How Strength Training Exercises Can Lift Your Mood

Stuck in a rutAre you stuck in a rut?

Maybe you don’t feel good about yourself or your body.

You’re definitely not alone.

If you’re not feeling great about yourself or if you’re coping with emotional challenges such as depression or anxiety as well as living with pelvic floor problems the combination can really get you down.

Having recently returned to strength training exercises, I’ve been reminded how good strength training makes me feel … strength training makes me feel strong, think more clearly and lifts my mood for the entire day.

Read on now to learn…

a. Can strength training exercises help your:

  • Self esteem?
  • Depression?
  • Anxiety?

b. Best strength training exercises for your mental health

How Strength Training Can Improve Your Psychological Well-Being

We’re all aware that strength training exercises change our muscles and tissues.

It’s fascinating to learn that research confirms that strength training exercises also change the chemicals and structures in our brain (neurobiology).

Brain changes that occur with strength training have an anti ageing effect on our brains 1 .

Exercise reduces our stress hormones (cortisol) and increases our feel good hormones (endorphins) 2 .

Positive self esteem1. Strength Training Exercises & Self esteem

Your self esteem or how you feel about yourself can affect your mood, how well you cope with life and your overall mental health. Having good self esteem is associated with overall happiness and emotional wellbeing.

In other words feeling good about yourself can help your emotional well-being.

Some women find that pelvic floor problems decrease self esteem. If you feel that you can’t exercise because of your pelvic floor problems so that you lose strength or gain weight this can also make you lose confidence and feel low.

Research into strength training and self esteem shows that strength training improves self concept in young and mature healthy women3 .

2. Strength Training Exercises for Anxiety & Depression

Strength training with resistance bandClinical depression and anxiety can both decrease the motivation and desire to exercise.

Pelvic floor problems are a source of anxiety and suffering for some (not all) women. Living with prolapse issues, incontinence problems or pelvic pain can be very stressful and emotionally taxing.

While pelvic floor problems may not necessarily cause clinical depression or anxiety, these issues still cause some women to experience low mood, decreased self esteem and overall enjoyment of life – especially in women who already suffer from emotional and psychological problems.

a. Strength Training For Depression

There is a large body of evidence supporting the value of strength training exercises for the treatment of clinical depression by improving symptoms.

What type of strength training helps depression?

The exact dose of strength training required to help manage depression is currently unknown.

Research5 supports:

  • Strength training or a combination of aerobic fitness exercise and strength training exercises – these are more effective than aerobic training
  • More frequent strength training sessions 
  • Light to moderate resistance exercises – strength training doesn’t need to be heavy or intense to have a positive effect on mood.

b. Strength Training For Anxiety

Strength training for reducing anxiety has also been demonstrated in research however similar to depression the exact required dose is unknown.

Studies using strength training exercise programs that have reduced anxiety included:


  • Low to moderate resistance (50-55%1RM) is more beneficial than high intensity
  • Long rests between sets (90 seconds)

Best Strength Exercises For Your Mental Health?

Current research suggests:

1. Choosing strength exercises or strength and aerobic fitness exercises (and keep them pelvic floor safe!)
2. Doing strength exercises frequently
3. Light to moderate intensity (i.e. pelvic floor safe strengthening)
4. Long rests between sets of exercises i.e. 90 seconds

More research is needed before we know the most effective dose of strength exercise for mental health.

More suggestions to help your emotional wellness with strength training:

Group exercise for women

  • Choose a setting that you enjoy (e.g. home, outdoors, gym)
  • Consider group exercise for the added social benefits and motivation
  • Choose pelvic floor safe strength and fitness exercises
  • Include a variety of strength exercises for the main muscle groups
  • Progress your exercises as your strength improves over time

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Get your free Poster Guide for Pelvic Floor Safe Strengthening to help you strengthen safely.

Key Points for Strength Training Exercises and Mental Health

The research to date6 tells us:

  • Strength training improves self esteem
  • Strength training reduces symptoms of depression in patients with diagnosed depression
  • Strength training reduces anxiety in healthy women

Further studies are needed to help us understand these effects on the brain and to know the most appropriate strength training regimes for mental health.


Inside Out Book & DVD

with Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist
Michelle Kenway

Learn pelvic floor safe strength exercises and avoid exercises that overload the pelvic floor causing pelvic floor problems.

Inside Out book and DVD is a complete exercise solution if you’re wanting to strengthen safely and protect your pelvic floor.



1. Liu-Ambrose T1, Nagamatsu LS, Voss MW, Khan KM, Handy TC. Resistance training and functional plasticity of the aging brain: a 12-month randomized controlled trial. Neurobiol Aging. 2012 Aug;33(8):1690-8.

2. Chen MJ. The neurobiology of depression and physical exercise. Handbook of Physical Activity and Mental Health. London: Routledge, 2013:16984.

3. Brown RD, Harrison JM. The effects of a strength training program on the strength and self-concept of two female age groups. Res. Q. Exerc. Sport. 1986; 57: 315–20.

4. Bibeau W. S., Moore J. B., Mitchell N. G., Vargas-Tonsing T., Bartholomew J. B. (2010). Effects of acute resistance training of different intensities and rest periods on anxiety and affect. J. Strength Cond. Res. 24 2184–2191

5. Rimer J, Dwan K, Lawlor DA, Greig CA, McMurdo M, Morley W, Mead GE. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. Exercise for depression. 2012 Jul 11;7.

6. O’Connor, P.J., Herring, M.P. and Carvalho, A. (2010). Mental health benefits of strength training in adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 4(5), 377-396.

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