Exercise can be a major help in fighting and overcoming the debilitating effects of depression. Fitness Coach Kevin Troeger shares some insights on training depressed clients.
Depression is a serious mental condition that can be debilitating for someone suffering it. Depression is not the same for everyone, with conditions ranging from clinical depression to manic depression or bi-polar disorder.
Physically, exercise helps, but it’s more on the psychological/mental side that the benefits truly become apparent. Exercise stimulates the release of serotonin and endorphins – hormones closely associated with feelings of wellbeing and happiness that are sometimes referred to as the body’s natural antidepressants.
In addition to this release of feel-good hormones, those who exercise will also tend to feel a sense of accomplishment for having participated in a workout.
There are a few factors to consider when designing an exercise program for people with this condition.
You should be aware of potential changes in personality. Your client may become withdrawn, get short-tempered, or become easily frustrated, so you will need to be patient with them.
Your client’s energy levels and motivation will likely be quite low, so it’s better if the program starts at a very low base and progresses only when the client is ready.
A client I trained prior to being diagnosed was active every day and comfortably performed a 10-minute cardio warm up, four-sets circuit, abs and lower back exercises and warm down stretches within an hour’s training session. For the first three months after being diagnosed with depression, she could not, and did not want to, enter the gym or do any exercise.
It was a catch-22, as she wanted to get in to train but would get more down on herself and feel like a failure because she just couldn’t do it. When she did start training again, she struggled to get through a 5-minute warm up, one set of each exercise (at a much lighter weight and lower intensity than previously) and some ab exercises in the same one-hour session. This client simply did not have the energy to sustain exercise and was fatiguing far more quickly than previously. As personal trainers, we must be aware of this significant effect on training capability, and adapt both our exercise prescription and our expectations of the client.
A client with depression may also be taking some form of prescription medication, which can have adverse side effects. They may have a suppressed appetite or a significant drop in blood pressure, and therefore may need to take much longer to sit or stand up from a supine position in order to prevent feeling dizzy or faint. In such cases, it may be best to avoid any exercises that require the client to lie down, either prone or supine. At other times, it may be necessary to just take things particularly easy during the session.
When personal training clients 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 a sense of accomplishment and release some of those ‘feel good’ hormones. Don’t push them too hard until they are ready, and allow for some leniency. You want them to boost their confidence and experience a sense of achievement, but without adding to the physical and mental stresses they are already trying to cope with.
For more insights on the mental health benefits of personal training individuals with depression, click here.
Kevin is a former Coach at the AIF 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 AIF and the authors do not take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.