There's a common saying in sports for that type of release: "Leave it all on the field." Athletes put it into practice by channeling their emotions into the fuel that powers their performance, leaving any and all anxiety, anger, frustration, etc., on the playing field. That's exactly the approach I take toward my high-intensity workouts when I'm looking to blow off steam. It's empowering and cathartic to direct and release my stress through an explosive outlet, such as kicking a heavy bag or slamming a medicine ball to the ground.
Although many forms of exercise counter stress by boosting endorphins (our brain's feel-good neurotransmitters), recent research points to higher-intensity exercise offering increased mood-enhancing benefits. According to a study
published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in August, moderate and high-intensity exercise demonstrated a greater beneficial impact than low-intensity forms.
What's more, research shows
that regular blood-pumping aerobic workouts can reduce your sensitivity to stress over time.
Below, I've shared six of my favorite sweat-inducing, stress-releasing exercises. You can do them on their own or combine any or all as part of a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout, doing intervals of each exercise with a short rest in between.
Don't forget to warm up appropriately prior to performing intense exercise. I always foam roll
and do a brief breathing and yoga series for muscle activation and enhancing range of motion. The routine I featured in this article
on morning yoga can serve as an effective warm-up.
If you're new to high-intensity training, check with your doctor before beginning, and consider hiring a certified trainer for help learning how to safely perform the exercises. You'll only add to your stress if you hurt yourself!
Remember that high-intensity exercise requires adequate hydration. Emerging research shows that dehydration can have a negative impact on mood and cognition. So don't counteract the positive effects of your workout; drink plenty of water before, during and after your training sessions. Because sweat-intensive workouts cause us to lose electrolytes that are essential for our bodies' neural and muscular processes and maintaining equilibrium, it's best to rehydrate with an electrolyte-enriched water or sports drink.
There's nothing quite like taking out your stress on a heavy bag! It provides uniquely satisfying tactile and auditory stimulation that reinforces your sense of release with every kick and punch landed. Of course, not everyone has a heavy bag hanging in their garage gym, like I do. But most gyms and martial arts facilities offer kickboxing classes. If you've never kickboxed before, classes provide the opportunity to learn the techniques for executing different punches and kicks, like the roundhouse kick. When I kickbox, I generally go for three to five rounds of a two-to-one work-to-rest ratio: one minute on the bag practicing a series of punches and kicks, and then an active 30-second rest period of side-stepping or jogging around the bag.
Tabata pushup drills
Sometimes, we need to push our