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When I was 15, 2 major things happened to me. The first was that my Mum was diagnosed with manic depression AKA Bipolar. The second thing was that I was bullied at school for being too skinny – my nickname was Alexa Annorexa. If only the haters could see me flex now! This is where my fitness journey truly began. I went to the gym on a mission for muscles, only to find that this was but a small portion of the gains I would make. The gym - more specifically the weights room – became my sanctuary. My safe space. The place where I felt most in control. The place where I felt empowered. The first place that I really began to understand the connection between developing physical strength, and the mental fortitude and resilience that came along with it.
“When I feel physically strong, I think strong thoughts.”
This gift of empowerment is something I try to pay forward every single day. And for me, as both a female and a trainer, there is nothing more rewarding than watching a woman become empowered in her training and then seeing how this translates into her attitude towards the rest of her life.
I truly believe that when you develop physical strength, you develop mental toughness. With mental toughness comes resilience. When you are resilient, you are more likely to cultivate a more positive mindset. And when you have a more positive mindset, you are not only better equipped to handle everything that life throws at you, but you are better equipped to lift up, empower, educate and inspire everyone else around you.
And this is what fitness is all about. This is what it can do for you. Here are some of my favourite ways to help build resilience.
No one regrets being too strong.
The importance of strength (physical, mental, spiritual, emotional), including strength of will and strength of character cannot be underestimated. Every challenge you undertake will help you to get there. One of the most accessible ways is to do this is through physical training. One of the major reasons I love lifting weights is because of how empowered I feel afterwards. I’ll always remember the day that Lizzie, a high-powered corporate lawyer who had never been in a gym before, did her first 30kg deadlift. And for her it was one of the greatest days of her life. Lizzie lives with bipolar and was being bullied at work. She took that accomplishment with her back to the office, and in her words “it gave me the confidence to finally say no, to set boundaries and to hold out for what I knew I deserved”.
Do all the hard things.
Everybody operates at a small percentage of their true capacity. If we choose to put ourselves in situations and experiences where we question our ability to succeed or persevere, then we are building resilience and getting more of an understanding of where our true capacities lie. Mindset drives everything, and this doesn’t just apply to training in the gym. Cold exposure is a fantastic tool for exploring being uncomfortable and seeing where your mind goes and what stories you start telling yourself when the going gets tough. Try and commit to a cold shower immediately on waking. Not only will you reap a ton of incredible physiological benefits including improved circulation, better immune function, and stress reduction, but the practice itself requires strength and dedication, and ticking off a “challenge item” first thing in the morning can set you up for a really productive and positive day. If this seems a bit overwhelming, you can start by finishing your shower with 30 secs of cold before working up to a full 3-5 minutes.
Dream, believe, achieve.
You can use mantras, positive self-talk, and visualizations to condition mindset. It’s true what they say, “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” When it comes to training, if you tell yourself that you can’t do something, your mind will relay that to your body and effectively shut your efforts down. I’ve experienced this firsthand with female clients who have insisted they’re not strong enough to exceed a certain weight on a lift, yet when I’ve manipulated the weights without their knowledge, they’ve done exactly that. When you're discouraged and thinking negatively, you're less likely to take a risk, push yourself hard, or persist with a challenging goal. Instead of indulging your inner critic, try visualizing yourself executing that big lift perfectly just before you practice. This can build confidence, prime your thoughts and expectations for success, and increase the practice (or "reps") you get with the exercise. And next time your inner mean girl makes an appearance, just reframe the situation. Your language can be a powerful tool, and you’re not struggling, you’re being challenged.
About the Author: Alexa Towersey
Alexa Towersey is “Action Alexa” - an internationally published celebrity trainer, sports cover model, motivational and mental health speaker with over 16 years experience in the health & fitness industry. Born into a military family, her journey started on a mission for muscles after she was bullied at school for being too skinny - her nickname was Alexa Annorexa. The gym - and in particular, the weights room - became her sanctuary and was the first place she developed strength, both physically and mentally.
Follow Alexa @actionalexa