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Anxiolytic activity: a review of research on the effects of strength training on anxiety

Numerous studies have found a link between regular physical activity and improved mental health, including cognitive performance and mood.

Definition of resistance exercise

The intensity of an exercise is usually measured as a percentage of the repetition maximum (RM); 1RM is the maximum load at which a trainee can perform one repetition of that exercise. Strength training is more common among men: 27% of men and 19% of women use the gym regularly.

The benefits of resistance training are well documented in the scientific literature: it increases strength and muscle mass, improves endurance, performance and bone density.

Anxiety assessment

Although the concept of anxiety can be defined in different ways, in the context of strength training research, a distinction is made between anxiety as a condition and anxiety as a character trait. Anxiety is a short-term emotional state characterised by physiological arousal and associated feelings of tension and fear;

The 20-item STAI (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory) trait list for measuring anxiety is highly accurate and reliable. Also used to assess anxiety as a condition are the POMS (Profile of Mood States), the HADS (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) and the SCL-90-R (Symptom Checklist-90-R).

Anxiolytic effects of single weight training

In particular, low to moderate intensity strength training (50-70% of 1RM) is more likely to produce improvements in anxiety state than higher intensity training (>70% of 1RM).

In many of the early studies on the effects of strength training on anxiety, no significant reduction in anxiety was observed; and in all of these studies, training intensity was at least 70% of 1RM.

When training intensity was reduced to 40-55% of 1RM, anxiety was repeatedly reduced, and anxiolytic effects were maintained when intensity was reduced to 10% of 1RM.

In studies directly comparing the effects of different training loadings, low and medium intensity have been found to be significantly more effective. For example, reductions in anxiety were caused by loads of 50% of 1RM but not 80% of 1RM, and this effect was not related to training experience .


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