Find the Right Workout for Your Mood
Here's how to channel your mental energy to get the results you want

March 16, 2015

We men don’t think of ourselves as moody. Except maybe if our favourite sports team makes a nonsensical trade, and it feels like a personal betrayal. But of course we have more moods than that. And those moods—such as being mad, frustrated, nervous, or even ecstatic—can alter more than your mind. They can affect your muscles.

What you’re feeling can make you put less into your workout, or cause you to skip it altogether. But those same moods can be used to help your lifting session.

How? Most strong emotions—anger, anxiety, frustration—cause your adrenal glands to release adrenaline abnd more than 30 other hormones into your system.

“This hormonal surge causes your heart to beat faster, relaxes your bronchial tubes to improve breathing, converts fat and protein into extra blood sugar, and even slows down your digestion to improve muscular energy,” says Richard Marsella, Ph.D., author of Welcome to Stress Management. “Whether you feel like exercising or not, your body is already getting a temporary boost that could enhance your workouts.”

No matter how you feel, you can make the most of your workout—and even use it to improve your mood.

Research suggests that exercise releases neurochemicals that function as antidepressants, stress relievers, and energy stimulators.

The key is to mix and match moods with methods, so you can choose the right workout for your muscles when something else is on your mind.

When You’re Angry

A chewing-out by the boss may seem like the perfect reason to drive past the gym and head straight to the bar. But you can use that anger to your advantage.

“Being mad can cause men to feel stronger than usual,” says Mike Huff, C.S.C.S., coordinator of sports performance at the Michael W. Krzyzewski Human Performance Lab at Duke medical centre.

Go heavy. Being angry elicits the greatest fight-or-flight response from your body, so you can use that hormonal surge for more strength.

“If you’re naturally in that zone from anger, you may be able to use the same adrenaline spike that’s already occurring to push your muscles to new levels,” Huff says. Instead of rotating through a lot of different exercises, pick two or three compound moves like bench presses, shoulder presses, deadlifts, or squats. Add extra sets of each one, increasing the weight with each set. Just be sure to maintain good form so you don’t get hurt.

When You’re Happy

A bonus, a homecoming win, or the christening of your new box spring gives you the perfect excuse to raise your hands in victory—and then go to the gym.

Feeling great about something “gives most people a higher sense of self-efficacy than they usually feel,” says Ted Butryn, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sports psychology and sociology at San Jose State University. It might be a good time to raise the bar even higher.

Do everything on one leg. “Being happy places you in a mindset of feeling better than average physically,” says Butryn. “That makes it the ideal time to experiment with advanced exercises that may be perfect for breaking you out of an exercise rut.”

So try all your upper-body dumbbell exercises standing on one leg, or perform exercises while sitting on a stability ball. It’ll give your body a break from your usual moves, while helping you improve muscles you don’t normally work.

When You’re Frustrated

A dead-end job, your team’s last-second loss, or the kids’ inability to get lemonade from point A (pitcher) to point B (glass) can put your brain in a neural demolition derby.

“There’s something in your life that you can’t seem to accomplish because of outside factors or the limits of your own abilities,” says Butryn. Taking that mood to the gym, where success is measured by numbers, can be disastrous, so try other tactics.

Switch the order. Reversing the order in which you do your exercises may seem counterproductive, but it could give you a psychological boost. (Want a workout that breaks all the rules?

“Starting your routine with isolation exercises [like dumbbell curls] that you usually do after your muscles are exhausted makes it easier to use more weight during those exercises,” says Bell. “This changeup can leave you feeling stronger than usual, giving you the psychological boost you may need to keep exercising that day.”

When You’re Bummed

Exercising releases a fair amount of endorphins that can pull you out of a funk, but depression and mental exhaustion are the hardest moods to overcome—in terms of getting to the gym in the first place.”You feel less interested in everything, which can make blowing off exercise that much easier to do,” says Huff.

Schedule just 15 minutes. Mentally preparing yourself to do only 15 minutes can help you through long workouts.

“It takes at least that long for the endorphins to do their job,” says Huff. “After 15 minutes, you’ll likely feel better and go ahead and do the full workout—but you’ll have the freedom to go and stretch if you want.”

When You’re Nervous

Men get nervous for all kinds of reasons—before a speech, a putt, or a pickup line. Depending on the situation, nervousness can come from positive or negative factors, so adjust your workouts accordingly.

Use the treadmill. If you’re trying to reduce anxiety, you may want to stay away from the weights. “Research has shown that weight lifting can sometimes elevate anxiety levels for as long as 1 hour afterward,” says Johnsgard, “whereas aerobic exercise can lower anxiety levels way below their baseline.”

Another way it helps: clearing your mind. “Not having to be too creative about your exercise will leave you more time to think through whatever’s causing you that anxiety,” says Marsella.