It is well known that exercise is a great choice when it comes to battling mental health and other related issues such as self esteem and confidence. The endorphins released always help to make things better and as the old saying goes, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind.
But why do I believe that boxing is a great choice for fighting issues such as these? As a man in his 40’s, I know only too well how life can throw you some serious curveballs, as I left the comfort of a 9-5 to build my own boxing club I have had to go through some very dark days on my journey of achieving my dream. When you begin your journey you are excited for what lies ahead, what you forget though is just how much struggle it becomes along the path, this can put a huge strain on you mentally and nothing can prepare you for the lows you will come across on your journey, not only does this effect your goal but it can also place a huge burden on you and your family and your relationships with them, whether that is your partner or your children. As a man you feel like there is no one you can really turn to either, you are the head of the family after all, everyone looks to you for guidance but who do we look to for guidance? We’re supposed to be the strength of the family but who gives us strength when the ground is breaking apart beneath us?
Sadly this is something I am beginning to see more often for men over the age of 30, it is one of the reasons I aimed my club and my training for men over the age of 30. At this age we are expected to be settled down, working our jobs, supporting our families and raising our children. But in this day and age, life seldom follows a straight path, the road becomes rocky and it has its blind corners, more and more stress is being thrown upon us, the work life balance becomes non-existent as technology means we are never really disconnected from work, checking emails on our phones and this has a knock on effect on our relationships, we are present with our family’s but we are not mentally present, the time is not one of quality and then our relationships begin to suffer, whether that is with a partner or our children.
We have heard the saying that life is like boxing, there are plenty of quotes to go by. ‘Life is like a boxing match. Defeat is declared not when you fall but when you refuse to stand again.’
‘Life is like a boxing ring, you never know where the next blow is coming from, or when it will arrive.’
‘Life is like a boxing ring where how many punches you hit doesn’t matter, instead how many punches you can take does matter.’
These are just three quotes, so we can see the similarities between the two, life is not an easy journey and we have to battle through the bumpy roads. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but you always learn and you must always move forwards.
How Boxing Helps Mental Health
What part does boxing play in all of this? Boxing is an activity which helps to improve your confidence. Let’s face it, which man wouldn’t mind the feeling of becoming stronger? It is something ingrained into our DNA from thousands of years ago, the ability of knowing we can defend ourselves and our close ones if required gives us an added boost of confidence and self esteem. As you learn how to box, throwing punches, blocking punches, learning new skills and new combinations, the mental challenge it provides not just the progression of your skills will give you a new belief in yourself. Your new found confidence will attract more people into your life, drawn by your improved body language.
Boxing forces you to level up and raise your game, changing your attitude and mindset in the process. Not everyone wants to get into the ring in front of an audience on fight night. For those who do you will discover a new side to you, a side you probably weren’t aware you had until you stepped into the ring and finished the fight. When it is just you inside that squared circle you will learn a lot about yourself and the mental strength you gain from the experience can help thrust you forwards in life. The experience teaches you that you can take on any challenge.
You don’t have to get up on fight night to experience this, even sparring can bring out a new side to you, every time you spar, especially someone new – you go through the same range of emotions, you come out a better person and with added fortitude. I just touched on mindset and the mind is the key to your success, you must change your mindset and you cannot shift your mindset thinking the same thoughts or being around the same negative people. If you are dieting, you go shopping and you just don’t purchase any junk food or chocolates because you know if you buy them and bring back them into your house, you’ll eat them. If you like a few drinks you’ll avoid going out with drinking mates and avoid going to the pub after work because you know you will fall back into the same old habits.
Now boxing may seem lonely from the above example, fighting one on one inside the ring but it is actually a very social sport which develops deep bonds with the people you train with and even fight/spar against. As you train alongside people in the club on the same journey as you, there is a sense of togetherness which develops into another family. Some of those people may be going through life’s hardships just as yourself, but they are always there with you, training, learning. As a coach, training with my guys whether it is a one on one session or a group session has always helped to freshen my mind, even on those dark days I have experienced and sometimes do still experience. You are training with people who share the same interests as you, if you want to discuss an issue on your mind sometimes it helps to share it with someone who does share the same hobbies as you and is not connected to the social circle of your family in any way, a fresh set of ears can offer a helpful perspective. Always talk about what is weighing you down, you’ll find it will lessen the burden on your shoulders and you never know how helpful the advice you could receive will be to you. The friends you make in the club, whether it is your coach or those you spar with come from all walks of life with their own experiences, draw on these if you ever feel you want to.
There have been times I have sparred someone for the first time, when the sparring commenced you could see in his eyes he wanted to hurt me, I’m sure he saw the same thing in my eyes but when the sparring was over, you shake hands and get to know one another and as the conversation flows it can sometimes spill over to a gentle discussion about life in general and who knows what nuggets of gold to help each of you can take from these talks.
It is easy to say that as a form of intense exercise boxing is great because of the mood boost it can produce from the training, yes the training is hard and the results physically are great, you will look better and become healthier from the intense training boxing provides, this alone will greatly enhance your mental health as you see the changes in your physique. But the mental health benefits go far beyond just the physical. The sense of achievement from learning how to box, the company of like minded people who understand your journey, the friendships you develop with your fellow trainees all help to strengthen the mind. Often times someone can feel at their lowest not just because of the problems they are going through but because they continue to think over their problems whilst hiding from the rest of the world, the best way to stop this and change your mindset is to get up and do something and going to your boxing club and working out, punching things, learning new skills is a great way to do this. Taking action is one of the best pieces of advice I can give you, nothing is solved by overthinking or sitting there wondering over the ifs and buts.
Boxing is also perfect for stress release – time and time again I have heard from the clients I train that punching the pads or punching the bag has a soothing effect on their mental state, as if it releases the stress and strains building up inside you. I have trained successful people who run their own businesses(sometimes with multiple locations) and they commented how boxing helped them stay calm through the working day and handle their clients and meetings in a much more relaxed state(you can read some of their testimonials on my home page here)
If you are experiencing a down period in your life and you are reading this, please reach out to someone and talk. Drop me an email if you wish, come to my club for a free session if you happen to be local to Watford. Whatever you do, don’t keep it bottled up inside you because there are people out there waiting to help if you only let them listen. Boxing is like a family, so let’s help each other in any way we can.
Boxing Coach Strength and Conditioning Coach Boxing Author of: The Boxing Cheat Sheet - Your Ultimate Guide to Ring Survival Strength and Conditioning for Boxing - Work out Hits to get you Fighting Fit! Forgotten Legends of the Ring - Ten Past Masters of the Squared Circle
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