mental health series

The Mental Health Series

Can strength training improve mental health?

Through older episodes we’re re-releasing and new episodes, we examine this and related topics, including friendship, dating, grit, positivity & negativity, depression, and the consequences of COVID.

The series heavily features our friend, Dr. David Puder, a pscyhiatrist and host of his own podcast, The Psychiatry & Psychotherapy Podcast, which you can learn more about here.

Ep 1: Overcoming Negativity

Gillian and Sarah Shanahan, Barbell Logic’s Registered Dietician, join Niki to discuss how to build healthy relationships and mindsets around food, training, ourselves, and others to ultimately overcome negativity.  

Too often people succumb to black and white thinking and negative, spiraling thoughts–e.g. this food is bad and I’m bad for eating it.  We find ourselves overcome with negative thoughts and focused on past failures and mistakes.  

We’ve got to build structure and routines and habits to ensure we move toward our goals.  We need to focus on the present and the current decisions we’re faced with, as opposed to staying obsessed with a recent mistake.  Finally, we’ve got to end thinking that taking care of ourselves is selfish–if we do something that helps ourselves and helps ourselves be better parents, employees, spouses, friends, etc., then it’s ultimately a good thing.  

Ep 2: Testosterone & Friendship

Matt, Scott, and Dr. Puder discuss low testosterone, testosterone replacement therapy, and building friendships.  

Many men develop low levels of testosterone as they age.  They often feel reduced sexual desire and activity, decreased energy and motivation, and decreased confidence.  They often don’t feel themselves, and too often write off how they feel as just a normal aspect of aging.  

When men undergo testosterone replacement therapy, they often feel a returned vigor–a return to normality of when they were younger.  

They discuss building friendships and the importance of firm friendships.  

Finally, they end by looking at the opposite problems of dealing with being overly busy and how to find time versus suddenly having more time (leaving the military, retirement, etc.) and having to fill time with meaningful activities.  

Ep 3: The Science of Connection

What is connection and how do we improve connection. Explore this topic with Scott, Matt, and Dr. Puder.  

Here are the components of connection–by improving these, we can improve our connections:

  • empathy
  • psychological safety: ability to be honest
  • alliance (therapeutic or educational): similar goals/on the same page
  • feedback: specificity

They also discuss what it takes to develop a friendship and how to create friendships if you don’t have any–or you want to improve them.  

Finally, they discuss increasing your awareness of your emotions and those around you.  

Ep 4: Coaching Lifters with Depression

What is depression?  How do we recognize depression in ourselves and others?  How can we help those with depression?  How do we identify and help those who may have depression as strength coaches?  Brooke Haubenstricker–BLOC Staff Coach & PBC–discuss this with Dr. David Puder.

Everyone experiences grief and sadness, but for some at certain points in their life, they become depressed.  Though there are different causes of depression and different types, people will often display certain signs, such as increased or decreased appetite, suicidality, lethargy, trouble sleeping or increased sleep.  

A normal aspect of depression is a gap between reality and perception.  People will not take compliments but will linger on critical feedback.  

Although coaches can take certain actions to help those with depression, it is important to remember that we are not mental health professionals though we can help.  The importance of building good relationships and authentic connection is also revealed, as if we have built trust and an ability to communicate prior to depression, we are more likely to be able to not only identify the issue but also help.  

Dr. Puder and Brooke discuss practical ways to approach lifters, such as changing workouts to a total number of reps and ensuring communication is positive and encouraging.  

Ep 5: The Red Flags of Dating, pt. 1

Whereas Dr. Puder first addressed friendships, he now digs into romantic relationships, how to find and create healthy, enlivening relationships, and what to avoid when looking for a partner.

Here is his red flags list: 

Often times, if you find yourself attracted to those people who have many of these attributes, the best way to address this is to work on yourself–seek therapy and other means to improve yourself.  Also, have friends and others you can turn to to provide healthy, honest feedback on your dating choices.  

Ultimately, this is about thriving.  

Ep 6: The Red Flags of Dating, pt. 2

Matt, Scott, and Dr. Puder continue their discussion of red flags and green lights:  things to avoid and things to look for in partners to build healthy relationships.  

Here is the red flags list:

Many people didn’t see healthy relationships as a child, and media too often only cover relationships still in the early, puppy love phase.  Long-term healthy relationships involve getting past the puppy love phase, learning and then accepting the others’ faults.  Adults often find themselves mimicking the relationships they had or saw as children.  Learn how to work on yourself, and your relationship, and better identify the warnings signs of unhealthy partners.  

Ep 7: The Value of Grit

What is grit? How do we increase grit and why do we need it?

Just as we can increase our strength through barbell training, we can increase our mental toughness and grit through undergoing the challenges involved in barbell training.  The grit we develop through this process helps us when life confronts us with obstacles, which it inevitably will.  

Ep 8: Dealing with the COVID Chaos

COVID has disrupted our lives and led to isolation and fear for many people.  There are the twin fears of getting sick and losing loved ones, and then the fear of losing one’s job and other economic consequences.  

In difficult times, it often helps to read or observe the writings and experiences of those who have experienced harder times than you.  Dr. Puder and Matt cover some of Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and how Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist and Jewish person, survived the holocaust and ultimately worked to find meaning in the worst of times.  

Ultimately, the best way is to find ways to build order amidst the chaos–whether it be making your bed, doing your dishes, getting dressed despite staying home, and building habits and routines whether you’re working or suddenly find yourself working from home.  

This podcast originally aired soon after many things shut down due to COVID, but it applies today as much as then.  

Bonus: Training with Depression

Dr. David Puder and Brooke Haubenstricker return to discuss training with depression. How do we help those–or help ourselves–exercise and train and reap the benefits of exercise and training if they–or we–struggle to find the motivation to not just exercise but to get out of bed?

One hurdle is that many people are overwhelmed and don’t know how to begin. They either haven’t lifted or–if they have lifted–they’ve often done “bench and bis” or some other bodybuilding style regimen, or they’ve done what a coach told them to do for a sport. The methodology of training we’re recommending involves full body, barbell exercises to improve strength.Another obstacle is that people too often compare themselves to people in the media or social media that have access to personal chefs, personal trainers, illegal substances, all the benefits of photography and editing, and the fact that they chose a specific time to take the photo–they’re presenting they’re best, edited self, with the benefits of resources we likely don’t have access to.

Another difficulty to overcome is that too many people focus on their body and body image. How much time do you want to think about how your body looks? Let’s transition to a more functional idea:  strength helps us accomplish things, beyond overcoming the weight of the barbell. It takes the focus off something that too often produces unhealthy thoughts and onto something that gives us agency.

Finally, they need to be kind to themselves and not so critical. If they assess their selves, it needs to be with charity and patience and love.




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