Scott H Young

7 Reasons Why the Gym is Better Than Therapy


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I have a love affair with my gym.  She’s not much to look at: a rubber track and weight room in a dank basement, but appearances aren’t everything.  She’s there on my best days and on my worst days.  We never fight, and she doesn’t care what I look like as long as I give her my full attention for a few hours a week.

I was talking with a fellow gym goer recently (the gym and I have an open relationship).  He mentioned that whenever he is facing something frustrating, he goes to the gym.  The gym is his form of therapy, and if I think about it, it’s my stress release too.  So, I’d like to present my list of seven reasons the gym is better than therapy.

Note: I’m joking.  If you’re facing serious problems, talk to someone and face them, don’t just vent at the gym.  But, for smaller stresses, the gym can be one of the best therapists money can buy.

#1 – The Gym is Cheaper

A typical gym membership costs about $300 a year.  If you go to a therapist, once a week for $100 an hour, that’s $5200 per year.  If anything, the gym is a discount stress-reliever, far cheaper than paying someone to hear you talk.

Another benefit: the gym doesn’t charge for the hour.  If you need ninety minutes to sort out a particularly stressful day, she won’t mind and she won’t charge you extra.  If you want to go a few times a week, or even twice on the same day, that’s fine too.  In some places, gyms are even open 24 hours, so you can resolve stress at any time of day.

#2 – The Gym Won’t Give Advice

At first, this doesn’t seem like a benefit.  The reason you pay a therapist is to get advice on your problems, right?  But, sometimes it can be.  Many times you go looking for advice, you really just want to think.  You want an empathetic ear to hear your worries while you think about what to do.

I can’t say the gym is empathetic (she’s pretty unfeeling).  But, she doesn’t give you advice.  So if you want to think a situation over for an hour before coming to a decision, she’s patient.

#3 – You Won’t Get Fat

The gym does double-duty.  She helps you keep your stresses to a minimum, and she keeps you in shape.  That’s the kind of package deal you can’t get lying on a couch.

#4 – Free Drugs (natural, of course)

When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins.  These chemicals are associated with feeling happy and relieving pain.  Your body also releases endorphins during an orgasm and when taking cocaine.  The extra endorphins often result in a “runner’s high,” a feeling of well-being after exercise.

#5 – Breathing Exercises

Your breathing affects how you feel.  Try to stay angry after taking ten, 15-second breaths.  Although some therapy may do breathing exercises, the gym is a constant breathing exercise.

If you’re lifting weights, you exhale as you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it back down.  When you’re running, you need to keep a constant breathing pace in line with your steps. Match your breathing with the up and down of a push-up and you’re practically meditating.

#6 – Focused Distractions

Sometimes you just need a distraction.  After a stressful day with work, friends or family, you need to take your mind away from your problems.  Unfortunately, sometimes it can be hard to pry your mind away.

If you’re looking to be distracted, most therapy is definitely out.  Talking about your issues isn’t a good way to take your mind away from them.  But the gym can provide an outlet, forcing you to focus on something else for an hour.

#7 – Little Wins to Rebuild Your Confidence

The gym gives you plenty of opportunities for little victories.  Every time you do a little bit more, run a little further or last a few minutes longer, you’ve won.  Those little wins rebuild your confidence after a setback.  Stewing in your problems is a recipe to trash your self-image.  If you can get a few more victories under your belt, you can feel better about yourself.

Your First Session

The gym takes a bit of time to get used to.  If you haven’t been in regular sessions for at least a month or two, your time spent with each other might make you feel worse, not better.  You need to get comfortable with your level of fitness so that frustrations outside the gym don’t translate into frustrations because you’re out of shape.

The best part about the gym is that you don’t need a reason to go.  Just shoes, a pass and thirty minutes.


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43 Responses to “7 Reasons Why the Gym is Better Than Therapy”

  1. Eric says:

    Good article… convinced me to start going back to the gym.

  2. Lance says:

    I love my gym too – in a dark basement, some metal and rubber. And there’s no better place for me to go when I’ve had a stressful day. My gym has become a refuge – and really speaks the truth to me (you can lift that much weight – just try). I always leave feeling a natural high. And that’s even when I don’t have my best workouts. So, I’m with you 100% – gyms are great stress relievers.

  3. Bubba says:

    The gym cured my bi-polarity disorder! Thanks Scott!

  4. Bob says:

    Wow. You really missed the mark with this entry. I’m hoping you were drunk when you wrote this. Seriously.

  5. GregD MA says:

    Exercise has been proven to elevate the mood and improve physical health, but it is no substitute for legitimate psychological intervention. A bone to pick with the ‘advice giving’ – a good psychotherapist should not provide much direct advice, but rather evoke the latent emotional processes that would guide directive behavior so the client can make the appropriate decision for themselves. In other words, a good therapist doesn’t provide direct advice, they ask open-ended questions that guide the client in the direction they ultimately want to go.

    Also, the gym will not elucidate maladaptive cyclical patterns or negative thought patterns that have existed since the beginning of their development or at any time during their lifespan. The gym may be cheaper and can provide certain undeniable benefits, but it is in no way a substitute for quality psychotherapy.

  6. Julia says:

    I believe going to the gym has done so much for me mentally and physically. I go to college and those few precious hours a week I can think clearer and feel the burn, as it may, doing it. It’s my only me time I have. The muscle tension and exhaustion leave my mind at ease and free to complete the next task. I’ve never been to therapy, but I believe I won’t have too.

  7. Scott Young says:

    Apparently even when I say I’m joking in the article, people still take me way too seriously.

    Bob, Bubba and Greg. No, the gym isn’t a replacement for therapy. My point was to comment on the the therapeutic effects of gym going, and how I feel it helps out with my mental well-being. Am I exaggerating? Of course, that’s the point.

  8. Josh says:

    I agree with all of your points, but I happen to belong to a gym that costs $150/month. Now, granted, it looks more like a 5 star hotel than a dank basement (there’s a rock climbing wall, squash courts, a spa, 2 pools, towel service, etc.) but it is worth every penny. When I used to go to a crap gym I always found it gross and depressing and I stopped going. The environment at the gym has a big impact on how well I work out.

  9. Kali says:

    At first when I saw the title why going to the gym is better than therapy I wanted to slap your face.

    Then, with your little disclaimer there, I thought, wow, what a great way to break down why the gym is such a potent stress-reliever.

    One thing I’d like to add to one-up therapy is that there are places you can get it where it doesn’t cost you that much.

    All in all, great post, Scott :)

  10. Brice says:

    “So, I’d like to present my list of ten reasons the gym is better than therapy.” I guess you started out wanting to list 10, eh?

    I can attest to the “free drug” aspect. This weekend, I ran 11 miles in approximately 1 hr 40 minutes. By the end my knees and ankles were ready to give and my legs were like rubber. The moment I got inside and sat down in the kitchen, I just burst out laughing uncontrollably. It was quite amazing.

  11. Tombot says:

    I slowly collected enough parts to have a covered home gym out back on a concrete slab. I work out alone or my buddies come by to take advantage of it every week. Sometimes it’s hard to get through a complete workout, but I feel great about myself when I do, and for the rest of the week, too!

    I agree. Sometimes it’s a little hard to get started, but all worth it in the end.

  12. Katrina says:

    Let me just say, that if first-time gym goers are thinking about becoming more active, running and/or biking will get you in shape faster. Yes, it’s a generalization, and if you have a personal trainer working with you you’ll do OK in the gym. But 40 minutes of lifting and 20 minutes on the bike burns less than half the fat of an hour running. And once you have that spare tire off, it’s a lot easier to get that six pack.

    Another alternative to the gym is boot camp/outdoor fitness classes. These are really, really great. Think combining team sports with cross training and resistance training. Social, supportive, demanding, and they’ve got something for all levels of fitness, from ultra-marathoners to people who have never done a pull-up. Koi Fitness in San Francisco is awesome.

  13. penty says:

    Nice article, any article that get people moving instead of medicating is a great one.

    However “If you’re lifting weights, you exhale as you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it back down.” isn’t the safest way. You want to hold your breath thru maximum exertion as the air in your lungs act as a support. To exhale during this portion of the lift is to remove a large portion of your core’s support structure.

    Nature/DNA is smarter than whoever told you that. Imagine pushing a car, your bod tells you to hold your breath while you push it. You can also youtube videos of olympic lifters and see where they breathe. Yes, they sometimes grunt or “yelp” to remind themseles to remain tight but it is NOT a “exhale” as you are describing.

  14. Scott Young says:

    Brice,

    Thanks for pointing it out. I don’t usually do tips/enumerated posts, so I don’t know how many good ideas I’ll come across before I start. I usually just pick a number and go from there.

    Penty,

    Powerlifting, maybe, but doing an arm curl is not the same as lifting several hundred pounds in a quick motion above your head. The advice on breathing I’ve heard from numerous reputable sources, including the co-authors of the Body Sculpting Bible for Men, an international best-seller.

    In many ways weight lifting is different than power lifting. Less weight with a controlled motion and less speed reduces the chances of injury and insures the maximum benefit to the target muscles. If you’re training for exercise or muscle development, the same logic that applies for lifting the maximum amount of weight doesn’t hold.

    Katrina,

    I don’t have a specific breakdown on the caloric breakdown of different activities, but I’ve been told differently. Weight training increases your resting metabolism rate more than aerobic exercise. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than another, but weights can be used for losing weight if you dislike lacing up the running shoes.

    Josh,

    If you can afford it, a nice gym can be a nicer place to exercise. But money isn’t a big obstacle to getting in shape or exercising.

    -Scott

  15. ben says:

    “Just shoes, a pass and thirty minutes.” … wait, no shirts and shorts, or any other cloths?! OMG, i am missing out!!

    apologies, i cant resist…

  16. […] Young has seven reasons the gym is better than therapy when it comes to regular mental upkeep. Personally, the gym intimates me, but if you don’t […]

  17. Dave says:

    You’re absolutely right with your revelations. The benefits of physical exertion are tremendous! For one, I always feel better leaving the gym after an intense workout than I do when I initially come in.

    …And to think that 4 years ago–before I started working out regularly–I would have laughed at the insights in this article.

    ~ Dave

  18. Diego says:

    Seriously, I’ve had better luck with gyms than therapists. Waaaay better luck. Gyms never made unprofessional suggestions and never interrupted me in the middle of an emotional storm to tell me my time was up.

  19. penty says:

    “Less weight with a controlled motion and less speed reduces the chances of injury and insures the maximum benefit to the target muscles.”

    So I guess I misunderstood when I saw the #7.

    I’m sorry I didn’t realize you were a bodybuilder/sculpting, building muscle for show. The sole purpose of bodybuilding is to “get BIG” (not strong) for the ego and not to actually be “fit” or have functional real world fitness.

    If this isn’t your goal why are you using a bodybuilder’s protocol?

    Life is not an isolation exercise, don’t train like it is.

  20. Scott Young says:

    penty,

    Agreed, some bodybuilding tactics focus on muscle size over strength or fitness. However, that doesn’t invalidate it as a way to get in shape. Dieting can be taken to the extreme too, but that doesn’t mean watching what you eat is only for vanity.

    I have nothing against powerlifting as a sport, but from a casual glance (and without proper instruction) trying to imitate powerlifters is a recipe for hurting yourself. The natural tendency is to lift too much weight with improper technique and too quickly.

    I agree with the need to utilize all the muscles when working out. Heavy isolation may give you a nice physique, but if you can’t do chin ups, push ups or run a few miles, you aren’t in great shape. That’s why it’s important to vary your workouts.

    As for #7, that is more weight assuming you use proper technique. Lifting more doesn’t count if it ruins your form.

    -Scott

  21. penty says:

    “Agreed, some bodybuilding tactics focus on muscle size over strength or fitness. ”

    No, EVERY BB tactic does, that’s the poit of it. For BB’ers strength (and most definitions) fitness are secondary.

    My point was/is “Why if you don’t agree with the destination are you following the path?” Isolation exercises are ONLY really for BB’ers. The slow in out breathing for lifting is for BB protocols the source you speak about is solely BB.

    “but if you can’t do chin ups, push ups or run a few miles, you aren’t in great shape. That’s why it’s important to vary your workouts.”

    I agree but why “vary” with exercises and protocols which SOLE purpose is to “shape” and not “fit” the body?

    It’s “get fit and the shape will follow” not “shape the body and fit will follow”.

    Anyways don’t want to seem like a troll so I’ll let this lie unless you say go on.

  22. Scott Young says:

    penty,

    I suppose we will have to agree to disagree. I do agree with you that many bodybuilding tactics will work towards appearance at the expense of fitness, but I think there is certainly some overlap between appearance and fitness, where the same tactic will increase both. I’d also argue that the inclusion of more core exercises, aerobic activity and flexibility workouts are essential for balancing your exercise regime. However, for most people (who exercise infrequently) those are only small details, when the bigger issue is that you should exercise period, without debating the merits of different strategies to overall fitness.

    I could talk about fitness, exercising and weights all day, because it’s a passion of mine. But to save the comments for the benefit of other readers, I think I’ll let this rest too.

  23. For me, core excersises are top priority (chin ups, push ups, dumbell/bench press), so when I work out I start with those excersises and work on specific muscles until every muscle (for that day) is exhausted. Also running every week adds to a good condition.

    I take good care in breathing, not because it adds stability (if you’re not stable doing the performance your form is wrong or you’re pushing above your limits) but because it enables the bloodcirculation to keep circulating and avoids unnatural temporary bloodpressure.

  24. Great article–Lifting weights is just one of those things I can’t not do. I’ll actually start to feel funny or even a little depressed!

    @Penty and Scott

    Just remember that everyone has different goals they’re going after when hitting the gym–this doesn’t make one training method superior to the other..

    I think too many people, when at the gym, worry about what other people think–what they should be doing is training in order to reach the goal that are important the THEM.

    In Scott’s case, it seems to be a balance of strength, cardiovascular fitness, and overall functional capacity (along with therapy!).

    There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as you’re training with specific goals in mind!

  25. […] 7 Reasons Why the Gym is Better Than Therapy […]

  26. penty says:

    Doug, “In Scott’s case, it seems to be a balance of strength, cardiovascular fitness, and overall functional capacity (along with therapy!).”

    If those are his priorites (excluding therapy), and they are mine as well, why is he pursuing a bodybuilding protocol? He, by your logic, should be following a protocol who’s PRIMACY is to those things not secondary to “looks”.

    Doug, you tell him to trian with specific goals in mind then tell him he is right to ignore his goals and train the wrong way. “CSCS”? seriously?

    Is your goal to be “fit”, okay define fitness.

  27. penty says:

    Scott,

    feel free to email me if you think this discussion is better suited for it.

  28. […] 7 Reasons Why the Gym is Better Than Therapy […]

  29. Haha, fitness is subjective to every person.

    And Penty,,

    I just read through all your comments and you write as thought you “know it all”. That attitude tells me that you have a closed mind and are not going to learn any more about fitness or strength training any time soon.

    Yes, I would rather train for strength than for more aesthetic reasons.. But that doesn’t mean that throwing in some higher volume, some shorter rest periods, or some isolations exercises now and then is universally “WRONG” as you seem to think.

    I damn sure am not going to walk up to someone doing a bicep curl with a slow tempo and get in their face and tell them they’re training wrong. Would you do this to someone in real life (and not on an internet chatroom?)

    Especially is they’re twice as big as your and can deadlift your bodyweight times 3?

    There’s no “wrong” exercise. You don’t have enough information on anybody’s complete exercise plan to tell them they’re wrong. Kind of ignorant if you ask me.

    That’s like judging someone’s entire personality based on eavesdropping on one spoken sentence in a conversation–give ME a break!

  30. Scott Young says:

    Doug,

    I appreciate your input, but I also enjoyed penty’s input on the website. Let’s try to keep things tactful.

    Penty may have some support to his initial complaint against the breathing while lifting. My experience and sources have said otherwise, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m correct. I’m often wrong, so I appreciate the other views.

    As for a body-building versus strength-lifting philosophy, I think there is considerable overlap, so I’d rather not make broad generalizations.

    -Scott

  31. […] manage that then there are bigger problems in your life. Heck, if you don’t like the gym do your own thing at home or go out for a jog, but just have that one exercise session a week. […]

  32. […] manage that then there are bigger problems in your life. Heck, if you don’t like the gym do your own thing at home or go out for a jog, but just have that one exercise session a week. […]

  33. john says:

    where’d everybody go ?

    pumpin’ iron is my guess

  34. Allison says:

    GREAT post. Spot on!

    Im a college student and without the gym I would lose my mind (and often do if I havent been there in a while…) It is the best (relating back to your top 7 reasons) way to release stress and take care of the most important aspect of your life: you!

    Its not common these days to get a moment to yourself, and a time to benefit yourself so greatly.

    Again, great post. *bookmarks*

  35. great article dude, saw something about it on tv last night, keep up the good work, check my site out about home gym guide at all feedback good or bad appreciated!,

  36. Oh beautiful post! my friends and I are researching a term paper about home gym guide and its due next Friday. I did some looking around at and found some useful info there also. Thanks for the information.

  37. […] 7 Reasons the Gym is Better than Therapy – “I have a love affair with my gym.  She’s not much to look at: a rubber track and weight room in a dank basement, but appearances aren’t everything.  She’s there on my best days and on my worst days.  We never fight, and she doesn’t care what I look like as long as I give her my full attention for a few hours a week.” […]

  38. Cory says:

    @ Katrina

    I didn’t read the rest of the comments, so maybe this has been said.

    I had to address your claim that running/biking will get you to lose weight faster than weight training.

    Technically, you are right. You will lose more weight. Included in that weight will be a lot of your muscle mass. What burns more calories, muscle or fat? The answer is muscle.

    That means that with all the biking/running you’re doing, you will lose muscle and your metabolism will drop. That means that continuing to lose weight will require you to consume even less calories that you were consuming before and/or exercising even more to make up for your lower metabolism.

    The solution is to add weight training to the mix along with your cardio work while also eating enough protein (~1g/lb of lean body mass). This will put your body under enough stress that it will retain more muscle while losing fat, which will keep your metabolism where it is at rather than having it slow down as it would with muscle loss caused by only cardio.

    Lance Armstrong is a perfect example of this. So are marathon runners. They do extreme amounts of cardio and have little muscle mass. Sure, they are ripped, which is a result of low bodyfat, but they have very little muscle.

    Another benefit to weight training is the extended increase in your metabolism after the actual work is done. I don’t have any studies handy, but I have read some that suggest an increased metabolic rate for up to 3-4 hours after you leave the gym. That doesn’t happen with running/biking.

    The calorie burn while doing the actual activity of running/biking may be higher, but that is short term thinking. In the long run, the benefits of adding weight training to your routine quickly outnumber the higher calorie burn of biking/running during the actual workout.

  39. SDK says:

    I would never advise anyone to hold their breath when physically exerting against a heavy weight. Why?

    Because when I was in college I did this in the weight-room and collapsed a lung. Apparently the pressure build-up in my chest caused a hole to form in my lung. I was laid up in the hospital for 15 days with a chest tube. It was an extremely negative experience, and it caused me to give up going after strength gains in favor of a body builders approach with proper breathing.

    The injury is rare, but it does happen. I feel obligated to warn everyone to be careful and take these exercises seriously.

  40. You have eloquently narrated the whole thing. It has already been proved that stress can easily be gripped and could be erased completely if one goes gym in a regular basis. You have just beautifully explained that how it affects on chemical secretion of our body. More over a regular gym can provide you a healthy body along with muscles and muscles support bone magnificently and one can keep them far and far away from bone related diseases like, osteoporosis, unnecessary bone inflammation and obviously different kinds of arthritis.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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