T Nation

Training Around a Mental Illness


I’m wondering if anyone here (though I’d specifically love to hear from Christian Thibaudeau if he has any comments on this) trains with a mental illness like schizophrenia or manic-depression or the like, or has ever trained a seriously committed client who struggles with that kind of thing.

If so, does anyone have tips or strategies for working around a mental illness when it rears its ugly head? How you might change your pre-planned approach given the severe change in mood/energy levels/focus?

Pretty open question, especially given how differently these things can manifest for people, but thought I’d throw it out there because it’s something that’s tough to grapple with, usually private, and difficult to reconcile for the highly disciplined.


For me, a routine of going to the gym and doing progressively heavier or more intense training sessions, is the best thing for me. I need the consistency/continuity/reliability of my program. It’s nice to know I can control something. There are days I don’t feel like going but when I take my pre-workout and get to the gym, I’m all about it. Best time for my mind to just clear itself. Best thing I can do for my psyche.


Thanks, believer. I definitely need the routine and the physical exertion, too. Has working out ever actually made things worse for you, though? For me, training can either help clear me up and focus my head…or it can send me into an even more agitated state. I’ll have no idea which it is on any given day until I’m well into the workout. Wonder if this happens to anyone else.


Lack of exercise and human contact can cause iliness, i love to go to gym do some challenging workouts, talk to people , check the hotties out.
I had near death event a long time ago almost 4 years ago, anyway for two years i couldn’t be more then 7 ft from cell phone , etc
Then i just said fuck it , started training hard again , and that was key to me living, instead of survival . I am also down to 1 clozapam a day instead of three
I know i will feel great when i get goals, Mike Tyson and Hershal Walker are two of most gifted athletes have mental illness and learning to turn that into success.
Maybe have an angry workout, and a happy workout, if that makes any sense.

The blue coast area of Japan where the most 100 plus year old people live, all eat together as a community , think of eating at a pot luck , with a hundred people in village every day who you love, talking to elders , and relatives , playing with your peers.


Avoid anything that will get the nervous system too beat down -train just short of failure and definitley not stuff like forced reps. Make sure they take whole days off from excercise and take regular deloads.

If their issues flare up have a go-to easy/enjoyable workout to resort to. A variety of sports and outdoor conditioning based workouts prob a good idea also


Firstly, i would like to preface my reply, by commending you for broaching the issue of Mental Illness on this forum. I am sure like many other forum members who live with a Mental Illness, will find this topic of discussion quite illuminating, refreshing and invaluable.

Personally, i have suffered from Depression for all of my adult life, in varying degrees of severity and duration. During that time, I’ve maintained a steady relationship with the iron :wink: and have found amongst the positive net results it endows the diligent trainer i.e Improved body aesthetics and strength increases etc it can play a facilitatory role in staving off the ruinous effects of Mental Illness, to varying mitigating degrees.

The training experience is cathartic, even meditative in nature and affords the trainer qualities - that can be applied to everyday life with much success - such as structure, routine and the important habit of goal setting,therefore allowing you to redirect your energy and focus not on your internal turmoil, but something more extrinsically positive, attainable and productive.

In all reality, there are times when life circumstances trigger and exacerbate inherent symptoms, which distort and overwhelm your perception, mood, energy levels and behavior; effectively wreaking havoc on a psychosomatic level. Physical output in the form of any type of training is usually the last thing, that is of a requisite priority. It is still important though to engage in some sort of physical stimulus in this transitory low state - i know it’s bloody easier said than done, right!! - as it does provide a tempering effect.

When i am faced with the aforementioned situation, i usually refer to a form of training i call Default Training - a fancy term for deloading if you will - which is basically of short duration and moderately light in intensity. I find Neural Charge workouts are perfect for this type of training as long as you don’t overdo it, and, if possible performed outside in the fresh air, which i have found to be one of the most conducive aids when suffering a depressive episode.

In time when you feel you are in a better place and more balanced, then you can return to your normal training routine. At the risk of sounding cliched, with the right type of therapy, medication, education, exercise and support network, you can still live a deserved life full of quality. I apologise for my long winded and digressive rant. If there are any forum members who are currently suffering, please do not hesitate in contacting me, i am always read to listen. We are all here to help one another, as Mental Illness thrives on anonymity, denial and ignorance. God Bless and all the best for the New Year.


I had a psychotic episode a few years ago & found that the only way it really affected my training was that was that I was away from home quite a bit (part of my coping strategy) so, I’d either A: Not train as much I’d like or B: Train not as intensely as I’d like (I took a db & some resistance bands to my mum’s house).

Of course, had I been training at a public gym at the time time, things could have been very different, being psychotic could of made training in public feel very nerve wracking & I might of even avoided training at a gym because of this.

Things that help I suppose are: Music…music can be great, visceral distraction from negative thoughts, hallucinations etc plus, as I think another poster said, having an easier, more fun type of work-out (especially a really simple home work-out) for when you are not quite feeling up to going the gym can be good. Beyond that, I don’t know what else to add really, it’s really a case by case thing.The key is to realise not everyone’s experience of mental illness is exactly the same, listen, learn & have an open mind.


I totally agree with that. I’m Asperger and I also sometimes deal with bouts of depression. The worst thing to do for me is NOT train because I feel like crap which makes me even more depressed. BUT on these days I have to do things I enjoy. Because if I force myself to do a workout that I don’t enjoy I will totally lose motivation midway and stop, then feel bad about myself and get more depressed.

When “I get that (depressed) feeling” I make the workouts much shorter, not neurologically draining and use exercises and loading schemes I like.

Personally I don’t like having a fixed plan. But those who need one should allow themselves some leeway for adjustments. With clients who are “at risk” (or work a demanding physical job) I give them "trump cards/jokers’’ that they can play when they want. This means changing the planned workout for something they enjoy or doing something completely different. Depending on the person I give them anywhere from 1 to 3 cards per 12 workouts


I don’t recall ever feeling anything but elated walking out of the gym. Once the endorphins start popping, I feel “normal” again.