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Strong Body, Strong Mind: 6 Ways Lifting Weights Can Enhance Your Psychological Wellbeing



The physical health benefits of strength training are numerous and extensive. But while all those fantastic benefits provide more than enough good reason to start lifting weights, it’s in the mental side of things that the magic of strength training truly lies.

 

This is where you’re going to find the most immediate results…

 

The most powerful results…

 

The most certain results…

 

It’s the stuff that’s going to keep you motivated…

 

And it’s the stuff that’ll keep you coming back for more.

 

Depending on where you go to look for your definition, you’ll likely find a list of different factors that contribute to psychological wellbeing.

 

Now, I’m no psychologist and I’m certainly not here to try and redefine anyone’s theoretical model on the subject, but in my experience of teaching women to lift weights, I’ve observed 6 key elements of psychological wellbeing that can be enhanced through training:


1.     Lifting Weights Develops Self-Awareness

 

Proprioception is the awareness of your body in space. It’s kind of like mindfulness in a totally physical sense.

 

Some people are really in touch with their bodies as they move, how they’re feeling, where they are positioned, what speed they’re moving at, which muscles are working. Think of a ballet dancer: They feel and have total control over every single bit of movement as they’re dancing.

 

Then think of the first time you ever did something new – maybe when you picked up a tennis racket for the first time, or tried to ride a bike, or took a salsa dancing class. That clumsy, uncoordinated, and totally ungraceful-like feeling?

 

Well, the same goes for lifting weights. It’s kind of like an art.

 

To start off with you won’t really know where you’re feeling what, but the more you work on developing your form across a range of different movement patterns, the more you’ll start to notice it all becoming a bit more natural.

 

This is adaptation happening down at a neurological level. Your muscles are getting used to what’s going on, and your movements are starting to feel more familiar, more precise, and more controlled.

 

Becoming more aware of and in touch with your body and the feelings that manifest helps build self-awareness. Self-awareness plays an important role in wellbeing because it teaches us how to practice self-control, how to work more productively, and how to experience pride in ourselves and in the work we do.  


2.     Lifting Weights Encourages Self-Acceptance

 

We live in a world that objectifies women and it can feel as though our bodies are merely ornaments for the rest of society to judge… And for us to continually scrutinise behind closed doors. We compare our bodies to the airbrushed pictures in magazines and we’re left feeling like we’re never quite enough.

 

Strength training can help take the focus away from aesthetics like body weight, shape, and size, and direct it more towards how our bodies feel.

 

When you’re lifting, the emphasis is on form. You’re listening to the signals your body’s giving you and you’re assessing how your body’s moving in space. The focus is on how your body’s working and you’re encouraged to celebrate the awesome capacity it has for just that.

 

Feeling strong, feeling capable and feeling confident – sure, they’re a little less measurable than weight, skin-fold thickness or calories consumed – but they’re the things that add real value to our lives.

 

When we start to feel a little more of these things, then we’re able to start cutting our bodies a bit of slack and accept them with more warmth. We begin to observe them with compassion and gratitude: Thank you body, what an awesome body, look what you can DO!

 

3.     Lifting Weights Builds Self-Efficacy

 

Strength training offers a valuable way in to exercise for those who don’t necessarily feel comfortable with the way that more conventional types of training – I’m talking things like running, jumping, HIIT classes, bootcamps – can make us feel about our bodies; All the jiggling, sweating and breathlessness that comes with leaping about can make us feel agonisingly self-conscious.

 

It's also super accessible and tailor-able to pretty much everyone: You don't need to be super fit already and you don’t need to be a certain age, size or shape. With so many variables – things like exercise type, load, reps, sets and rest periods – you can simply adjust your training to meet you where you’re at and start working towards the results that you want.

 

With minimal barriers to getting started, lifting weights offers a great way to learn a new skill. Then, with practice, you’ll start getting good… You might find that it’s strength training in general that suits you, or perhaps it’s a specific lift or two.


Getting good, or mastery, is extremely valuable:

 

It enables you to find and experience flow – that feeling where you’re totally absorbed in the moment and free form the thoughts or worries of everyday life. Finding flow is associated with reduced stress, better emotional regulation, and increased happiness.

 

The pursuit of mastery is also really helpful when it comes to keeping motivated. You’ve no doubt experienced this in other areas of your life? We enjoy and repeat the things we’re good at, right?!

 

Getting good at something is a sure-fire way to build up your belief in yourself, or your self-efficacy. And the value of building self-efficacy through lifting weights is not limited to achieving training goals; it can spread, increasing self-self-efficacy for tasks or goals in other areas of your life, too.

 

4.     Lifting Weights Improves Self-Esteem

 

Too often I see women trying to control their weight through calorie-counting, dieting and food restriction.

 

While the rationale for a diet is that it helps us feel more in control by giving us rules to play by, in doing so, it takes away our autonomy and gives that power to the food (and the food manufacturer, who probably doesn’t have your best interests at heart).

 

This can incite the notion that food is 'bad' and that indulgence or overeating is punishable by periods of starvation, over-exercising, or purging. Feeling powerless, and experiencing feelings of guilt and shame around eating, can lead to low self-esteem and patterns of disordered eating.

 

Lifting weights helps foster a healthier relationship with food because it requires us to think less about restriction and more about fuelling our bodies.

 

In a nutshell:

 

Lifting weights requires us to be in a fed, rather than a fasted, state. Post-workout, we also need to think about obtaining adequate nutrition to facilitate muscle repair and recovery. If we fail to consume enough of the right kinds of food, we compromise our results and our body’s ability to recover, not to mention the workout itself will feel hellish.

 

Switching our mindsets to a place that values the nutritional quality of food over counting calories or food restriction is a much healthier place to be: It gives us freedom and flexibility, so that we can make our own food choices; It helps lesson any feelings of guilt or shame associated with breaking the ‘rules’ of a diet; And it frees us up to enjoy our food a whole lot more, too.





 5.     Lifting Weights Boosts Self-Confidence

 

Have you ever noticed how really confident people always tend to have good posture? They just seem to hold themselves differently; they’re not all hunched over with rounded shoulders; they’re standing upright with their heads tall and their chests lifted.

 

Give it a go right now: Stand up straight, puff your chest a little, hold your head high, and project that confidence!

 

It can work wonders in terms of how other people interpret our body language, but more importantly, we can start to absorb some of this confidence for ourselves. And the science is there to back me up: Studies show a positive relationship between more expansive (compared to contractive or slumped) postures and increased feelings of self-worth and self-esteem…

 

…Now imagine the effect if we could make these changes last, by strengthening the relevant muscles to create a more permanent expansive posture?

 

In becoming physically stronger, we’re also helping ourselves become more able and more independent: No longer do we need to rely on someone else to do all the heavy lifting, we can do it ourselves, thanks very much.

 

This one’s been a big one for me. At little over five feet tall, there have been countless times that I’ve experienced another person questioning my physical ability to do doing something. I’m sure their intentions were never ill meant, but they did little to boost my self-esteem.

 

Over time this kind of thing compounds, and you start believing you’re not a capable person. But since lifting weights, I’ve gotten stronger but even more importantly, I now believe that I am strong. And this has worked wonders for my confidence.   

 

6.     Lifting Weights Powers Autonomy


Hopefully you’re starting to see that there’s a lot to be gained from lifting weights: Done right, it can lead to a happier you. But there’s some stuff you’ll need to learn, in order to get it right.

 

So, you could go out and hire a personal trainer. They’ll make sure you’re setting the right kind of goals, that your workouts are efficient and effective, that you’re lifting with good form, and that your food, rest and recovery are all on point.  

 

Or, you could learn for yourself.

 

When we learn, we gain knowledge, and when we have knowledge, we can make choices. Choice puts us in the driver’s seat; it lets us take ownership over the process.

 

Taking ownership of – or exercising autonomy in – the way we do things is fundamental to our sense of self. It gives us the option to take a path that best aligns with our values, that fits in with our lifestyle, and is adaptable to our shifting priorities.

 

Having autonomy is also fundamental to keeping us motivated, and without it, we’re much more likely to give up. (If you’re keen to learn more, Daniel Pink does a great job of explaining the role of autonomy in motivation in his book, Drive).

 

I appreciate it might seem complicated, overwhelming, or simply just not worth the bother. But, if you want the bit that’ll give you the best shot at maintaining all the other benefits long-term, then you’re going to want to learn how to do this lifting weights thing for yourself.

 

Luckily for you, I've done most of the hard work for you, creating a brand-new online course that removes the guesswork and empowers you to take control of your training.

 

OWN IT in the gym: The complete beginner’s guide to lifting weights is a go-at-your-own-pace course that'll take you from total strength training novice to becoming your own personal trainer. You’ll discover:

 

  • How to set realistic and sustainable health and fitness goals.

  • How to perform all the exercises you’ll ever need to build a safe, varied, and effective training program.

  • How to structure your training to fit around your other commitments and still deliver the most efficient and effective results.

  • How to support your training with the right nutrition and the right approach to rest and recovery.

 

Heck, in just a few powerful weeks, you’ll to have everything you need to start achieving those life-changing results. So if you’re keen to learn more or you’re ready to sign up, head over to the sign-up page and we’ll get you enrolled.

 

 

References


Ackerman, C. E. (2020). What Is Self-Awareness? (+5 Ways to Be More Self-Aware). Psychology Today. https://positivepsychology.com/self-awareness-matters-how-you-can-be-more-self-aware


Briñol, P., Petty, R. E., & Wagner, B. (2009). Body posture effects on self‐evaluation: A self‐validation approach. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39(6), 1053-1064.


Davis, T. (2023) 5 Ways to Boost Self-Efficacy. Discover the theory behind self-efficacy and find out how you can boost it. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/click-here-for-happiness/202209/5-ways-to-boost-self-efficacy


Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1980). Self-determination theory: When mind mediates behavior. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 1(1), 33–43.


Espinoza, P., Penelo, E., Mora, M., Francisco, R., González, M. L., & Raich, R. M. (2019). Bidirectional relations between disordered eating, internalization of beauty ideals, and self-esteem: A longitudinal study with adolescents. The Journal of Early Adolescence39(9), 1244-1260.


Heatherton, T. F., & Polivy, J. (2013). Chronic dieting and eating disorders: A spiral model. In The etiology of bulimia nervosa (pp. 149-172). Taylor & Francis.


Howard, C. E., & Porzelius, L. K. (1999). The role of dieting in binge eating disorder: etiology and treatment implications. Clinical Psychology Review19(1), 25-44.


Jackson, S. A., Thomas, P. R., Marsh, H. W., & Smethurst, C. J. (2001). Relationships between flow, self-concept, psychological skills, and performance. Journal of applied sport psychology13(2), 129-153.


Körner, R., Petersen, L. E., & Schütz, A. (2021). Do expansive or contractive body postures affect feelings of self-worth? High power poses impact state self-esteem. Current Psychology40(8), 4112-4124.


Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). The concept of flow. In Flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 239-263). Springer, Dordrecht.


Palascha, A., van Kleef, E., & van Trijp, H. C. (2015). How does thinking in Black and White terms relate to eating behavior and weight regain? Journal of health psychology20(5), 638-648.


Pink, D. H. (2010). The surprising truth about what motivates us. Cannongate Books: London, UK.


Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (2020). Overeating in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Frontiers in Nutrition7, 30.


Ramezanzade, H., & Arabnarmi, B. (2011). Relationship of self-esteem with forward head posture and round shoulder. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences15, 3698-3702.


Shea, M. E., & Pritchard, M. E. (2007). Is self-esteem the primary predictor of disordered eating?. Personality and Individual differences42(8), 1527-1537.


Silvia, P. J., & O’Brien, M. E. (2004). Self-awareness and constructive functioning: Revisiting “the Human Dilemma.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology23, 475–489.


Sizer, F. S & Whitney, E. (2000). Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies (8th Ed.). Wadsworth: Belmont, CA.


Zamani Sani, S. H., Fathirezaie, Z., Gerber, M., Pühse, U., Bahmani, D. S., Bashiri, M., ... & Brand, S. (2021). Self-esteem and symptoms of eating-disordered behavior among female adolescents. Psychological reports124(4), 1515-1538.

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