‘Gym rage’ – could working out make anger worse?

For many of us, exercise is a great way to let off some steam and release our pent-up emotions. But have you ever left the gym feeling worse than when you went in?

Girl working out

Studies have shown that ‘gym rage’ is, in fact, a real and common thing, and NHS clinical psychologist, Isabel Clarke, has shed light on why this may be. 

What is ‘gym rage’?

Celebrity fitness trainer, Matt Fiddes, notes that gyms are reporting an increasing number of people getting into heated arguments, even over the most trivial of matters. He once reported witnessing a gym-goer attacking a receptionist after the music he had been listening to was changed over. It’s important to note, however, that these instances are not limited to the gym. Even going for a run, or doing a home workout can leave you feeling irritable if you are not in the right headspace. Clarke states that if you are experiencing symptoms of stress, working out can heighten your emotions. 

So, why does this happen? 

Though limited research has been conducted into why emotions may be triggered after exercising, science can offer us some good explanations.

1. Working out mimics our stress responses

We’ve all heard of ‘fight or flight’. This is our body’s natural reaction when we feel under threat. In this state, our bodies are hyper-sensitive and ready to either attack or run. Exercising is designed to get our blood pumping, but when we do this, our heart rate rises, adrenaline rushes through our body and our breathing becomes shallow. This is exactly what happens when our brain triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. 

Isabel Clarke believes that this, coupled with being in a cramped gym environment with many other avid gym-goers, can be a recipe for disaster. 

2. Overexertion 

Although there are many physical and mental benefits of exercise, too much can have the opposite effect. If you push yourself to the limit, or beyond, you run the risk of overexerting yourself. The symptoms of this include:

  • feeling dizzy
  • feeling nauseous or being sick 
  • feeling fatigued 

All of these symptoms can make you feel cranky and extremely tired both at the gym and at home. 

There are ways you can avoid feeling this way, such as by staying hydrated and ensuring you properly warm up and down, but the most effective way is to listen to your body. Dehydration, muscle fatigue and low blood sugar are all contributing factors to overexertion, so if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably your body telling you to give the gym a miss!

3. Boredom

Research has shown that if you don’t enjoy the exercise that you do, it can leave you feeling demotivated and irritable post-workout. Exercise should create a positive experience, so make sure you spend time doing what you enjoy. If you find that the thrill of going to the gym has worn off, you could opt for an alternative method of physical activity, such as taking up a martial arts class. 

Additionally, exercise is more fun when you participate with others, so ask a friend/s if they’d like to come along and find activities you enjoy doing together. Exercising together can also be a great way to catch up and socialise, therefore improving your mental, as well as physical, health. 

How to prevent ‘gym rage’ 

Now you have identified why you could be feeling worse after going to the gym, there are many things you can do to prevent a build-up of your emotions when working out. 

If you’re in pain, stop

Pain is our way of signalling to us that we could be injuring ourselves. So, if any part of your body is hurting during exercise, it’s best to stop what you are doing, as research has shown that pain tends to make us more irritable. Don’t do anything that can cause further pressure or tension. If the pain is localised, there’s no reason why you can’t focus on exercising other areas of your body, but if it’s persistent, make sure you seek medical advice. You’ll be much better off missing a few gym sessions than risking causing a long-term problem, and your body will thank you for it.

Don’t overdo it

We know overexertion can cause spells of irritability and fatigue, but it can have more serious and long-term effects. In severe cases, overdoing it can lead to a loss of appetite, insomnia/sleeping problems, a weakened immune system, and depression. Exercising releases endorphins which can help relieve stress, but research has suggested that too much can have the opposite effect, leading to anxiety. Establish a good routine and make sure you are taking regular rest days to reset and give your mind and body time to recover.

Find alternative ways to keep fit

If you find yourself leaving the gym in a worse state than entering, you could consider switching up your weekly exercise regime. There are many alternative ways you can keep fit, such as running, home workouts, swimming, fitness classes, martial arts, team sports, and even something more gentle, such as yoga. Opting for slower-paced exercises, such as a brisk walk, Pilates or Tai Chi will prevent you from getting too ‘hyped up’, which is what in turn causes our emotions to run wild. Not only will varying your exercise benefit your body, but it will also help to keep your mind active. Furthermore, joining group or team classes will encourage you to socialise more often, all of which will lead to improved emotional well-being. 

How to manage anger

Of course, we can all take steps to avoid ‘gym rage’, but it’s equally as important to acknowledge that anger is a natural emotion. We need to learn to accept when we feel angry or irritable and be comfortable with being so. 

It’s important to know what can trigger anger, particularly when exercising. Once you are able to identify the trigger/s, you can take the necessary steps to avoid them, such as by cancelling a gym membership. 

If you do feel angry when working out, you could opt to participate in an exercise that allows you to express your feelings in a safe and controlled way, such as through a martial art. This will help you to channel those emotions without the risk of injuring yourself or others, or getting into trouble. 

How can counselling help?

If your anger issues don’t seem to be getting any better, you may wish to consider talking to a counsellor. Counselling for anger can be a useful tool to address your emotions in a safe environment. Ultimately, anger becomes an issue when it starts to negatively affect your life, so if you feel this way it’s important you take the right steps to try to get help, whether that’s talking to family and friends, or a professional. 

To find a counsellor near you, enter your details into the search below or use our advanced search to connect with a therapist in person, online, or by telephone.

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Written by Zoe Thomas
Written by Zoe Thomas
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