Getting emotional in the gym. WTF is going on?
March 27, 2013 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Why am I getting emotional during workouts? Has this ever happened to you.

I am getting back into a series program of physical fitness after about a year off. I have always stayed somewhat active with running and yoga, but in the past I have done take kwon do, Crossfit, traditional group weightlifting/cardio classes and boot camps.

In November I joined a gym and I really like it. Most of the trainers and almost all of the other patrons are super supportive. Most are women, and classes are pretty small. The workouts are similar to Crossfit but without the "language" and "atmosphere" of Crossfit and are not timed.

However, for the past few months I have found myself getting incredibly emotional at the gym. Like near tears at times when things gets hard. At first I thought this was out of frustration — I am definitely starting from near scratch since it's been so long since I've done these kinds of movements. But then it happened during a non-workout meeting at the gym when one of the trainers was talking about a new program they plan to offer.

WTF is this? It has maybe only ever happened once before, several years ago in tae kwon do, when a spar partner intentionally kicked me harder than they should have, knocking the breath out of me.

Complicating facts is that in December I slightly injured my back and I am still healing from that which means a lot of trial and error in finding movements at the gym that don't aggravate my injury. My trainers are very, very good at working with me and scaling workouts.
posted by Brittanie to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I can relate -- I was recently unexpectedly hit very hard by a teammate and it popped my neck a little. I immediately starting crying and was pretty much useless for the remainder of practice, just like, crying intermittently and very shaky. I was probably 2-3 days off of my period, which is the main attribution that I make about the behavior, but I also felt like, betrayed and shocked and embarrassed. I have ultimately decided to let the feelings pass. I also most often cry in moments of extreme frustration.

Can you describe the context in which this feeling occurs more specifically? Was the new program something you wanted to try but feel you couldn't? Are you around/communicating with trainers when you start to feel frustrated? Is there an internal monologue going on? Are you really exhausted when it happens? How do you feel going into the gym environment?
posted by sibboleth at 12:44 PM on March 27, 2013

This definitely happens to me sometimes. When everything is getting ramped up (heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, etc) it can translate into being emotionally ramped up. At times when you're on a hair-trigger for any other reason, like frustration, being so physically engaged gets to feeling emotionally overwhelming.

Are you under any other kind of stress now? If you're a woman (and forgive me for this, as I am a woman too) where are you at in your cycle? Are you in active pain during your workouts from your injury? Unless you are being physically hurt by your workouts which is leading to tears, I wouldn't worry about the occasional tearing up at the gym. I'd wager you've probably got some other stressful things going on in your life which are running an undercurrent to your emotions.
posted by Katine at 12:45 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

People sob (or laugh) during massage, yoga, pilates, running, lifting. Your body and your emotions are connected, even if you can't discern exactly what that connection is or map the cause-effect chain.

In other words, normal.
posted by rtha at 12:49 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Sibboleth and Katine — it has happened at all times of the month. And yes, it seems to come on more in the middle of communication with my trainers, or when I have a trainer breathing over me to get shit done. (Which, by the way, is the way I work best in the gym — I won't do it unless someone is yelling at me). More and more I think it's born out of frustration over my back. I have another doctor's appointment next week to get a final diagnoses and hopefully start some real treatment instead of hodgepodge treatment, but I am trying to figure out what triggers the emotions and how to turn them off.
posted by Brittanie at 12:53 PM on March 27, 2013

I started Crossfit, and I cry. But it's a good cry.

How were you injured? I was in a car accident several years ago and as I went through rehabilitation and eventually exercise, the movements and sensations would frequently remind me of how I was injured, then my mind would picture me flipping over in the car again. It would get me a little upset, but it was one of those things I worked on along with the muscle and joint exercises.
posted by mibo at 12:53 PM on March 27, 2013

Seconding Katine and rtha.

When I've started new exercise routines or run extra long or hard, or anything that shakes my body up in a new way, I will sometimes burst into tears.

I remember the first time I ran over 8 miles, and at around 8.5 miles, I just started sobbing. I figured it was a body/brain exhaustion connection.

But pushing my body hard (and often doing certain yoga positions) often breaks a little emotional dam that I wasn't aware of and feels incredibly cathartic after the crying ends.

Do you feel better after crying or even more upset? And good for you to get to the bottom of the physical issue. I suspect that may be part of the teariness.
posted by kinetic at 1:01 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am trying to figure out what triggers the emotions and how to turn them off.

Emotional release is healthy. Your emotions will find a way out, one way or another. The setting you're in is entirely appropriate for emotional release. You may find if you indulge it, it stops.
posted by headnsouth at 1:03 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Do you feel better after crying or even more upset.

Mainly I feel embarrassed because I'm, you know, in the gym.
posted by Brittanie at 1:04 PM on March 27, 2013

Mainly I feel embarrassed because I'm, you know, in the gym.

Where everyone around you is red-faced, has sweat running down their face, are grunting, panting, gasping for air, etc. I'd say let it happen, step off the floor to get a drink of water or wash your face in the locker room, then go back to it when you're collected.

I lost it completely in yoga one time, doing a really intense, prop-heavy pose. The instructor just came over, helped me into a less intense, restorative pose, and I returned to working with the class on the next pose. Ain't no thing.
posted by BrashTech at 1:10 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

I was about to say "totally normal" but I might be weird.

I started climbing recently from time to time it sends my emotions spinning in really unexpected ways. I get so mad and frustrated or I'm totally overcome with panic. And no one is ever surprised. The first time I freaked at the top of a wall, someone down below, a stranger, spotted me and just started talking me through it. Because it happens all the time. I'm not a total basket case, honest, but there are definitely times where whatever I'm feeling is just really super present. I'm sure a therapist could put words to it, but it is usually a good opportunity to take a deep breath, let it out, and ask myself what I'm really angry about or frustrated by because I know I'm not *that* frustrated by a climbing hold.

So what is eating at you? I don't know. I'd guess there's some fear of ageing and decay in there somewhere, but I have no idea. So I would say this: when it happens, take a deep breath, find a place to sit, and ask yourself what you're feeling. (Besides embarrassed)
posted by amandabee at 1:16 PM on March 27, 2013

Maybe try screaming? (or grunting or swearing or something?)

Basically, some way to give yourself the emotional release without seeming like a crybaby.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:17 PM on March 27, 2013

the way I work best in the gym — I won't do it unless someone is yelling at me

So this happens during workouts when your trainer is yelling at you, and happened in a non workout meeting with a trainer.

I don't think the workout is what's making you emotional here. Do you think you could you be feeling emotional and near tears because someone is yelling at you?
posted by yohko at 1:18 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it's the interplay of frustration and exhaustion (which is its own kind of frustration). I have burst into tears or gotten really, really angry for no discernible reason while doing sprints or, memorably, during a HIIT workout. As rtha said, body and mind are connected and those feelings are by nature, "irrational." I've been embarrassed too because I didn't want whoever was working with me to think I couldn't take it or that I wanted to give up. When my HIIT trainer once asked me what the tears were about, I petulantly yelled, "these are tears of hatred for YOU!!"

Maybe you're angry and frustrated at the limitations your back injury has imposed on you. That sounds incredibly annoying. Hope the new treatments work out for you.
posted by Katine at 1:21 PM on March 27, 2013

Sometimes this has happened to me while swimming (which I find really cathartic on its own). Usually when other stuffs in my life was causing emotions that I wasn't really aware of and/or paying attention to. It sucks to cry into goggles, but sometimes I could just scream underwater instead. Generally felt better afterwards and often it helped me figure out what the other stuff was that I hadn't been giving proper attention. I've noticed those sorts of feelings cropping up when running as well (but much less intense/response inducing) so I would say its not so weird, but I would probably still be embarrassed about it like you mention. At least with swimming I can hide my face and noises in the water.
posted by Feantari at 1:32 PM on March 27, 2013

If you can't cry in the gym, where CAN you cry? It's a place where you're confronting so many things at once -- your own limitations, your potential, GRAVITY, etc etc.

So yeah, I cry at the gym. It's normally pretty cathartic.
posted by spunweb at 1:47 PM on March 27, 2013

Response by poster: Do you think you could you be feeling emotional and near tears because someone is yelling at you?

Definitely not. I have *always* worked out in gyms like that and it has never affected me before.
posted by Brittanie at 1:59 PM on March 27, 2013

I recently took up CrossFit, and I'm also pretty emotional and near tears pretty often. I figure it's just my body thinking that this gasping for air, exhausted, frustrated, elated, environment is a lot like the hard parts of life, which tend to make me emotional. I also find the intensity of the exertion combined with the nurturing/challenging/boosting of the coaches makes for more emotional responses.

The only other time I've had that happen was in yoga once, years ago. Emotions will out.
posted by ldthomps at 2:06 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a full time single mother of 3 children. I never let my true feelings about anything show. I have to remain calm and pleasant all the time.

When I go for long walks or do yoga, I finally start to relax, and all that emotion that I've been bottling up comes streaming out.

It is not uncommon.
posted by myselfasme at 2:09 PM on March 27, 2013

Response by poster: Please feel free to continue answering. I've marked resolved because just knowing I am not unusual in this is very helpful.
posted by Brittanie at 2:18 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to cry at the gym too. And get panic attacks. In my case, I think the gym reminded me of an ex that I had a very ambivalent relationship with, and I was crying at the reminder of how things were with him.

I do that a lot less now that I'm happier in life. Sigh.
posted by 3491again at 2:27 PM on March 27, 2013

I am reminded of this post at epbot - it's really worth a read
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:41 PM on March 27, 2013

As a man, this is remarkable to read, and I'm near positive this a uniquely female phenomenon.

If the intensity of the workout causes you to lose it and start crying uncontrollably, why are you pushing yourself to that point? It could be your body's physiological way of telling you to back off a bit.

If that's not possible, have you tried mood enhancing music leading up to those moments?
posted by Kruger5 at 4:14 PM on March 27, 2013

I have experienced this level of emotion in the gym under the following circumstances:

- I'm doing mountain climbers or sled/plate pushes or some other face-down move that makes me feel irrationally panicky that I will suffocate, which makes me terrified. It only happens when a trainer is controlling when I can stop.

- I was emotional about something not gym-related, and the crying started during extreme exertion of a full body exercise, like assisted pull-ups at a new heavy weight. Again, it happened when a trainer was controlling when I could stop or I otherwise wanted to please/impress him with extreme effort beyond my capability.

And to counter Kruger5, my husband used to have near panic attacks at the gym and would vomit pretty frequently in the middle of workouts from, near as we can tell, idiopathic exercise-induced nausea and vomiting. Not crying, but pretty close to it, with fully body exercises such as squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings etc as well as more focused ones like bench presses.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:03 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I usually cry when I first go back after not having gone for awhile. And I don't *feel* all emotional about it, but suddenly I find myself crying. I feel like ... a hidden part of me was moved, and that exercise (and health, self-care, well-being, etc.) is something I need, much more than I consciously realize.

It sounds like the back injury may have shook you up a bit more than you are aware of, and to find yourself in such a supportive environment frees you up to express more deeply how meaningful the health of your body is.

I understand the intense feeling is not physical discomfort, but an emotional expression of something underlying. Maybe the feelings will subside when you have overcome the back injury and are feeling strong and in great shape?
posted by Locochona at 5:52 PM on March 27, 2013

Yeah, I've been there, and I asked this question about it: Runners... low? Why does exercising make me sad? The answers were super helpful for me; I hope they help you, too.

Basically, it turns out that I was suppressing some pretty serious emotions about my life at the time. Nothing I am comfortable going into on the Internet, but MeMail me if you want specifics. It had absolutely nothing to do with me being a female, though.

I was also eating like, very little at the time (I understand that in the thread I sound like I was eating normally, but I was not consuming enough calories on a daily basis). Eating beforehand really did help. Bananas were good.

I exercise now with no problems, FWIW.
posted by k8lin at 7:38 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just ran a half marathon and felt like crying at the end. It was the date that my niece and nephew would have been born and I was thinking of them. Similarly, on New Year's Eve, I went to a yoga class and definitely cried during shavasana, thinking of them.

I realize that's different but I'll add that at softball once, I hit the ball and was running to first when someone accidentally threw the ball at me and hit me hard. I think I had the laces imprinted on me. I flipped the F out. I'm still a little embarrassed. I don't feel too badly though because I don't know where that came from. I just blew up.

Physical stress is different from other kinds of stress and it's hard to predict what your brain will do with it. I'm sorry I don't have suggestions for how to avoid having that experience but you're definitely not alone.
posted by kat518 at 9:00 PM on March 27, 2013

As a man, this is remarkable to read, and I'm near positive this a uniquely female phenomenon.

It's definitely not female-specific, since basically nothing is "uniquely female". I've seen men crying at the gym

I've experienced this. For me it's more likely if I'm sleep deprived, underfed, dehydrated, or stressed about something else in my life. It's also amplified by upsetting music. I agree that it's totally normal and that releasing emotions is ok.
posted by medusa at 10:28 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

This always happens to me when I'm doing any kind of strenuous cardio. For me, it seems tied up with underlying issues about body image and physical competence. I feel like I'm physically struggling (because I am), which makes me feel like I'm weak, fat, and failing, which causes me to feel frustrated, humiliated, and despairing. So I find myself fighting tears nearly every time. I also feel anxious, hypercritical of my body, and emotionally exhausted after working out. Unfortunately, it's caused me to quit going to the gym, because exercise is such an emotional downer for me.

Can you remember what the content of your thoughts was like right before you started crying? Like, were you thinking "Dammit, I can't do this," or "She must think I'm a loser"? That might help you figure out the underlying issue. (It took me a while to realize that my crying was generally preceded by a memory of being the slowest, weakest kid and being left behind/left out by my friends because of it.)

One interesting feature of your question is that the emotions have been triggered when you're not physically working out -- just at the gym, listening to a trainer talk about working out. That implies that the trigger for the strong emotions isn't just physical exertion anymore -- that the whole concept of the gym, working out, or maybe just this specific trainer (?), now triggers your emotional response.

I think the answer for both of us might be to find a therapist, get at whatever the underlying issue is, and do some cognitive-behavioral work.
posted by snowmentality at 9:53 AM on March 28, 2013

Nthing the normal. I sometimes motivate myself through tough workouts with emotions of frustration or anger ("take THAT, asshole!"). I definitely find some emotions get heightened while working out and have come close to tears from exhaustion and being unable to complete something.

Only you can really tell if this is something to work through or even embrace, or a sign you need to back off the intensity, or a sign you need to do some other emotional work. But crying at the gym seems totally par for the course to me.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:16 AM on March 28, 2013

I've worked out intermittently in the past, and though I don't recall getting sad or crying, I do recall that cardio (running or using the elliptical, not cycling. And mostly running, when I think about it), sometimes I woukd randomly become filled with rage. Like, sensless fucking rage at nothing, or at the treadmill, or at gravity or at time's slowness or something. I would want to roar like a lion. (I did not, obviously). Then I would run faster and harder. And it would dissipate and then later i'd feel really calm and happy and relaxed.I figure it's an adrenaline/ testosterone thing. (Women also have testosterone!) But, massages often make me cry and have all kinds of sadness. Bodies do stuff, it's good and healthy, let it happen.

Also, if you're tearing up without getting actually sad, tears can just be autonomic phenomena (like goosebumps), and not mean much of anything except that you're working a spot that really needs it.
posted by windykites at 7:28 AM on April 5, 2013

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