How MHEC was Born

Hi, I’m Dan Hancock and I’m the Mental Health PT.

So many people ask me about how I developed these concepts and believe me it is quite a story, and I’d love to use this opportunity to share it with you…

I’ve always loved exercise, since I was a young boy playing football in the Scottish fields, so I’ve been privileged enough to have always understood the benefits of movement for the body and mind, unlike many people who are put off exercise at an early age.

I experienced some trauma in my teenage years; I suffered a serious assault that put an end to my football journey, I carried out a serious assault which almost left me imprisoned, and I was the victim of an abusive relationship that left me lost, alone and desperate to get my life back.

After giving up exercise, I knew that rediscovering physical movement would be the answer to getting my life back on track. I hadn’t been allowed to go to the gym in my previous relationship, so I was desperate to go and make up for lost time.

But when I took the gym up as a hobby, I wasn’t exercising to feel good like I had done in my early years, I was exercising to look a certain way, so I could mask my deep insecurities and look tough and strong. I didn’t realise that my deep desire to develop physical strength stemmed back to the day I was beaten up as a 16-year-old.

Exercising for body image goals, in a vain attempt to understand my true identity via the image I portrayed on the outside, ultimately only pushed me further away from who I truly was. But everyone was exercising to look a certain way; why was I feeling even more insecure about my body shape? Why was I feeling guilty if I missed sessions? Why was I becoming obsessive with my nutrition and training regime? Why had exercise turned into something that made my mental health suffer, as opposed to making me feel free and confident like when I was younger?

I thought there was something wrong with me, but in reality, I believe it was the fitness industry to blame, with the constant promotion of aesthetic motives, marketing tools, and metrics.

With my past love of exercise in mind, I changed my approach to fitness. I started to train to feel good rather than look good. I started to use exercise as a tool to develop inner confidence, self-worth, resilience, freedom and greater aspirations in life.

I used this new-found confidence to study to become a Personal Trainer. I wanted others to feel the way I felt.

When I joined the industry however, I was dumbfounded by the number of trainers and clients who were still stuck in a vicious cycle that I had found myself in previously.

Everyone was focussing on exercising to look a certain way, out of guilt or shame, or as a punishment. It didn’t seem like anyone was exercising to improve their mental health.

Exercise was a means to an end, rather than the sole purpose of the journey.

I took it upon myself to develop a greater level of curiosity with my clients; asking more questions, asking better questions, and discovered that for the majority of people wanting to exercise, body image goals were just surface level motives behind wanting to become fit and healthy – the real reason, was wanting to improve their overall happiness, confidence and self-worth, or in other words, their mental health. This process of helping my clients talk about their thoughts, feelings and emotions during or directly after exercise later became known as Informal Exercise Therapy™ (IET).

When you take a step back and think about my discoveries, this should come as no surprise, as poor mental health now impacts 1 in 4 people in the U.K. [1] and exercise is, in my opinion, the best tool we have to improve our mental health. It now seems obvious that when given the right support, environment and space, clients confiding in their personal trainers will happen quite naturally.

Continuing my mission to improve the nation’s mental health I founded WORKfit, a corporate wellness company and MINDfit, a Community Interest Company (designed to deliver free fitness sessions for individuals struggling with their mental health). These experiences allowed me to gain a bird’s eye perspective on the health issues we were facing as a nation and break down more barriers to exercise and talking about our mental health.

I realised that there is so much more to exercise than was being taught and that in order to get real, meaningful, lifelong results, we need to focus on exercising the mind first.

I also had some issues with the way gyms were run. I offered solutions, alternatives and even a free mental health and exercise class at the gym I was working at, but management did not listen, and the class never surfaced. I knew I had to make it my prime objective to make gyms a safe place for people to be themselves, rather than feeling intimidated, embarrassed or self-conscious.

With this in mind, in January 2020 (5 years after becoming a PT), I opened the very first MHEC Gym™ (formerly DH Fitness studio), which was intended to be a gym for people who don’t like busy gyms.

I started to piece all of my work and evidence together, and then created the revolutionary MHEC Programme© (formerly the Body & Mind Programme), that specifically used exercise to develop life skills that could be transferred to every-day life. These skills, tools, emotions, values and traits later became known as The MHEC Exercise By-Products™ and formed an evidence-based method to transform each and every area of a client’s life known as The MHEC Theory™.

This now wasn’t just about improving my clients’ mental health; I had finally created a process that allowed individuals to transform all areas of their life through exercise, and the rest of the U.K. and Ireland started to take notice.

People were asking how they could be trained in my methods, but one day after hours of unfruitful searching for a mental health and fitness qualification, I realised that one didn’t exist.

It was on that day that I decided that I would be the one to create it.

In December 2020, after years of research, practical study and experience, I created the certified Award in Mental Health & Exercise Coaching©, a world’s first in the fitness industry, which was designed to up-skill fitness professionals to be able to use exercise as a tool to promote positive mental health and get more people moving than ever before.

I made the announcement on social media, and nervously awaited launch day. What if nobody bought the Award? What if all of those other PT’s and gym managers were right – what if there was a reason this hadn’t been done before? What if no one cared as much about this as I did? What if I was overstepping my boundaries?

My best mate Ben, who had been supporting my journey since the start, was working in a senior management position in the energy industry. We agreed that if the Award took off in the way we were hoping, I’d need a Business Operations Manager to help me on my mission.

The day of the Award in MHEC Pre-Sale had arrived, and we sold out within the first half an hour. I phoned Ben, and he handed in his notice at work.

In the first 18 months, we delivered 25 courses and trained up 250+ Mental Health & Exercise Coaches, making it the industry’s fastest growing movement. I anticipate at your time of reading this; this number will have significantly grown.

Everyone knows exercise makes you feel better, but until now there has been a massive disconnect with exercise and mental health – I’m proud to say I have now brought these two worlds together.

It is our mission to make exercise as understandable, accessible, exciting, empowering and readily available as possible, and whether you are a member of the general public looking to improve their health or a certified fitness professional looking to help their clients, I’d love for you to come on this journey with us and join my team.

Get in touch with us now

Dan Hancock
The Mental Health PT
Director of MHEC Limited