Mental Health and Fitness Go Hand-In-Hand
by: Connor Clark, Personal Trainer, Strength Coach, and Gym-Owner
We’ve all been made aware throughout our lives of the wide range of benefits that exercise offers. We hear how exercise releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine to improve our mood and emotional state. We hear about its benefits to our cardiovascular and respiratory systems, muscular and neurological systems, bone and joint health, brain health, disease mitigation, its impact on our food choices, improved sleep quality, etc. and the list goes on.
So, how can we inject more exercise into our lifestyle? How can we overcome our mental hurdles to reap these benefits?
I’ll be sharing my personal perspective that relates to our ability to get out of our own way and how this brings self-confidence and positive momentum into our lives.
I’m currently the owner of three businesses:
LIFT Performance, a family-owned brand that’s setting the standard for athletic development and sports performance.
Melt Fitness, a micro-gym built to enhance and educate the everyday person to stay fit and healthy for life.
Connor Clark Fitness, an all-in-one fitness app, where I coach individuals, wherever they’re at, on their journey to achieving their fitness and lifestyle goals.
My experience as a Personal Trainer and Strength Coach is that exercise enhances more than just your physical attributes, but your personal and mental ones as well.
Whether it’s been when I’ve worked with an adult looking to get out of pain and get healthy and fit for life; or a young athlete that wants to be stronger, faster, and more dynamic on the field; or one of my online clients to meet their personal goals when at home or far away; the common denominator is that consistent exercise improves the quality of each of their lives.
My philosophy stems from my own experiences with how exercise changed and ultimately shaped my life, giving it purpose and meaning.
In college, I fell in love with exercise and the positive effects and discipline associated with it. As it turned out, it was a good thing I found exercise when I did.
It was towards the end of my college years that I started experiencing chronic depression; with my mental health suffering and my physical state on the decline, I was in rough shape. I was no longer exercising as frequently or with as much vigor as I once was. I knew I had to make a change.
I still remember the date that I began to turn things around. December 16, 2015. I took a few pictures of my (lack of) physical shape, checked in with my current mental state, and made myself a promise. This day, next year, I’ll be a different person.
For me, I knew the very first step had to be to get back on an exercise routine and start eating right again. After a roller coaster of a year, I achieved what I put my mind to and felt and looked like a new person.
Exercise was my principal vehicle and driving force that guided me towards my desired results. It made other hard decisions in my life at the time more manageable and less nerve-wracking. Exercise was my greatest companion in a time of dire need, when I didn’t feel motivated or like I was heading in the right direction in life. Exercise empowered me and gave me the strength and positive reinforcement to continue moving forward and trust the process.
Now, my days are spent empowering others through exercise in similar ways. Nothing stokes my passion for service and giving as the process, relationships, and results that I’ve seen by being an exercise provider.
Now it’s time for me to give and share what I’ve learned. The following five takeaways are drawn from my experience as a professional and as someone that’s struggled with mental health issues in the past.
1. Start Small
Suppose you haven’t been exercising regularly for over six months. In that case, it won’t serve you best to jump into vigorous exercise six days a week. Instead, try to work up a hard sweat and get your heart rate up two or three days per week to start, while staying active in convenient and less stressful ways on the other days. This could be walks, bike rides, walking the dog, taking breaks for movement at work, stretching, and more.
2. Go Through the Motions
We’ve all been there. The stress of the day and what else needs to get done weighs on us so much that we start to question whether we have the time or energy to get our exercise in. It’s during these times when we overestimate what it takes to get our exercise in. Instead, try to quiet your mind and begin to go through the motions of what you might typically do. This could be either getting dressed, getting in the car, or just starting the routine.
The truth is you won’t feel like exercising every day. I’ve learned and now share with my clients that we can’t trust our emotions in these moments; they’re too unpredictable and fleeting. We have the equation backward. We tend to want to have the feeling to workout before taking action. When the truth is that we need to take action first, and the positive emotions will follow.
Take action. Go through the motions.
3. Make it Social
One of the most frequently spoken positive benefits of working out that I hear from my clients is their relationships with those they work out with. Whether it’s one partner or several, having people around you enhances the experience for nearly every one of the people I’ve coached, young and old. A partner can help with accountability or can bring out your competitive edge, whichever best serves you.
If you know someone you’d like to train with, ask them if they’d like to join you for one of your workouts or vice versa. Don’t know anybody? Join a group class. My businesses utilize group classes for this exact reason. Meet new people – people that you may never have been able to meet otherwise. Build a relationship, achieve your goals together and share your experiences.
4. Strength Train & Get in Zone 2
Strength training is my forte. The benefits of weight lifting or resistance exercise are immense. It builds lean muscle mass, increases bone density, builds neuromuscular coordination, creates structural changes in the brain, and more.
Zone 2 is a zone of cardiac output that builds aerobic capacity. It’s one of the greatest tools for increasing your health span and preventing the onset of disease. Both weight training and aerobic capacity are significant factors in predicting all-cause mortality. If you’re looking for places to place your eggs, starting with these two will have big payoffs.
If you don’t have experience with weight training or how to train cardio optimally, I highly encourage working with a certified coach.
5. Trust the Process, Be Patient
Where I see people struggle the most when trying to sustain their exercise routine is in their ability to get out of their own way and trust the process, especially when there are setbacks.
Exercise works, we all know this, and I can understand if you feel like what you’re doing is not enough or that you should be seeing results already. But what’s the rush? Where are you going so urgently that you need what you want now?
Whenever these conversations come up between my clients and me, I always come back to “trust the process.” Not every day is perfect, and not everything you want to happen will happen. However, when you stay the course and remain consistent, you’re far more likely to actually attain those things.
I’m a believer in the power of exercise because I see how happy it makes people, even when they’re going through tough times. I see the positive impact it has on people’s mood, energy, and perspective. I’ve helped people move past their pain problems and embrace a lifestyle of lifelong activity. I’ve seen a new character and confidence emerge through their old mold, one larger and grander than their past state.
And I know these are only the beginning.
So my request to you is this. Take action. Schedule a workout, invite a friend, hire a coach, get outside, get moving. If you need any help or guidance from someone that’s been there, I’m here for you.
Connor Clark is a Personal Trainer, Strength Coach, and Gym-Owner. In 2020, Connor stepped into the entrepreneurial world when he founded LIFT Performance with his two brothers, bought Melt Fitness, the gym he previously worked for alongside two partners, while also continuing to develop his personal brand, Connor Clark Fitness. Connor now helps adults and athletes alike enhance their fitness and performance, train smarter, and achieve superior results.
Connor is one of our dedicated FUNdraisers for #31DaysofWellness. Learn more about Connor and help him reach his personal goal by visiting his page and donating today at https://mhconn.networkforgood.com/projects/132213-connor-clark-s-fundraiser.