Mental health is tricky. Just like our physical health, we all find ourselves at a different place along the mental health continuum, depending on the day, hour, or even minute (like myself). Unlike physical health, the topic of mental health is frequently only discussed with a close friend or professional.
But what would happen if we started talking about mental health, in conjunction with physical health, while at the gym?
We frequently hear clients say that they didn’t want to leave the house to go to the gym, but they were so glad that they did. Why is that?
We like to think that we are pretty cool here at Urban Athlete so that’s why you want to come hang out with us, but there is more at play here than simply coming to the gym in order to feel stronger. If you want your muscles to “feel” stronger, that is both a physical and mental health goal, and here’s why:
There is a feedback loop between our muscles and our brain, where our muscles are constantly telling our brains how they are holding-up, and our brain is constantly telling our muscles to get a move-on or quit altogether. Seriously. We would not be able to bench, squat, swing, high pull, jump, tire flip, and you name it if our brains weren’t telling us to do so. In fact, when we begin a new exercise, the very first improvement we see is in that neurological pathway between the motor neuron in our brain and the specific muscle that it innervates (i.e. the quads for a squat)! That is the first to happen! Before you could ever dream of getting stronger, that specific pathway from our neuron to our individual muscle fiber needs to fire over and over again!
I say all this, because when we go to the gym, our brains are working hard – arguably harder than our muscles. Not to boo-hoo on any Netflix bingers out there, because I am certainly one of them, BUT it is a very practical and relatable example. When we are lying on the couch watching TV or sleeping, what are our bodies doing? Our hearts are beating and our lungs are breathing and that’s about it. Arguably a very important job for our brain to have, but it does this job involuntarily and with incredible ease. These pathways also require very little energy, because they are incredibly well established and don’t need our help in order to happen.
As a result, we (myself included) have all this extra energy (our brain needs glucose in order for its neurons to fire) to spend thinking about whatever we want.
~ Here’s what I’m suggesting ~
Spend your brain’s available glucose stores on telling your quads to squat, hamstrings to deadlift, or shoulders to do a push-up.
At least until you eat your next carbohydrate-based snack, your brain won’t have the energy to think about anything else.