitive abilities for older individuals.

Evidence suggests that strength training and other exercises can bolster neuroprotective growth factors, reduce inflammatory markers in the brain, and assist in new brain cell formation.

Improves Relationship with Your Body

For some people, exercise may be seen as a form of compensation for poor eating habits, or as a way to force your body into a certain shape. For some people, this often means trying to look slimmer or lose weight. Focusing on your appearance can cause an unhealthy relationship with your body and exercise.

Alexis Conason, PsyD

Movement can become a way of compensating for the food we've eaten or an attempt to alleviate negative body image. These can be red flags for eating disorders, disordered eating, and unhealthy exercise behaviors.

— Alexis Conason, PsyD

"Movement can become a way of compensating for the food we've eaten or an attempt to alleviate negative body image. These can be red flags for eating disorders, disordered eating, and unhealthy exercise behaviors," says Conason.

Choosing to center your exercise routine on building strength, removes the appearance aspect of performing physical activity. Also, as you build strength, you have a clear indicator of how your body can perform and do amazing things that perhaps you never knew you were capable of. Plus, this physical activity can have a positive impact on body image as well as impact feelings of body dissatisfaction.

In fact, one study found that women who worked out were able to improve their body image significantly, compared with those who did not exercise. The researchers also found that the effect on body image was almost immediate and lasted a minimum of 20 minutes after exercise.

Meanwhile, a study of teens found that physical activity can help them achieve a positive self-concept and promote psychological well-being. In fact, researchers found that physical activity also decreased body dissatisfaction.

One Week Strength Training Plan

A solid strength training plan will work all of the major muscle groups with challenging weights and focus on increasing the weight lifted with each session or week over week, depending on your program. When focusing on building muscular strength, there is a sizeable neurological component.

This means that practicing the same movements multiple times will train your brain and body to perform them at higher levels. Your central nervous system will become accustomed to heavier loads over time, allowing you to lift more safely.

"It is also important to approach strength training (and any kind of physical activity) in a kind and gentle way," says Conason. "In our culture that emphasizes a 'strong is the new skinny' mentality, it is easy to find yourself drawn to working out and strength training as a way to change your body."

But you need to be cautious about how your approach your strength training routine. Monitor how you feel about your routine and your body and make sure your approach is mentally healthy. For instance, if you notice you are dissatisfied or feel guilty, it may help to talk over your feelings with a mental health professional.

"[Also], if you notice that your strength training routine is rigid, that you have anxiety around skipping a workout, that you feel like you have to exercise because your body is 'bad,' or that you are comparing your body to other people in the class, it may be a good idea to reevaluate your relationship with exercise," Conason says.

Other signs of an issue include that you find it hard to listen to your body or you feel the need to push through pain or fatigue, Conason adds. You also should not feel guilty if you take a break or modify exercises.

You may want to pause to ask yourself why you are choosing to add strength training to your routine. The answer to this question may help you to determine whether it is for healthy reasons and appropriate for you right now.

Below is an example of a simple yet highly effective strength training plan for one week. This plan can be followed for 3 or 4 weeks, with a de-load week following. For this plan, use a rest period between sets of 3 to 5 minutes to allow maximum effort during your repetitions in the next set.

It is also vital to leave time for your body to recover between training days. Use active recovery exercises, such as walking and yoga, to boost your body's healing capabilities and still remain active during your off-days. You also should check with a healthcare provider to ensure that a strength training program is right for you.

Monday, Wednesday, Friday

Perform each exercise for three sets of 4 to 5. You should feel like you could only do two more reps when you stop your set. Do not push to failure and make sure you start every workout session with a proper warm-up.

During the following weeks, you can adjust your repetition range to two to three and even try to do a 1 rep maximum during the final week. Make sure to use a spotter (a person that can ensure your safety by helping raise the bar if you cannot complete a lift).

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday

Spend the off days in active recovery, which is when you engage in a low-intensity exercise, placing minimal stress on the body if any. Examples of active recovery exercises include stretching, walking, swimming, and yoga.

During active recovery, the body works to repair your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It also helps improve blood circulation and aids with the removal of waste products from muscle breakdown. Once this occurs, fresh blood can come in to bring nutrients that help repair and rebuild the muscles.

Active Recovery Options

Strength training has clear benefits for your mental health. Your mood, confidence, and connection to your body may improve with consistent practice. To ensure you are making the most of your strength training practice, be aware of how it is affecting your thought patterns and adjust accordingly.

10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.