The fact of the matter is that lifting weights (or calisthenics) makes you feel better about yourself and aids you in your fight against depression. I’ve had friends who were depressed or had low self-confidence and when I suggested to them to work out they got even angry at me. Like I mentioned before this is a consequence of depression which increases your inertia. Fortunately inertia is easy to overcome. At the beginning you do a little each time and this gives you momentum. And momentum builds up! Remember there are two types of people in this world: those who don’t move their asses and those who are not losers. Which one do you want to be?
Note that I’m not an “aesthetic body builder”. I don’t lift for “muscle size” to impress the opposite sex. I do it because it makes me a stronger person. Read on.
Because lifting makes my body feel great
There are some things in life which you don’t understand unless you try for yourself. Lifting weights is one of them. When I lift weights such as bench pressing or squatting, it’s like my muscles are glowing with energy. Not just that, lifting remoulds my skeleton to a new better shape. Before lifting my body feels rusty from sitting at my desk, behind a computer or behind a steering wheel. Depression affects posture as well. But after I lift it’s like my skeleton has been remodeled to the way it is supposed to be. My back feels strong and upright, my shoulders feel wider and back instead of slouching and my arms and legs feel powerful. I really get pumped.
I highly encourage you to try and see for yourself.
Because it’s a struggle and makes me tougher
This is the most important reason. There are folks who say depressed people are just lazy. That they should just “man up” and get back to their normal lifes. I don’t subscribe to this of course. I’ve been severely depressed in the past myself and I know better than anyone that depression is completely different from sloth. HOWEVER depression causes your discipline, zest and pain threshold to decrease.
Pay attention to the cause and effect here. I’m NOT saying it’s low discipline and sloth that manifests itself as depression. I’m saying depression can make you not be eager to struggle and vie for your life.
So what’s the remedy for this problem? When you are depressed, because you’ve had it hard, you like to take it easy. And you are right to some extent. To some extent. Like I said in the very first article of this blog, to get out of depression you have to push yourself a little bit. There is no way around it. No pill or snake oil is going to help if you don’t push yourself even just a little bit.
Let’s face it life is a struggle for most people. Unless you are a lucky bastard who received 3 million dollars from his daddy, you have to vie and struggle in your life. And what can rekindle the desire to struggle in you better than some real physical struggle?
When I’m squatting with 1.5 times my body weight on my shoulders, at the bottom of the squat when I’m struggling to stand back up, it’s like I’m a Saturn V rocket bound for the moon. There is hardly anything else in life that matches the sense of struggle and reward that this gives me. After a lifting session I’m ready to pick up any challenges and face any obstacles that life throws at me. I’m ready to go through a stone wall.
Lifting is by no means the only way of simulating struggle and toughening up. Running, climbing, manual labor, long hikes, fasting, etc do as well. I will elaborate in a future article that one reason depression is rampant in modern societies is that people don’t have to do manual, or more generally physical work anymore.
So, yes, sometimes the remedy is the opposite of what feels right.
Because lifting fights depression
A meta-analysis of 33 different studies show that lifting can indeed combat depression. However like I said below you gotta see for yourself!
I had a bout of depression when I was a university student. Luckily for me the university gym was within walking distance of my dorm and it’s always important that you make use of what is available to you. So I went there 5 days a week doing 20 minutes of cardio followed by 20 minutes of lifting. The effect on my confidence and sharpness of mind (which had been dulled by depression) as well as on my sleep was tremendous.
Because it improves my posture
You can easily tell a person who lifts apart from someone who does not by paying attention to their posture. Non-lifting people have a slouching posture, their shoulders are rounded. Lifters on the other hand have a puffed out chest, wide shoulders, an upright body and generally look strong. When you look at them something stands out to you … that they have struggled and they look tough…
Because it makes others respect me more
And this special thing, the tough, powerful, been-there-done-that aura and upright posture makes you respect them more. Just like people respect someone who fought a mountain lion with his bare hands.
I used to be a total nerd who never worked out and as a result had a bad posture. At the time I wondered why some people did not respect me as much as I thought I deserved. Now I know the answer: it was because I exuded weakness. It is funny to compare this to how people see me now. But hey, there are always people who don’t give a sh!t about you so you should lift for yourself, to make yourself stronger and tougher. Other people’s reaction will come as a byproduct.
Because it’s a release of anger
All of us get anger and tension from everyday life. Whether it is someone else being inconsiderate to you or letting you down or the general frustration with the environment you live in. In the past I let my anger consume me but now I channel my anger into useful pursuits such as lifting, running or writing (and more recently music). And make no mistake, anger is a great motivator. (This is the subject of a whole other article.)
I’ve not found any release of anger better than deadlifts and squats. They suck up all the physical anger and tension out of you. This is especially useful to those of you who have difficulty controlling their anger.
How to lift weights
Using free weights such as dumbbells and especially barbell is superior to using the machines, in that working with free weights involves multiple groups of muscles at once as well as muscles needed for keeping your balance. Whereas each machine affects only a few of your muscles, exercises such as squats or barbell rolls involve lots of muscles in your body. Machines are more suitable for older folks or those with disabilities or injuries.
However you have to be careful and do free weight exercises properly or otherwise you can hurt yourself badly. You may need to hire a trainer for a while until you get a handle on them. This is why easy going people go for the machines! However the satisfaction you get from working with the barbell is not comparable to what you get from the machines. I myself learned barbell lifting by watching videos on Youtube and reading the resources mentioned below.
There are a few good barbell lifting routines such as Starting Strength and 5×5. Pick one and stick to it for a while. You will see later that ultimately it is you who has to design the perfect workout routine for you. For example I myself after trying Starting Strength for more than a year have been focusing more on my upper body as my legs are quite strong. (Without forgetting my lower body of course.) I also recommend reading this book.
If this sounds too difficult for you despair not, there is an alternative.
If lifting weights is too difficult for you or you can’t afford a gym subscription (or a home lifting room) you can try calisthenics. The great thing about calisthenics is that you can do them almost everywhere and they cost nothing. In a sense calisthenics involve more movement is different parts of your body than lifting.
There are various calisthenics exercises and routines which can make you overwhelmed. Here I tell you a very simple one which will give you great results. The aim is to do
100 body weights squats for your legs, glutes and core,
100 pushups for your upper body and
100 knee tucks for your abs and core
almost every day. Now I know what your saying. “100 pushups a day? Who can do that?? Are you insane?!” Firstly you don’t have to do all of them in a row. You split them into a few sessions throughout the day. Also this is the ideal. You may be better doing 60 a day instead of 100. It’s totally up to you however try to increase your reps each week if you can. Start with 10 reps and try to increase it by 10 each week. If full pushups are difficult for you, you can do leaning or kneeling pushups. (Search the youtube.) Females reading this may find these more interesting than full pushups.
100 body weight squats a day (again doesn’t have to be done all in a row) is totally doable unless you have an injury or disability. If you want a book that introduces you to calisthenics step by step from very easy exercises all the way to difficult ones, I highly recommend Convict Conditioning.
Start this routine today and see how much better it makes your body feel. I’m saying start TODAY, not tomorrow. Remember what the old proverb says:
If you don’t do it today, it will never happen!