Dan Hancock is a personal trainer putting mental health at the top of the agenda.
Why did you decide to make mental health your focus as a personal trainer?
When I started to really focus on my clients and find out more about them, I would ask them ” Why do you want to do this?”
A lot of the time it was to do with their mental health; very low self-esteem or lack of confidence.
I started to realise that these desires were to do with how they feel as opposed to their physical body.
The fitness industry is a very saturated market and it’s all to do with aesthetics and the way that we look.
You aren’t afraid to highlight flaws in the fitness industry. Can you talk a little more about that and why you like to offer a positive alternative?
I just think there’s a massive irony around the industry that needs to change.
If there is a gym with big body builders in one corner and toned females in GymShark leggings in the other –
and of course that’s no disrespect to them, they are working hard – it can still be so intimidating for new people.
It could prevent them going to the gym or make them feel even more insecure.
If a trainer’s heart is in it because they want to help other people, that’s fantastic.
However, there are also methods that some trainers will employ that are harmful for clients.
Just because it works for these trainers doesn’t mean it would work for everyone.
What inspired you to develop a scheme like MINDfit in particular?
There were a couple of young boys in my local area who sadly committed suicide.
I didn’t know them well but in a place like Stirling, you get to know everyone in some way.
Then there were also some high profile cases, like Mike [Thalassitis] from ‘Love Island’ and Avicii.
I wrote a post about that online.
I said that I know how much exercise can help mental health, and that anyone struggling could come to me for a free session.
Over the course of a year, I did personal training sessions with around 60 people.
The end goal was never to get clients from it.
However, I then found that the majority who enjoyed it did want to be clients.
I knew I didn’t have enough time to do this all regularly so I thought about how I could do it on a larger scale.
That’s how the MINDfit concept came about and everything fell into place.
People might also get referred to do exercise by their doctor, but they might not want to go to a gym.
That’s why welcoming classes became a big part of it.
I registered MINDfit as a community interest company last November.
How does a MINDfit session differ from a regular personal training session?
The main way that it differs – especially in group training sessions – is that we focus on being inclusive and getting people through the door and into their first class.
The most important part of my job is to get clients to feel welcome.
A lot of personal trainers have a “go hard or go home” mentality.
That’s the way that I train myself, but it’s not for the average person.
Using different techniques to structure workouts so that anyone can do them is essential.
I then train staff to understand these structures so that we can have one class that would be able to suit absolutely everyone.
You branched out to offer classes on social media during lockdown and have had real success with it. How has this transition been, and have you noticed a different approach to mental health and fitness due to COVID-19?
It’s rewarding to have your opinions and values shared and it’s helped me connect to people all over the world.
I’m currently training with a mother and a son in Canada who both suffered brain injuries.
That would never have happened if it wasn’t for lockdown.
It’s been fantastic and I love being online now. I’m going to continue it once my gym reopens.
There have been some awful things that have come out of lockdown but I think with regards to community and general fitness, it could be one of the best things to ever happen.
People are missing the gym and people who have never exercised before are exercising now.
I’ve never seen anything like it. I hope people will keep it up when everything goes back to normal.
What affects your mental health positively?
Of course, the first thing I usually go for is exercise but it definitely has to be sensible exercise.
I know that if I’ve had a really stressful week, for example, if I then go and do an extremely tough session in the gym then it probably won’t do me any real benefit.
Another important one for me is yoga, I am now one of those people who says that yoga changed their life.
I would encourage anyone to give it a try and stick with it because it’s not easy.
A lot of people will come to one class and find it difficult to switch off, but you do need to concentrate on not concentrating!
I also really enjoy reading.
The thing that exercise, yoga, and reading all have in common is that it’s time you can have all to yourself.
Those three things are key for me.
Social media is a catch-22 for me because I need it for work but I’m very aware of how much time I spend on it.
If you are on social media too much, you are living other people’s lives.
All you are doing is being engrossed and interpreting other people’s thoughts and opinions rather than making your own.
When you go into a shop and you are standing in a queue, what’s the first thing we do? Get our phone out.
Boredom can actually be a good thing!
Whenever I’ve come up with good business ideas, it’s when I’ve been driving or in the shower.
I’m just alone with my thoughts.
The Screen Time app is amazing to help cut down.
What are you reading, listening to, and watching at the moment?
I’ve been listening to audio books recently.
“The Chimp Paradox’ by Steve Peters totally changed my outlook on life.
I’ve also been listening to ‘The Four-Hour Work Week’ by Tim Ferriss.
Also, ‘The Last Dance’ on Netflix, I could analyse and talk about that all day.
When Michael Jordan said that athletes have to be be mentally strong to play in front of a crowd, that stuck with me.
What is the best advice you’ve received in regards to your mental wellbeing?
The amount of things that we worry about because we “don’t want to do them” – a lot of the time when we do do them it turns out fine.
If they aren’t fine, it’s not going to be the end of the world.
It could be as small as putting off a workout or a task at work.
If you do more of these things, there won’t be as much worry and anxiety, and you will be far more productive.
For more information on MINDfit and Dan Hancock, visit: danhancockfitness.co.uk
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