‘I started destroying myself’ | Putting mental health top of the powerlifting agenda

Bodybuilding does what it says on the tin… but building the body you desire isn’t achieved in the way that people new to lifting will necessarily think.

For every kilo lifted, the body’s muscles are broken down before building back stronger. With time and through discipline, powerlifting grants the individual a passport to achieving their desired weight, shape, and strength.

Now ask yourself: what is my body? It isn’t only your physique but also the organs inside – a network of integrated matter designed to sustain life. Alongside the right amount of exercise, the body also needs sleep and nutrition to ensure all of its components stay healthy.

What’s sometimes forgotten – though thankfully is becoming a more prominent topic of conversation, particularly among athletes – is that the mind is also part of our bodily experience and, although often defined as being separate from our physical existence, is fundamental to the body’s physical development.

On the contrary, the brain is powerful tool that requires stimulation and care to stay healthy – just as our muscles need rest to repair and grow stronger – which is extremely important when we consider that, without the mind, the rest of the body will become powerless.

Boosting mental health

Mental strength and, ultimately mental health, all play an essential role in how we perform as physical specimens and, in return, controlled physical activities such as powerlifting provide the exertion we need to stay both physically and mentally strong.

There are many forms of mental health. Another common misconception is that bad mental health is the experience of negative thoughts or feeling down, whereas good mental health is the opposite. Good mental health is actually defined as being able to fulfil a number of key functions and activities – including the ability to learn and to feel – while expressing a whole range of emotions, including both positive and negative experiences.

This is important to understand since the link between physical activity and mental health is a vital component to leading a fulfilled life, which means that sport – whatever your bag – provides an invaluable means to maintaining the health of your mind, and therefore the health of your body as a whole.

“The bar doesn’t lie,” explains Sohail Rashid, Brawn’s co-founder and CEO. “I find that fulfilling and empowering. No matter what your numbers are, it’s all relative to you… they are like a badge of honour and, if you achieve a PB, that’s something nobody can ever take away from you.

“One of the big things about Brawn is making lifting more accessible and inclusive. Lifting and strength training offers so much to anybody at any level.”

‘Powerlifting gave me mental clarity’

Speaking on her struggles with poor mental health, Commonwealth champion Sophia Ellis explains how powerlifting changed her life’s trajectory and helped her to overcome her battle with anorexia throughout her teenage years.

“I experienced a lot of childhood trauma, which I bottled up and came out when I was a teenager,” Ellis told Joe Media. “Also, at that time, when I was a teenager, my dad got stabbed by a burglar, and I had to become his full time carer.

“Along with being his full time carer, doing my A Levels, and doing three jobs, there was a lot of stuff going on. I didn’t have much control over my life, so instead I started controlling what I was eating.

“This was like a coping mechanism. In order to deal with it, I started destroying myself and basically tried to kill myself, which sounds horrible but is the reality of an eating disorder.

powerlifting & mental health

“For me, I never thought I’d come out of university alive but seeing the photos of me receiving my degree proves that you can achieve anything that you put your mind to and how mad it is that your mind controls so much.”

Sophia goes on to explain the role her local health authority and local government played in her recovery too.

“When I was first discharged from [hospital], I was given a free gym pass from the local council,” she expands. “I just started doing weight training because I had abused cardio for so many years. I love that feeling of being strong. It has given me more mental clarity.”

Purpose gives you power

What this tells us is that recreational sport is a powerful remedy for managing a personal trauma, or perhaps simply to give us a social and fulfilling outlet in order to exercise good mental health.

While the mantra “No pain, no gain” holds some truth to the lifter’s physical journey, it is also true that “gain” has the power to alleviate some of our personal and mental “pain”, or at the very least provide us with a sense of purpose on our journey to good health, whether that be mental, physical or both.

To find out how to maintain a coaching plan designed to your personal needs, visit the Brawn Features page and start your powerlifting journey today.