Personal trainer and long-time powerlifter, Jake Henderson, sees numbers – those of pounds and reps – as a foundation for not only physical strength but also as a source for mental health benefits. On October 28, 2023, along with Carolina Barbell Club, a social club of powerlifters who train and compete together, and Brit’s Brothers Gym, he’s hosting Strengthtober Fest, a fundraiser with proceeds that will go this year to Mental Health America of Greenville County. Read on to learn more about Jake’s philosophy on lifting weights along with spirits and why mental health matters to him.
Jake, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into lifting?
I started lifting weights when I was in high school, I think 14 or 15. I just fell in love with the way it made me feel. It helped when I was coming into my own as a young man to lay a foundation of confidence. It gives me a sense of purpose, a sense of well-being. Weightlifting and going to the gym and strength training gives you an attainable goal to work for. To work at it day in and day out, every workout you get something in return. It’s like a stepping stone to the goal you set.
What was your inspiration for the first Strengthtober Fest? And what made you decide to offer the event proceeds to a nonprofit organization?
Carolina Barbell Club wanted to put on a push-pull powerlift event, which means bench press and deadlift. When we started, we always had the strongest people come, but we wanted to do something a little different. We wanted to get more traction, more momentum for the sport, so we did a 600-pound deadlift, which is kind of cool to watch, and we figured people would donate a certain amount of money per rep completed. We thought what better way to do it than to raise money for charity and also bring more people to the sport. It was our way of giving back to the sport we all so dearly loved and that’s been a big part of our lives as long as we can remember. It’s a way of bringing new people to a sport that is kind of underground still. It’s becoming more mainstream but a lot of people don’t know exactly what it is, and they don’t know the benefits that it can offer.
This is your first Strengthtober Fest in a few years, and it’s an honor that you’ve chosen MHAGC to receive the event proceeds this year. Could you tell us what led you to choose MHAGC this year?
My original idea was to choose something local that focused on men’s mental health. I still believe, especially in the strength world, that men’s mental health is pushed to the side. I looked for local mental health charities, and [MHAGC] popped out number one. I looked through a couple others, but I came back to you all. I read through your values in your mission statement, and I saw [MHA is] a national organization, but you have a local branch right up the street from my gym. My main objective of partnering with a mental health charity was to shine more light on men’s and women’s mental health and normalize people speaking about their mental health struggles, especially people that are like myself – bigger, stronger men – because we’re always supposed to be okay, and a lot of people aren’t. With this whole competition, my main overarching goal is to make people feel more comfortable speaking out and seeking help. Being able to partner with you guys was an obvious choice. I was very happy to make that connection.
Jake, I understand you sustained the loss of a good friend to suicide. Is that part of what motivates you to address men’s mental health needs?
Yes. I did not see any signs. He was very close to the chest and never talked about his mental health problems. I could see there was something going on, but I didn’t know it was as bad as it was. Everybody says that when this happens, but it’s true. Looking back, I can see that he was giving away a lot of his stuff, doing things he normally didn’t do. He had so much potential. He’d just started to really get the top 2% of his strength in the competitive world. I wracked my brain so many times to try to understand how he couldn’t see his potential. His death was a massive catalyst. My eyes have been open to a lot of other people’s troubles. I’ve been able to reach men my age, younger men, even older people that have struggled with mental health issues for 20 or 30 years. I don’t know if I would have been able to do this five years ago. It just gave me more patience and more willingness and ability to connect with people on a deeper level when it comes to mental health troubles.
So mental health is linked to lifting and fitness for you. It seems like if there is any positive to come from your heartbreaking personal loss, it’s that you’ve been able to help others.
Strength training is so much more than just an amount of weight on a bar. I’ve always joked around and said the gym is not just the gym, it’s the sanctuary. You go in and the outside world disappears, and through effort, you can work through some issues or just feel better, and that could be such a great thing for people that are struggling. I’ve spoken about some anger issues I’ve dealt with in the past and how the gym helped me with that. It’s 45 pounds of steel, and it doesn’t do anything by itself, but if you want to put your hands on it and put some effort in, it can give you so much more in return. This is what I try to teach people, so they can take that lesson with them into other parts of their lives.
You’re really bringing home the point that strength isn’t just physical and that physical and mental health are connected.
I’d say physical is probably the smaller part of it. [Strength training] bleeds into every aspect of your life. It’s an equalizing force and something that could help in so many more avenues of daily life.
Jake, if others wanted to learn more about Strengthtober Fest, where should they look?
If people want more information, they can check out the Brit’s Brothers podcast on Facebook and Instagram. I encourage people to come out and have a great time for a great cause on October 28. It’s going to be Halloween themed, and you’ll really get to see what strength training is about. Registration for Strengthtober Fest is through The Nutrition Store.