Should I Start Lifting If I Want to Be a Psych Nurse?


So, you’ve aced the NCLEX, but can you handle a deadlift? In psychiatric nursing, it’s not just about a nurse’s mental capabilities, but their physical capabilities as well. A nursing student recently sought advice on Reddit, pondering whether she should start building her strength at the gym in preparation for the physical demands of psychiatric nursing.

The Importance of Physical Fitness in Nursing

Nursing, in reality, is a physically taxing profession. Nurses stand for hours, transferring and lifting patients, and carrying out a myriad of tasks that demand physical resilience. A study detailing the physical demands of nursing suggests nurses can expect to perform some—if not all—of the following activities during a shift:

  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Lifting and moving objects
  • Transferring patients
  • Repositioning patients
  • Assisting patient mobility
  • Moving wheelchairs
  • Providing hygienic care to patients
  • Changing bed sheets

Psychiatric nurses confront all the physical challenges intrinsic to nursing, and then some.

Physical Demands of Psychiatric Nursing

Psychiatric nursing extends beyond mental health care. At times, it becomes a physical task, like when restraining an agitated patient for their own safety and the safety of others. In such moments, physical strength can be an asset.

The Benefits of Strength Training for Psychiatric Nurses

Strength training, such as lifting weights, can offer numerous benefits for nurses. It enhances muscle mass, improves balance, and boosts stamina. For those in psychiatric nursing, the advantages of strength training can translate into better preparedness to handle the job’s physical aspects. As Reddit user MicheHoncho1323 notes, “[Y]ou’re going to be lifting A LOT of patients and in psych, you’re often required to restrain patients, so it’s just a good idea to have strong legs and a firm back to avoid injuries.”

Mental Benefits

Beyond physical strength enhancement, strength training imparts multiple mental benefits. It can alleviate depressive symptoms, bolster self-confidence, and foster positive body image. Moreover, it has been shown to mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Dealing with psychotic or depressed patients can be rewarding, but it can also impact your mental health. For psychiatric nurses, strength training is a potential means to unwind and cope with the job’s challenges.

Suggested Exercises

For psychiatric nurses, proper lifting technique can mitigate injury risk. As Reddit user No_Sherbert_900 suggests, “Everyone in healthcare should at the very least perform squats and deadlifts. Knowing how to engage your core, brace, and utilize your spinal erectors safely is crucial to mobilizing patients safely.” The following exercises can bolster your core, legs, and back strength, which are essential for a psychiatric nurse.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL): This exercise fortifies the back, glutes, and hamstrings. To perform an RDL, hold a barbell or dumbbells at hip level, hinge at the waist while keeping your back straight, and lower the weight down the front of your legs before returning to the starting position.

Squat: Squats are a great exercise for working the entire lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. To do a squat, stand with feet hip-width apart, bend at the knees and hips as if sitting back into a chair, keeping the chest upright and the back straight, before standing back up to the initial position.

Deadlift: Deadlifts enhance overall strength, focusing on the back, legs, and core. To do a deadlift, stand over a barbell with feet hip-width apart, bend at the hips and knees to grab the bar with both hands, then stand up straight, lifting the barbell off the floor and pushing your hips forward, before carefully lowering the barbell back to the ground.

Wrapping Up

Are you considering hitting the gym before stepping onto the psych ward? Physical strength can be advantageous. However, as Redditor NurseGryffinPuff emphasizes, “[T]he soft skills in psych (deescalation, therapeutic communication) are significantly more important than physical size. I’ve seen really petite individuals excel as psych providers, and during emergencies, it’s definitely a team effort.”

So, while being physically fit is beneficial, it’s not the sole determinant of success in psychiatric nursing. Effective communication, the ability to defuse tense situations, and teamwork are equally, if not more, vital.


John Kuo is the founder of HealthJob, a resource for nurses and other health care professionals to navigate their careers.

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