Strength Training for Mental Health

Strength Training for Mental Health

I think that most people would agree that physical exercise is good for your overall health and mobility.   But many may not be aware that pumping iron regularly at the gym can also have a profound and positive effect on mental health.

Many people who suffer from mental health problems may benefit from strength training, including ordinary folk, the rich and famous, celebrities and even those in power.

A good diet and regular strength training (getting pumped up) can help build self-esteem and wellbeing.  It gives you an internal map and a set of rules by which you can measure progress. For example, no benchpress incline until you can bench 100kg or for women 80kg; no front squatting before you can squat 140kg (or 100kg for the women standards)…

You soon learn that you can front squat a hell of a lot more if you work on your main squat for a longer period of time, concentrating on refining your technique.

Natural Lifters

It gets you out of this mindboggling mentality in the gym that split routines, isolation exercises, tonnes of cardio, and the idea of feeling sore is really good. In some of the bigger and more popular gyms, you’re probably in the company of a lot of people on steroids. Sometimes it’s blatantly obvious. Other times, it’s a question of, ‘How can I be sure they are not on steroids?’

Well, the point is… what works for them won’t work for natural lifters. Natural lifters need compound exercises and progressive overload to build muscle.  It would probably be dangerous to take steroids if you have a mental illness, especially on other prescribed medications.

But a natural lifter can develop an athletic look through progressive powerlifting and paying attention to their diet. Personally, I like eating.  Maybe sometimes I eat too much or eat the wrong things.  A few years ago, I changed to a vegan diet which has really helped.  I’ve improved a lot and started lifting on a routine.

The Tyler Durden Workout

It is tempting to do something like The Tyler Durden Workout, which involves four isolation days, followed by 1-2 days of cardio and 1-2 days of rest.  I would argue the Tyler Durden Workout is wrong but could be adapted.  It would mainly be compound exercises and dieting, with the introduction of cardio depending on how clean the diet is. In fact, if the diet is 100%, there is no need to do any amount of cardio that a bodybuilder does to get cut down for a show, because that kind of physique isn’t maintainable long term, even for bodybuilders.

The three main exercises would be squat, deadlift and barbell row:

Squat for packing on as much muscle as possible, especially in a short amount of time;
Deadlift, secondary exercise for packing on as much muscle as possible;
Barbell row for developing stronger arms, hips and back muscles.

Actually, with this workout, I would argue that Brad’s chest looks rather underdeveloped in some shots (see above link). And it’s strange in certain shots how his shoulders don’t seem as well developed.

So, in addition to this, I would add Bench Press for packing on as much muscle in the upper body. And also Overhead Press, for packing on as much muscle in the upper body, especially the shoulders.

Diet is Key

Maintaining a good healthy diet provided me with the ultimate key to maintaining both physical and psychological health.  It would have to come down to a tailored diet.

The cardio would be optional but would have to be done on lifting days to make sure my body has recovery days where I’m just resting.  I don’t think it’s necessary. It will come down to diet, so no more peanut butter!

The only other exercises I could add to the workouts is dips, chin-ups, possibly some pull-ups too and planks.  I weigh over 200lbs and need to maintain some muscle mass but reduce my body fat percentage through clean dieting.

No more sugar in my coffee and no more fizzy drinks – I’m hyper enough!

Also, there is self-acceptance. I’ve never been naturally skinny or overly tall. No matter what I do, I won’t look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. There you go; I can still work on my diet and continue working out. Personally, I think Henry Cavill had a more killer physique in Man of Steel. Still, thank you to all the Movie Gods for inspiring us to go to the gym to build muscle and burn fat.

So once again, it is Stronglifts (and another called Madcow) that present workouts with assistance exercises. In addition to they recommend:

A clean diet. Diet is everything;
I’m going to keep a food diary and count macronutrients and calories.

I’m going to start simple and cut out refined sugar and stuff like bread. Then I’m going to implement one day a week of intermittent fasting when I wake up. So a good eight hours of sleep, then upon waking, no food until another eight hours have passed, and there you go, that’s sixteen hours of fasting in total. That’s my basic understanding of intermittent fasting.

I’ll be wary of alcohol. The alcohol itself isn’t a problem but does lead to bad dietary choices.

When I benched 120kg for the first time in the gym,  I failed on the second repetition in the cage but safely on the pins.

A Little Word About Mental Health

I don’t know a lot about mental health but I know about being stuck in the mental health system;  that’s because of my condition and its effect on me.  Mental health is a big subject, and when it comes to psychology and psychiatry I’m often getting a bit mystified by the jargon and labels they apply. One thing can be said, we all have mental health. Okay, okay. You may sit there and harp on about someone who came off their medication. Well, remember, people have a choice and what happens to them when they make it.

I’m sorry, but if you measure people with mental health issues, and apply prescribed treatments and medications for indefinite periods, the chances are that they will never get off the medication.  And, you will never know if they could.

Psychiatry is an incredibly controversial practice. Just like doctors, psychiatrists are funded by the taxpayer, and they are in my opinion, rigid in their belief containing mental health in a psychological jar of tablets and injections.

What I really want to say is that there are many people like me, who have been diagnosed with a severe mental health condition, that aren’t any different to others who struggle and survive in a population without diagnosis or intervention. In the film Split, the idea is that people with mental health conditions could have more potential or ability than someone without that condition. In the film Glass, psychiatry is a rouse that allows psychiatrists to prevent superheroes and villains from emerging. They are just movies, though.

I want to reserve a few of Dr Joanna MonCrief’s books, ‘The Bitterest Pills’, ‘The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment ‘ etc., from the library, but I fear that she will tell me that all the pills and injections I have suffered over the last decade or so have been in vain or even unnecessary.

The late Dr Szasz in The Myth of Mental Illness warned about ‘the potential dangers of an excessively psychiatrized society.’ The fact that we all have different brains meant that no simple prescription, tablet, or injection could be suitable for all. Modern-day witch hunt. The insanity defence is a sham. What they are calling mental Szasz indeed had a lot to say. Indeed, many mental health problems can be seen as just a  collection of undesirable behaviours or sometimes drug misuse.

Why then do I still take medication? And, when will I be allowed to come off them?  The truth is there is No policy for the reversal of medication addiction or the withdrawal symptoms they can cause which might make a patient appear to be more ill than he is.

These are reasonable questions. I’ve not been diagnosed as someone who has taken medication for the rest of his life. But I’ve agreed to do so for a considerable time. So, I keep taking the pills because I’m a schmuck.

Today’s Workout Update 31/08/2021

So here’s what my workout looked like today:

Workout A
Squat 125kg 1×5
Bench Press 97.5kg 1×5
Barbell Row 72.5kg 1×5
Dips (BW +15kg) 3×5

The weights have been lowered somewhat because I set a de-load on the Madcow training program.

The barbell row is even lower (Pendley Rows) because I’m focusing on form…

1×5 stands for ramped-up sets of 5×5 until your last 1×5 is your heaviest, and BW + 15kg stands for bodyweight plus a weight added via a belt for strength gains.

A young guy came up to me in the gym tonight and asked if I could spot him on the Bench Press. So I did, and he was very thankful and shook my hand. If anything, I’m not sure what training program he is on, but he managed to bench 40kg for 1 rep and told me that was his personal best. I mentioned 5×5 to him. As for the guys who are obviously taking a lot of gear in the gym, well, probably a lot of them are bodybuilders, perhaps getting ready for a show. It is naive, though, to think people like Instagram Influencers aren’t on gear.

So far, the diet is going well, and I have lost four kilograms.

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