The secret to boosting your Happy Hormones


Podcast Transcript

Hello, and welcome to my first episode. Happy Hormones. Today, I’m on Cissbury Ring in sunny Sussex, and this is a lovely setting to talk about happy hormones. So I’m going to be going through four hormones that we associate with feeling happy and how coaches and trainers can use these hormones to brighten up their client’s day.


So first hormone I’m going to talk about is endorphins. Now, when people talk about happy hormones, often endorphins is the first one that we think of. So I’d say it’s probably quite widely understood and widely known, but not as well as you probably think. When I first got introduced to endorphins, it was actually when I was getting a tattoo done. It was a tattoo on my back, on my spine. And about halfway through, I remember the guy doing the tattoo said to me are you all right? And trying to be sort of tough and not show that I was suffering or in any pain at all. I sort of gripped my teeth and said, yeah, yeah, I’m all right. You keep going, keep going. But actually, it was really painful. And he said, well, don’t worry. In a minute, you’re going to release your endorphins and they’re going to numb the pain and you’re going to feel much, much better. So that was kind of the first time somebody introduced to me the word endorphin, I think, as a painkiller.

I’ve done some further research into this and that’s exactly what it does. It is a painkiller. It’s our natural painkiller. So whenever you’re in any kind of pain or discomfort, your body will naturally release endorphins to numb that pain. Now How does that associate with exercise? Well, this is the thing. So in order to get a boost of endorphins, coaches and trainers do need to actually get their clients to step out of their comfort zone. So one of the reasons clients often come and see us as coaches and trainers is because they need somebody to motivate them to get them to work at that sort of intensity that they can’t get to without the motivation of a coach or a trainer. And there is definitely some logic in that. Some physiological benefits of training occur at higher intensities, but just from the happy hormones alone, we need to work hard challenge ourselves and experience discomfort to get the release of endorphins.

Now, don’t panic. That doesn’t mean that if you’re exercising and you rarely challenge yourself through discomfort you’re not going to get a Happy hormone boost, because there are others which we’ll talk about. But if you want to maximize the release of those happy hormones, in particular endorphins, we do need to challenge ourselves.

And if you think about it, often runners will talk about the runner’s high. So they’ll go for a run. And they’ll, they’ll push themselves quite hard. It might be to try and get their 5k PB or they might go over the hill or somewhere like this where there are lots of different terrains. So the intensity changes all the time, but there are periods where it’s very, very challenging. Interval training is notorious for taking us out of our comfort zone and challenging ourselves. Circuit training where you’re at a station, you’re working hard and then you get a brief rest before you move on to the next station. Very, very good for ramping up the intensity and releasing those endorphins. So that’s what you’re looking at.

If you want to get specifically endorphins and get a release of happy hormones that way, you need challenge and discomfort. Think about your intervals. Think about your more advanced training systems. When you’re doing your weights in the gym, if you’re doing bodybuilding type training, your supersets, your triceps, your giant sets, your drop sets, all that nasty stuff that we’ll talk about in another, another podcast. That’s the stuff that’s going to really take you out of your comfort zone and give you those endorphins. So the take home from that for you trainers and coaches is yes, try and encourage your clients to step out of their comfort zone, but obviously be mindful that you can’t be doing that every single day, smashing your clients because they will lead to overtraining. They will stop enjoying it and they’re just going to get fatigued. This can potentially lead to injury as well.


Now next hormone I’m going to talk about is dopamine and dopamine is a great hormone. Because we associate dopamine with accomplishment and getting things done. You’ll often get a little release of dopamine when you cross things off a to-do list. And I don’t know about you, but I love to-do lists. I have them on like electronic versions, but I never get as much satisfaction and pleasure and enjoyment as when I actually have paper and pen, and I write the list and then I cross it off on the on paper with a pen. I don’t know why it always feels much more satisfying to cross it off on an actual bit of paper, but it does.

What’s the link between dopamine and exercise? When you say to yourself, I am going to go to the gym after work and you pack your gym stuff and you finish work and you go to the gym, you do that workout, you’ll feel a sense of pride because you’ve planned to do that workout. You did it. You didn’t bin it off and you completed it and you feel good for it. That’s going to be dopamine. Now, dopamine is actually really addictive. Unfortunately, when we drink alcohol, if people take drugs, smoke, they tend to get a release of dopamine from doing those things. And it’s very addictive. And people do get addicted to exercise as well.

Now obviously, any addiction is not healthy because just by the nature of the word addiction suggests it’s unhealthy. With exercise, as long as you’re moderating it, as long as you’re aware that you might be sort of addicted to exercise and you’re, you’re moderating it somewhat it’s certainly going to be one of the better addictions you can have.

Am I addicted? Probably. I can certainly moderate it though. So I know that there’s a limit to how much exercise I can do personally before it’s going to have a detrimental effect on my general balance in life. You know, the time I spend with family, friends and work and doing so much that I’m always tired and fatigued. So I’m good like that. But if I don’t get exercise in a day, I’m like a dog. I need to be walked every day, probably twice a day. If I don’t get exercise in, then I’m just not the best version of myself. And I’m sure some of you guys listening can relate to that. So. It is very addictive and this is probably the reason why a lot of people get addicted to exercise, but you can maximize the use of this hormone by actually scheduling workouts in your calendar.

Now again, this is great for coaches and trainers. When you keep a training log, and you show clients their completed sessions, they’re going to feel good about that. Because it shows them accomplishment, it shows them that they’re checking off workouts. I’m not suggesting if you’re a trainer or a coach who never writes a program, or never logs anything, you’re a bad coach or trainer because I think particularly in this day and age, there are so many variations. As long as you’re addressing a need, which might be just motivating somebody to get up and get moving, then I think you’re doing a good job. However, you are missing out an opportunity to maximise the release of dopamine by showing clients that they are adhering to exercise and that is going to get the dopamine. So bare that in mind, applications are very good at this. I’ve got a Garmin tracker watch, and when I do a workout. It’ll congratulate me and say, you’ve got a workout done. Now, I don’t necessarily have even had to have accomplished anything within that workout, but it’s going to congratulate me for doing the workout.

Strava is very similar. Strava will clock your runs, your bikes, your swims and things. And it will just keep a log of everything you’ve done and, you can reflect on it and feel good about that because you’ve, you’ve accomplished it. You’ve set out to do these things, and you’ve done them, and you know you’re one step closer to achieving your goals. So that feels good.

So that’s dopamine. For you coaches and trainers, I’d say a way to maximise that is to log training sessions. Certainly, write programs. At Storm Fitness Academy, we teach all our students to write programs for clients and keep a training log. And just congratulate your clients on completing sessions. They don’t always have to have made some tangible progress within that session, other than they’ve turned up today and they did all the exercises. So it is a reason to celebrate and pat them on the back.


Now serotonin is another great hormone. We associate serotonin with status. So if you’ve, if you’ve ever had a promotion, if you’ve ever won a race or a competition, which shows you that you’re the. best out of the group or whatever, you’ll get a surge of serotonin because your status has been elevated, and coaches and trainers can definitely leverage this hormone to improve their client’s day. I’m a sports science geek. That’s what my degree is in and my master’s is in strength and conditioning. So, I do like data, but I probably like data even more. Because I now know what the research says about the impact it has on people. For example my master’s is in strength conditioning focussing on exercise and mental health. And for my dissertation, I found a study where it showed that being physically active and exercising definitely improves people’s self-esteem compared to not exercising. But it was more significant if you were a beginner. So if you went from doing nothing to exercising.  As long as you’ve got data that shows that you have improved over time, that’s going to have an impact on your self-esteem. So let’s say, for example, the first time you go and see your coach or your trainer you can do five press-ups in a minute. Over a period of 12 weeks, you can now do 25. You’ve got that evidence that shows you are a better athlete than the person you were before. You’re an upgraded version of yourself. That is going to have an impact on your self-esteem. Self-esteem has an impact on your mental health. So it all contributes towards that. So this is a great opportunity for you coaches and trainers to log data.

Back in the day, when I first started, 25 years ago, I would have to do this on paper, on clipboards, and I have to be quite organized with my paperwork and look through the bits of paper to find all the information to give to that client. And it was harder, but now today, you’ve got applications that do that. So for those of you that don’t know, there’s, there’s various applications, but one I particularly like is called Trainerize. I have no association with Trainerize but it’s wonderful for showing you all the time where you’ve improved.  For the serotonin, it will tell you when you’ve hit a PB in a lift. So let’s say that’s the heaviest you’ve ever done in a barbell back squat, it’ll tell you. If you’ve done the most amount of volume, which means the most amount of kilos times reps time sets across the entire session, it will tell you. So it’s letting you know all the time where you’ve upgraded your fitness. There’s a reason why these companies spend a lot of money on making these apps, because that data works. It definitely, definitely, definitely has an impact on your self-esteem and releases serotonin. It will make your day better. But, over the long term improves your self-confidence and your self-esteem. So your mental health in general is better. Another great reason why coaches and trainers need to log data and also a great reason to get a coach or a trainer.


Now the fourth hormone I’m going to talk about is oxytocin. And oxytocin is actually the love hormone. So you might have heard it before when we talk about love. You might be thinking, well, how is that associated with exercise? Well, Because exercise is brilliant for building like minded communities. You can do this online, you can do this face-to-face. So if you join, for example, a fitness class, you go to your local leisure centre, and you go to their circuit training class, or their studio cycling class, and you go regularly, over time, people are going to get to know you. You’re going to get to know them. And when you walk into that environment, what usually happens is somebody sees you walking and says, hi, Jon, great to see you. How’s everything going? How’s the business? How’s your wife? How are your children? And you feel valued. And the coach does the same. And feeling valued as part of your tribe or community will help you release oxytocin.

And it’s not just about receiving love. It’s also about giving love as well. So when you brighten up someone else’s day and you say great to see you again, I saw you smash your PB. Well done. I bet that feels good. You deserve that. You’ve worked really hard. All that positivity in a community or in a tribe, has a really profound effect on your oxytocin levels. It releases oxytocin. High fives, fist pumps, you know, skin-to-skin physical contact releases oxytocin. And it’s why mothers. Hug their babies as soon as they’ve given birth straight away. That creates that bond. They both got oxytocin. It’s a really nice moment. Now, obviously physical contact in fitness communities we have to be very careful with it. There’s a line to it. But things like high fives and fist pumps are great, aren’t they? They’re really great because that is physical contact and it’s done in a very positive, meaningful way. So that’s, that’s a good way you can get oxytocin. Now, if you are just training online it’s never going to be as profound as face-to-face contact, but you can still be part of a like-minded community that is all working towards the same goal, supporting one another, encouraging one another, sharing your successes, trouble troubleshooting as a group, sharing problems, trying to solve them, empathising with each other. So you can still benefit from that online and face-to-face. So that’s your oxytocin.


So just give a round-up there. We had endorphins. So, endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers. Coaches and trainers can help clients release endorphins by encouraging them and motivating them to step out of their comfort zones, and experience a bit of challenge and discomfort. So they’ll get that rush and that boost, of endorphins after the session. But then also get the benefits of the additional increases in fitness from working at a higher intensity.

You’ve also got. Dopamine, which was what I called the accomplishment hormone. So when you set out to go to the gym, and you do it, and you finish the session, you feel proud about that. You’ll get some dopamine. Coaches and trainers can keep a training log, keep reminding their clients how many sessions they completed, and congratulate them for it. You know, give them praise all the time

Then we had serotonin. Coaches and trainers, you’re missing a trick If you’re not collecting data. So collect data. You can use things like Trainerize.

If you want to be a bit more simplified, you can still use paper and a pen if you want. It’s absolutely fine. As long as you’re organised with it. So just keep giving the data, show that individual. They are better than the person they were when they started. And you know, you’re going to get those times where that person goes, Oh, I haven’t made any progress this week. And you reframe that and go, well, you’ve maintained your progress. Think about the person you were 12 weeks ago. He was doing nothing. Look how far you’ve come. Don’t worry. I have weeks where things don’t necessarily improve. The fact that you’ve turned up and completed today’s session is something to celebrate.

That’s your serotonin. And then lastly, oxytocin, the love hormone, we love oxytocin, and that’s all about building your fitness communities. Giving love, receiving love, you know, recognizing people’s accomplishments, being grateful, thanking one another, taking a genuine interest in one another, and just valuing each other.

Thank you for listening. In the next episode, I’m going to be talking to you about exercise motivation and how coaches and trainers can use some psychological theories of motivation to really ramp motivation up in their clients. Have a great day.

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