We’ve all done it. You hit the gym for a lifting session or lace up for a rage run when your anger is brimming and you need an outlet. Feels amazing, right?
Of course, as a certified personal trainer, I wouldn’t exactly recommend rage over consistency, quality sleep, or adequate fuel as a way to help you meet your goals. But as a person with an admittedly short fuse, I have to tell you: Anger—and even straight-up rage—has turbocharged some of my own workouts, and the result has been extremely satisfying. Whether I am trying to run faster or lift heavier, a little anger can make those hard efforts feel a lot easier. And a challenging workout never fails to cool my white-hot temper.
Using rage to power a workout every now and then isn’t a bad thing as long as you’re doing it with some self-awareness. If you let it go haywire, like by starting out too hard or too fast, you can risk injury and burnout. Do it the right way, though, and you can reap some serious mood-boosting rewards. Here, we will go through the scientific reason it feels so damn good to sweat it out when you’re feeling furious, how to channel it toward reaching your goals, and what to avoid to make sure your fitness routine remains sustainable.
Why do rage workouts feel amazing?
The feel-good effects of rage workouts are double-pronged: They can help you feel strong and capable during the actual session and then, afterward, they can help you feel less incensed.
We have biology to thank for making us feel so strong during our rage-fueled workouts. That’s because anger can trigger the fight-or-flight response, making your body think it’s preparing to flee a dangerous situation or fight an enemy (even if that “enemy” is just an annoying work email you received.)
“Because of the increase in adrenaline and cortisol running through your body, you might feel like you’re able to lift heavier than you normally would or run farther than you normally would,” Jamie Carbaugh, a weight-inclusive certified personal trainer who coaches virtually, tells SELF. Those hormones spark a process sending more blood to your muscles—which gives your muscles extra energy in the form of oxygen, so “your perception of how easy the workout is may be skewed,” she explains.
Thanks to those hormones, your heart and respiratory rates may also spike beyond their normal range during a rage workout to help you do all that hard work, Carbaugh says. That’s to be expected, given the fact your physiology is offering your body a natural boost. In fact, in a 2020 Frontiers in Psychology study in which middle-of-the-pack runners watched films that made them angry, they ended up completing a two-mile timed run quicker than they did when neutral emotions were triggered from other movies.
Rage workouts help you feel powerful in the moment, but one of the reasons we find ourselves drawn to them when we’re pissed is that we tend to feel less furious after too. A 2017 Journal of Affective Disorders study concluded that moderate exercise bouts—even in durations as short as 10 minutes—were strongly associated with mood improvements, including reductions in anger, depression, and hostility. Whether you take advantage of that boost with something intense like cardio or weightlifting or you opt for something gentler like yoga or walking, you’re pretty much guaranteed to feel better (meaning less infuriated) afterward.
Though the science is pretty clear on why we feel so dominant during an anger-fueled workout, it’s less obvious exactly what’s making us feel better afterward. It certainly could be due to the powerful chemicals our brains release while we’re working up a sweat, but researchers who compared people who exercised with those who meditated and those who simply rested found that all the participants experienced less anxiety—which suggests that the common denominator might simply be taking your mind off of the events that got you heated the first place.
That said, movement can be a potent way to help release an emotion, leaving you feeling calmer afterward, Carbaugh says. She compares it to the way you feel a sense of relief when you cry at the end of a tearjerker movie because you’re no longer bottling up that emotion.
If you think of your anger as bubbles in a can of seltzer, imagine your workout as popping the top, Stephanie Roth-Goldberg, LCSW, a New York City–based psychotherapist who specializes in sports psychology and eating disorder recovery, tells SELF. “Anger can feel like pent-up energy that needs a release. Often, exercise can provide that release by expanding our lungs, distracting our minds,” she says.
Exercise can be an excellent anger management technique as long as you don’t go overboard. Otherwise you risk aggravating a chronic issue, causing a new one, or setting yourself on the path to burnout. Though exercising to clear your head seems like a no-brainer, there are some things you should keep in mind to make the most out of it.
1. Consider what kind of movement you need.
In many cases, this may be a favorite class—going to a class where you know the overall drill can be the perfect distraction. When you’re too upset to think clearly, “having someone tell you what to do is helpful,” Roth-Goldberg says.
As for which kind of class? There’s no one best workout modality for when you’re furious. It’s all super individualized, but asking yourself two simple questions can help you choose the form of movement that works for you.
“What would actually satisfy me right now?” is the first question to ask yourself when you’re raging and ready for a workout, Roth-Goldberg says. It doesn’t matter whether you go for the cycling class you’d already planned, choose a treadmill class instead of a solo session, or pencil in an extra yoga class, as long as you pause to reflect on what would be helpful in that moment and decide based on that, she says. For instance, if you know doing sprint intervals is only going to leave you more hyped, but you were hoping to feel more chill after, maybe your body is asking for a gentle yoga class or a fun group run outside instead.
The second question is, Roth-Goldberg says, “What will be easy for me to get to?” This is more of a practical one, but it’s actually really important. You want something that’s quick and accessible, both physically and mentally.
“Hopefully there’s something that I know how to do, and there are not too many hurdles to get there,” she says. For instance, this might not be the best time to try a new way to get to your studio or to try to get to a class at rush hour when you know traffic is going to be gridlocked.
2. Check your environment.
Once you know what you feel like doing, make sure you can let loose in a way that won’t bother anyone else. For instance, if you’re lifting while angry, it may be tempting to be a little more forceful than usual when putting weights down (okay, maybe you want to slam the weights down) or to grunt more than usual.
You may feel like you need to get a little loud—and that’s fine, as long as you’ve made provisions, Carbaugh says. If you’re planning to get loud in your home workout area, she suggests telling your family or housemates what’s going on ahead of time. Or, if you normally work out at the gym, maybe you decide to take your routine to your at-home space instead.
If you don’t have access to a workout space where you can vocalize without disturbing others, Carbaugh suggests creating an “angry playlist” for those times when you need it. The intense music, heavy beats, or strong lyrics can help you process your emotions, as a 2015 study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found—while keeping the noise contained to your earbuds and out of the earspace of anyone else.
3. Don’t skip your warm-up.
This is important, especially since your primed-to-go body is going to be telling you otherwise.
“Doing a warm-up is going to be hard” when you’re fired up, Roth-Goldberg says. But you still need one.
By warming up properly, you gradually increase your core temperature and increase blood flow to your muscles, which helps you physically and mentally prepare for your workout. And that’s especially important if you go harder, faster, or longer than usual, which may be the case if you’re going into a workout mad.
A warm-up doesn’t have to be long or complicated, but make sure you choose one that activates the same muscles you’ll be using during your workout. This can help prevent injury and improve your performance.
If you don’t trust yourself to pencil in time for one, this is another situation where going to a fitness class that you enjoy may be helpful, Roth-Goldberg says. There’s guaranteed to be two to five minutes worth of warm-up time built into the workout.
4. Do something you already know how to do.
When you’re already angry, you don’t need the stress of struggling to follow the choreography of a new-to-you dance class. Though that Zumba class might be perfect if you’re a regular, for the newbie, “it might end up [being] more frustrating rather than alleviating the [angry] emotion,” Roth-Goldberg says.
What’s more, when you’re irate, your attention to form may falter, which could put you at risk of injury, especially if you’re doing moves you haven’t already mastered. “There is a greater risk of injury when you are doing an exercise for the purpose of getting out an emotion and not paying as much attention to that exercise as it warrants,” Roth-Goldberg says.
And, though Carbaugh says explosive, forceful movements (think weight-lifting, spin class, or rower routines) can help ground you when you’re fired up, you also need to be practical. If you’re a relative newbie to the barbell, now—when your mind is focused on your fury, not your form—is not the time to go all-in with heavy back squats, badass as they may seem. Diving headfirst into a new-to-you exercise routine means you have more than enough enthusiasm and adrenaline, but not quite enough skill and body awareness to do it safely. So if you’re a whiz at dumbbell goblet squats, those may be the better way for you to really make your legs work at this time.
Although your fight-or-flight response might make you feel like the Incredible Hulk, you’re still only human. So make sure you stay realistic about the moves on your docket for your routine and choose exercises you already know and love.
5. Bring mindfulness to your routine with a dedicated check-in.
By taking the time to ask yourself how your routine is going, you give yourself the chance to modify it as needed based on how your body is feeling. Plus, the very act of checking in can help you calm down. When we check in with our breath, we naturally tend to slow our breathing down, which translates into deeper breaths, Roth-Goldberg says. Those deeper breaths bring more oxygen to your brain, which she says can play a powerful role in improving our emotional state.
Carbaugh suggests setting a timer to go off every 5, 10, or 15 minutes as a reminder to pause. That means asking yourself how your body is handling the pace or the effort and backing off if necessary. You should also take inventory of any aches that may have developed: She notes that, though the soreness or discomfort that comes with muscle fatigue is totally normal, sharp or shooting pain are signals to back off or stop.
No matter how energized you feel, respect your current level of fitness and make sure not to push past it. Otherwise, exercise can be harmful instead of helpful, Roth-Goldberg says. For example, running 10 angry miles when you normally run three can set you up for overtraining and/or injury. Whether consciously or not, Roth-Goldberg says, “you’ve moved from being pissed off at someone else to taking it out on yourself.”
6. Take advantage of your cool-down.
After an angry workout, a cool-down is beneficial not just for your body, but for your heart and mind too. With a cool-down, your goal is to bring your body back to baseline.
According to Roth-Goldberg, your cool-down might include slowing down, stretching, or just sitting (after your body has calmed down from your routine). What’s important is that you check in with yourself during this time, as the return to baseline can be a prime time for non-workout thoughts—you know, the ones that may have triggered your anger—to come flooding back.
So make sure you’re pulling back enough during this cool-down time to be aware of your where your head is at. If you give yourself this space, you may find that some earlier thoughts were filled with flawed logic.
“We can pause and say, ‘I just had this thought, I’m really angry at this person,’” Roth-Goldberg explains, “but oftentimes, we can kind of have a conversation with ourselves [once we’ve cooled down], like, ‘Oh that’s not rational. I don’t actually believe that. I don’t feel that way anymore.’”
What’s more, your “window of tolerance” is at its widest immediately post-workout, meaning you’re better equipped to handle stressors in a healthy way, Roth-Goldberg says. If you were planning to talk with someone about a conflict, right after your workout is a great time to do it, she says. Other ways to take advantage of that wide open window include journaling, doing a body scan, or writing a cathartic letter or an email you never send.
7. Don’t rely on exercise alone to deal with your anger.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working out when you’re on the verge of boiling over, as long as you do it in a way that respects your body’s limits. In fact, it’s super healthy to acknowledge your anger in the first place.
“Working out can be a release of emotion that we might otherwise not know what to do with,” Roth-Goldberg says. “Oftentimes, people are afraid of anger and try to avoid it.”
However, it’s important to recognize that working out your anger isn’t the only way to deal with it. And there are some situations—say, if you’re injured or you’ve already exercised that day—where exercising wouldn’t be a healthy antidote.
“Exercise cannot be the only way in which emotions are processed,” Roth-Goldberg says. Her suggestion? “Have a toolbox of other things that are helpful when you might not have access to exercise.” Those can include things like meditation, crafting, reading, walking your dog, or going to dinner with a friend—whatever feels most helpful to you in your specific situation. And if your fury is festering from interactions with a specific person, dealing with that person head-on in a constructive, non-confrontational way (if that’s feasible) can help in the long run. Just make sure you follow these tips for talking it through effectively and fairly.
You can read more content from All the Rage here. SELF will be publishing new articles about anger all week.