Here’s How Strength Training Makes Your MIND Stronger

Walk into most gyms and it’s pretty likely that you’ll see mirrors. Most often they’re used as a teaching tool, to adjust and improve technique, often when it’s hard to feel exactly what’s going on during a movement.

You may be thinking about the mirrors that hang on walls and reflect light, but those aren’t the ones I have in mind. The mirrors that I’m talking about are the equipment: the weights, ropes, bands, and straps that reflect back to our bodies what’s happening in our minds.

Let’s get metaphysical, shall we?

Exercise has a unique position of being entirely metaphorical and practical at the same time. We can quite literally talk about the physical benefits of strength training: improved body composition, more resilient bodies, greater physical abilities.

When we talk about those benefits, we often skip talking about the increased confidence and self-efficacy that comes with strength training.

Mindset and Mitochondria

To me, the most important benefit of strength training is the improved mindset. Y’all know I like to nerd out on mitochondria, but I don’t think that’s why anyone is actually here. Sure, we want to improve our health and hotness, but for right now let’s strip away those superficial goals and look into the core of our being: we want to become stronger as people.

When our bodies get stronger, our minds get stronger – we can’t separate the two from happening. When we exercise, we engage in a cycle of trials and tribulations that makes our entire being stronger.

That strength isn’t reflected in our aesthetics, or in our athletic prowess, but specifically in confidence and determination we develop over the weeks, months, and years of our exercising lives. It’s because of this that I’ve come to believe the following statement:

We’re Better People When We Exercise.

Consider this thought experiment: What if we had cloned versions of ourselves, and our clones had the exact same life experiences, except for exercise.

We could easily predict obvious differences in our health and fitness, and I think there would also be differences in the quality of life of the clone that regularly exercises.

There are most certainly moments in life that don’t rely on the performance of our bodies, but dedicating time to that performance can have a drastic impact on our body confidence and self-efficacy, or the belief in our ability to succeed in a specific situation.

If our bodies grow more capable, our mind believes in our abilities even more, and we’re more likely to seek novel experiences and more of the social opportunities that life has to offer.

This mind body connection doesn’t happen from haphazardly trying new things and seeing what works. That’s like randomly choosing ingredients and hoping it becomes a tasty meal. We need a time and space for deliberate practice to get there.

In many ways, Mark Fisher Fitness is a laboratory that allows for that practice. Rather than having computers and metabolic carts, our movements and muscles give us a better understanding of what’s happening in our minds.

MFF is a creative space for exercise psychology, one in which our community of Ninjas and Coaches can collaborate to find out what challenge is most appropriate on any given day.

Working together, we’re able to figure out both as individuals and as a group by exploring: What’s the perfect challenge to consistently learn about our most confident selves?

We measure fitness in the metrics of sets and reps, heart rate, and calories. We feel fitness in the emotions of accomplishment, pride, in moments of, “Holy shit I didn’t know that I could do that!”

Those Magic Moments

These are the moments that stick out the most, but they aren’t the only moments worth celebrating. As a coach, I find that it’s important to celebrate the seemingly trivial moments, when Ninjas realize that not every workout has to be harder or faster than the last one, that moderation is surprisingly effective for long-term success, and that they don’t always need someone to tell them what to do.

Recently, I’ve been focusing on acknowledging when Ninjas beat me to an adjustment that I would have offered. These are significant moments to me because those adjustments speak of body awareness and confidence, and that’s far more likely to happen when we take a holistic view of strength that considers quantity and quality.

Quality, as a Measure of Strength

What is the quality of the work that you’re doing? At the MFF Clubhouse, quality is our compass, a way of mentally measuring the work that we’re doing. I can confidently bet that the Ninja Army as a whole might move better than any other fitness community on Earth. (It helps that we collectively have a billion years of experience in the arts.)

When a new Ninja comes into our fold, it’s typical that past fitness experiences have given them a “more is better” approach to movement, and it takes awareness and mental strength to shift away from that approach.

Mental strength can be expressed when we limit our physical quantity to ensure the quality of the movement that we’re doing. Strength is honoring the limits of ability to move well, rather than testing our ability to move, period. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you can do it well, and practicing that is a practice of mindbody strength.

The Other 23 Hours Per Day

When we learn and improve on these limits within the controlled walls of MFF, we’re better able to apply our practice of strength elsewhere. Often it’s a continued physical practice, of applying this mindset to a spin class, run, or carrying boxes while moving.

It can also be the practice of finding comfort with discomfort, when Ninjas try new meals, types of art, or communication styles after practicing strength and confidence in the controlled setting of fitness.

We often joke during Snatched in Six Weeks that someone is going to realize that they need to quit their job or break up with their significant other, and that’s because it actually happens.

When we take care of ourselves during our workout, we’re far better prepared to take care of ourselves during the other 23 hours per day. We learn more about how much we’re worth, what we can choose to tolerate, and what we can choose to NOT tolerate.

One Step Further

At this point, you can tell that we’re not talking about sets and reps, right? We’re talking about the deep inner strength that’s developed when we embrace meaningful physical challenges.

For some Ninjas, that means taking our Circuit Party class for the first time, where we rotate through a 10-exercise circuit. The format is unlike any other class we offer, and it can be intimidating at first.

Some Ninjas embrace challenge by signing up for semi-privates and spending time in the Dragon Lair or Monster Island, our two weight rooms. I can’t tell you how often Ninjas tell me about how specific experiences in high-school P.E. class turned them off to lifting weights, and how meaningful it is to overcome that.

If there’s a literal example of strength training impacting both your body and mind, it’s rewriting our personal narratives of what our body is capable of!

Many of us rewrite that narrative within the walls of the Clubhouse and the safety of our community, but what if we were to embrace that confidence in other situations? Perhaps there are activities that you’ve always wanted to try, but haven’t yet. Key word? Yet.

Takeaways for Outside the Gym

Perhaps you’d like to go back to dance class, learn a new instrument, or try an activity like paddleboarding. Let’s take the mental strength and physical fitness you already have, and practice using it in new situations!

When we exercise and develop our body’s capabilities, our mind can’t help but go along on the adventure. That physical fitness gives us more freedom to explore the world around us, and that is what strength is all about!


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Harold Gibbons is the Steward of Strength at MFF, where he teaches classes & semi-privates, manages the program design team for semi-private training, is the director of the Trainer-in-Residence program, and the founder of the Motivation and Movement LAB. When not teaching, he loves cuddling up on the couch with his fiancée Katie, sliding through the woods on his mountain bike, and considering why Thestrals are the best.

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