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The Fitness Zone

How To Train Depressed Clients
June 27, 2012 | by Kevin Troeger

Exercise can be a major help in fighting and overcoming the debilitating effects of depression. The Institute's NSW Coach Kevin Troeger gives you advice on training depressed clients.

Depression is a serious mental condition that can be debilitating for someone suffering with it. People can have varying forms, being diagnosed with conditions ranging from clinical depression to manic depression or bi-polar disorder. The symptoms can be anything from a lack of energy to struggling with the motivation to do anything.

Physically exercise helps, but it's more on the psychological/mental side that the benefits are seen. Exercise stimulates the release of seratonin' and endorphins'. These are hormones closely associated with feelings of wellness and happiness and are sometimes referred to as our body's natural anti-depressants. Not only does this help, but your client should also feel positive that they have accomplished something.

An individual with depression have a change in personality in that they may become withdrawn and get short-tempered, grumpy or frustrated easily, so you'll need to be patient with them.

There are other considerations to be taken into account when designing an exercise program for people with this condition. A big thing is that their energy levels and motivation will be quite low, so it's better if the program starts at a very low base and is progressed when the client is ready.

A client I trained prior to being diagnosed was very active every day and comfortably doing a 10min cardio warm up, four sets circuit, abs/lower back and stretches all in an hour. For the first three months after diagnosis this client could not, and did not want to, enter the gym and do any exercise.

It was a catch-22 as she wanted to get in to train but would get more down on herself and felt like a failure because she just couldn't do it. Once we started up again, she literally struggled to get through a 5min warm-up, one set of each exercise (at a much lighter weight and lower intensity) and some abs in that same hour. This client just did not have the energy to sustain exercise and was fatiguing much quicker than usual.

It also takes some time to adjust to the medication as they can have some side affects. Sometimes they may have a suppressed appetite or a big drop in blood pressure and therefore may need a much longer time to sit or stand up from a supine position without feeling dizzy and faint. This would mean that sometimes it may be best to avoid any exercise where the client is laying down, either prone or supine, and other days it may be best to just really take it easy during the session.

With depression, the goal is generally not to push the client with heavy weights or high intensity exercises. It is about movement and completing something that will give them that sense of accomplishment and release some of those feel good' hormones. So don't push them too hard until they are ready, and allow for some leniency. We want that sense of achievement and confidence but without adding to the physical and mental stresses they are already trying to cope with.


Kevin is a Coach at the Australian Institute of Fitness NSW.

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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