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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline,Inspirational Stories, Jessenia Gallegos, 5 Ways Exercise Builds Self-Confidence—Plus Real Inspiration

5 Ways Exercise Builds Self-Confidence—Plus Real Inspiration

Reading Time: 3 minutes 14 seconds


DATE: 2022-07-13

Even the most accomplished people suffer periods of doubt and low self-esteem. Being confident in oneself is a work in progress for everyone. If you can build more self-confidence, it will improve your mental and physical health and help you get more out of life. 

A big piece of the self-confidence puzzle is physical activity. Exercise is proven to boost self-confidence through setting and achieving goals, changing physical appearance, getting stronger, and more. Anyone can benefit, even with small changes in fitness. 

Why Confidence Is Important for Mental Health

Self-confidence and self-esteem don’t come naturally to everyone. Life experiences, personality traits, past relationships and trauma, and other factors often leave people feeling down about themselves. This is important because confidence is more than just window dressing. It is essential for good mental health. 

Adequate self-esteem allows you to feel good about yourself as a person. Confidence pushes you to take reasonable risks, achieve goals, and try new experiences. Low self-confidence and low self-esteem have the opposite effects and several negative consequences: 

  • Feeling unworthy of love, admiration, or even basic respect from others

  • Difficult relationships and interpersonal skills

  • Loneliness and isolation

  • An increased risk for substance use disorders and other addictive behaviors

  • Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses and symptoms

Having self-confidence doesn’t mean being arrogant, self-absorbed, or dismissive of others. It means seeing your own value and living your best life because of it. 

The Top Ways Exercise Builds Self-Confidence 

That physical activity improves self-esteem and confidence is proven. Studies have shown that people who are more active have higher self-esteem. This is independent of measures like fitness level and body mass index. Researchers suggest that anyone who lacks self-confidence would benefit from regular physical exercise. Here’s why. 

#1. Physical Activity Boosts Mood

It’s harder to feel down on yourself when you’re in a good mood. Exercise is a proven mood booster. Regular exercise is best, but even a single session can elevate your mood instantly. It distracts you from stressful situations and increases the release of neurochemicals that make you feel good. 

With a better mood comes a more positive outlook on life in general, including your own value and worth. Consider times when you feel anxious or depressed. You don’t feel confident in yourself during those periods. Anything you can do to improve your mood will also boost your self-esteem and self-confidence. 

#2. Being Stronger and Healthier is Empowering

There is something inherently powerful in getting stronger. Even if you don’t make huge gains, improvements in strength, physical health, and fitness make you more capable. You can do more when you’re healthier and stronger. 

Here’s an example: You go from being unable to run around one block in your neighborhood to finishing a 5K. That’s an empowering feeling because you are literally more powerful now and physically stronger. While exercise makes you more capable of doing physical things, that sense of physical strength crosses over into all areas of your life. 

#3. Exercise Provides a Sense of Accomplishment

This is where the gains in physical fitness translate to greater confidence in other areas of your life. You started something that felt challenging, maybe even impossible, and you achieved it. You prove to yourself through exercise that you are capable of setting difficult goals, working toward them, and achieving them. 

Setting and accomplishing goals is a huge confidence booster. Try these visualization techniques to help you and your clients reach your goals. 

#4. Exercise Changes the Body

It’s unfortunate but true that self-confidence is often tied to appearance. Appearance isn’t everything, even for the most shallow of people, but no one is immune to it. If you don’t like the way your body looks, you are likely to have lower self-confidence. 

Getting regular exercise will change your body for the better. Diet, of course, plays a huge role in this. As fitness experts say, you can’t outrun a bad diet. But, even without significant dietary changes, going from sedentary to working out regularly will lead to fat loss and muscle gain. People who begin working out see quick changes, including a leaner, more muscled physique that boost confidence right away. 

#5. Exercise Provides Energy to Do More

Many people suffer from chronic tiredness, mostly from stress, poor diet, and lack of sleep. This ongoing fatigue makes starting a workout routine difficult, but once begun, it actually boosts overall energy. Exercise helps you sleep better at night, clears your mind, and allows you to do more with each day. 

The extra energy itself can make you feel more confident, but with regular exercise, you can achieve more outside of the gym. You’ll have better focus at work and in your social life and other activities. Being able to do more and achieve more is confidence building. 

The Ways Exercise Builds Self-Confidence in Everyone

You don’t have to be a good athlete or a bodybuilder to benefit from the confidence building exercise provides. There doesn’t even have to be significant or any weight loss. Exercise has its own inherent rewards, and they are for everyone. 

Unfortunately, low self-confidence is a big barrier to fitness. Many people feel too unfit or overweight to even start working out. They don’t know where to begin and feel intimidated by the gym. It’s a difficult cycle to break, but one that personal trainers can fight. 

One of the most important jobs of a personal trainer is to welcome all clients, not just those who feel perfectly confident walking into a gym. Embrace those clients and encourage them to take the first step with you. It’s hugely rewarding to get clients through that barrier and to help them build self-confidence. 

Can Exercise Backfire? 

Nearly everyone can benefit from the confidence boost exercise provides, but it is possible to go off the rails. For instance, setting impossible goals can leave you feeling inadequate and worthless when you inevitably fail. 

Some people become obsessed with exercise and with changing their bodies. Exercise addiction is a real phenomenon, and it has the opposite of the desired effect on confidence. 

If you’re a personal trainer, help your clients gain confidence through a healthy training plan, reasonable and achievable goals, and a sensible attitude toward exercise and body image. 

Help people grow more confident in their bodies and their abilities with the ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer – Self-Guided Study Program. It will prepare you to begin a rewarding career working with clients.

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, jessenia-gallegos

Real-World Inspiration: Breaking Free and Finding Sanctuary in Fitness

By Dean Spiros

Jessenia Gallegos decided at a young age that her life objective was to help others.

The New Jersey native followed through by studying nursing and psychology in college and going to work in the psych emergency room at a regional hospital in New Jersey.

But it wasn't until she experienced a series of traumatic experiences of her own that Gallegos came to realize that to best help others, she first needed to help herself. And it was fitness and exercise that showed her the way.

"Fitness saved my life," Gallegos said.

She became a certified personal trainer through ISSA. Her path to helping others now focused on teaching the specifics of fitness, nutrition, and a healthy lifestyle, with her personal journey providing a unique perspective.

Growing up in a Latino family in Newark, N.J., as a first-generation U.S.-born citizen, cultural guidelines were firmly in place. Among them was the notion that it was disrespectful to not eat all the food on your plate.

"My parents were feeding me as much as my brothers, who were bigger and a lot more active than me," Gallegos said. "And our neighborhood wasn't very safe, so I didn't really get outside to walk or do any kind of physical activity. I was inside reading books."

When mealtime came around, she ate more than she needed.

"I love food," Gallegos said, "but I was eating even after I was full."

Before long, the teenaged Gallegos had packed 220 pounds onto her 4-foot-9 frame. A visit to the doctor revealed the predictable results. Her sugar levels were high, her cholesterol was high, and she had borderline hypertension.

Gallegos' uneducated response was to simply stop eating. The results were dramatic, as she went from a waist size of 32 to a fitting into a size double-zero. She got down to 86 pounds while suffering from anorexia and bulimia.

"I was a skeleton," Gallegos said. "I was sick, but I didn't see it. I enjoyed being a double-zero."

The bulimia led to Gallegos rupturing her vocal cords. "I'm also a singer, so that scared me straight," she said. "I knew I needed to get help."

Today, at all of 5-2, Gallegos is more than happy with being a size 5. She credits Billy Blanks and his Tae bo workout videos with jump-starting her interest in exercising. That led her to go to the gym, where she focused on cardio training.

Her life took another dark turn in her early 20s when she was involved in an abusive relationship. Once she broke free, the gym became her "sanctuary."

Gallegos began to lift weights, and before long was shocked by the transformation in her body. "I had always been curvy," she said, "but now I was strong and curvy."

Gallegos said she didn't think about becoming a personal trainer until her friends began asking her if she would work with them. 

While committed to working with clients, Gallegos also had a blossoming career as a host on the digital fitness network "Generation Iron", which is a spinoff of the bodybuilding documentary of the same name.

Gallegos, who uses the name "Jessenia Vice" in her social media work, wasthe host for "This or That," a new weekly show that focuses on a different divisive bodybuilding topic each week. The merits of both sides of the debate are discussed, and at the end of the show, the audience makes the call of which side is the winner.

Gallegos gained many followers on Instagram and Facebook. Her goal is to continue to grow her presence in the fitness industry. She would like to operate a fitness boot camp and write a self-help book.

In the meantime, life continues to present her with challenges that she is now well prepared to meet head-on., Her three-and-a-half-year relationship ended due to her boyfriend's use of steroids.

"We had been living together for two years and we were very happy," Gallegos said. "But then he was going through some obvious mood changes. When I found out he was using steroids I told him he was going to have to choose the steroids or me. He chose the steroids."

The experience has only strengthened her resolve to be an advocate for healthy living.

"When it comes to fitness, we all have our own look that we're going for," Gallegos said. "That's fine, as long the goal is to be healthy. I want to work with all kinds of people, but I want to work with people who are willing to commit. Because I am going to commit."

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Zamani Sani, S. H., Fathirezaie, Z., Brand, S., Pühse, U., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., Gerber, M., & Talepasand, S. (2016). Physical activity and self-esteem: testing direct and indirect relationships associated with psychological and physical mechanisms. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 12, 2617–2625. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S116811 

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