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What Personal Trainers Need To Know About Depression

Are you OK? 

As a personal trainer, these should be one of your go-to words for every client. 

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world, with one out of four women and one out of six men suffering clinical depression at some point in their lives. For this reason, it’s important that personal trainers know how to recognise the symptoms and meet the needs of clients with this mental illness.

How do you know?

Depression affects people in a multitude of ways and can present very differently in each individual. Generally, a person with depression may lack energy and motivation. They may feel worthless and have low self-esteem, feel anxious, overwhelmed, or numb.

If you’re a trainer and have a client who you believe might be depressed then watch for the following signs:

  • A sudden change in a client’s personality.
  • They may become withdrawn, short-tempered or easily frustrated.
  • Overly self critical.
  • Difficulty sleeping or eating.
  • Difficulty concentrating or loss of interest in exercise.

A temporary shift in mood doesn’t automatically point towards a depression diagnosis. However, if the negative feelings last longer than a couple of weeks and begin to interfere with the person’s everyday life there is cause for concern.

Depression can be very difficult to recognize so if in doubt, refer a client on so that they can be properly diagnosed by a healthcare professional.

What can Personal Trainers do?

Recognise the warning signs, stay informed and don’t be afraid to address the topic with your client and simply ask them if they’re okay. 

It may be difficult, but chances are that your client will appreciate the effort. Remember, empathy is a key trait of a good personal trainer.

Once you’ve established that a client is experiencing depression, you’ll need to alter your training sessions to suit them. You’ll likely have to start with low-impact exercises before working up to more intense sessions.

Personal trainers may also need to adjust their expectations and motivation methods. Aggressive and authoritarian training methods will rarely help a depressed client, but patience and learning how to best deal with mood swings certainly should..

What exercises are best?

To maximise the benefits from a workout, you should aim for the activities to be fun and involve rhythmical breathing, as this can have a meditative effect. Both cardio and weight training have been found to have positive effects for clients suffering depression. 

What to watch for

Remember, you’re not a psychologist, though the nature of their job may at times put you in a similar position as you deal with clients on such a personal level. Without the qualifications on how to handle mental health, it’s important that you encourage a depressed client to seek adequate professional help.


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