How Exercise Helps With Stress

Life is hard.

Ya wake up grumpy to an alarm, you have to constantly make decisions, your boss is asking you to take another task off their plate while you’re drowning in a pile of work, and on top of it all…your dog had an accident on your favorite rug.

It’s a no good day.

Then you remember that you have your 6pm CrossFit class waiting for you at the end of the day. You scheduled it and promised your friend you would be there. Ya steel your mind for that drive from your office to the gym and you get in the car and drive. 

You walk in the gym and you see the first smiling face of the day that isn’t about to ask you to do something for them. You start the workout and your hips and shoulders are tight from a long day of sitting and that first Cossack Squat is the last thing you wanna do. 

But as you start moving you feel warmer. You finish the 14 minute EMOM for your strength component and all those worries from your day are suddenly not even on your mind. 

Then you go hit your MetCon and your mind is locked on hitting those Wall Ball Shots and beating your previous effort from last time on the workout “The Charming Potato!”

One final beep of the clock and you’re on the ground making a sweat angel. Your coach comes by and gives you a fist bump. You stretch with your friends, chat for a while, and then head out of the gym to finish your day feeling as if you were never stressed that day.

But, why is that? Why does exercise help us destress? 

Endorphins Are Part Of It

Endorphins are neurochemicals that our brains release when we are experiencing pain, like wall ball shots, to activate the opioid receptors in our brains. This helps kill pain and reward us by bringing about a sense of bliss. 

(Fun Fact: Endorphins are structurally similar to morphine. Your brain releases them during other activities such as eating, drinking, sexual activity, and maternal behavior (1))

When that pain is being dulled, it allows us to keep pushing through that activity and do more work over time.

Connecting With Your Body

Now if you’ve talked with me after a Yoga class, I’m the first person to roll my eyes when the term “chakras” is brought up. 

But, there is something to being working on being more aware of your body. 

When we perform a movement like a hang clean, there is too much going on in that movement to focus on things going outside of that movement.

You have to think of contracting your hips explosively enough to make contact with the bar and hit it into the air, you have to try and not hit your neck, your shoulder blades have to stay tight together, and the list goes on. 

The amount of focus things like weight training requires makes it impossible to do anything but be present. To listen to your body and take the time to focusing on improving that connection so that you can receive the joys of progressing in your skills.


When everything else in life feels stuck, getting one extra double under on your max unbroken set can make you feel like you’re on a collision course with destiny. 

Our brains love to reward us for making progress as well (#dopamine). Doing a workout and having an attainable goal can do wonders for rewarding yourself and improving your mood.

Success breeds more success after all!

Bouts of High Intensity Followed By Rest = Emotional Awareness

In the New York Times Article, “The Healing Power of Strength Training,” Danielle Friedman interviews personal trainers and athletes involved in various non-profits that dedicate their lives to relieving the effects of trauma on people (for both civilians and military veterans).

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can be experienced in different ways. From situational stress responses (yoga being to quiet or exercise being to intense and causing a stress reaction) to dissociative responses (some sort of trauma being associated with the torso resulting into a mental disconnection from the area). 

While each athlete experiencing PTSD is different, going through an intense bout of effort followed by a period of rest allows athletes to take stock in how they are feeling after each set and cope with the activity that has happened. Slowly associating the stress brought on by the activity to the stress relieving responses that exercise provides, rather than their past trauma.

While most athletes who train in weightlifting aren’t suffering from PTSD, the act of taking time after each bout of exercise to take stock can help athletes make the same association, helping them listen to their bodies and manage stress. 

Just Keep Moving

Getting a workout in, even if you are going to be late and can only do the MetCon for the day, can do wonders for turning a bad day around.

We often strive for perfect in our day, when good is enough.

The perfect day and perfect workout often never exist. If we just get up and move the amount that we can that day and push to keep consistent, amazing strides can be made over time in what ever you are putting your mind to. 

If you’re having a bad day, come on in. Destress with your friends and get those endorphins flowing!

If you’re having a great day, be the little excited energy ball that you are today and ride that wave of positivity!

If you’re interested in learning more about these topics, here are the two stories that gave inspiration for today’s post:

1) Why Endorphins (and Exercise) Make Your Happy – Kristen Domonell (CNN)

2) The Healing Power of Strength Training – Danielle Friedman (New York Times)

If you or a loved one is suffering from post traumatic stress and want help, please visit the link below:

National Center for PTSD Website 

To talk with a coach today, click the link found HERE to schedule your No Sweat Intro

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