Whenever I go for a run outside, it seems like all of my emotions are heightened. As I pass trees and hear birds and crickets chirping around me, I can't help but feel so much more at peace. Some days, in fact, my runs seem to draw out the stress I'm harboring, to the point where I almost feel like crying. Gabrielle Union's Instagram post about crying during workouts honestly makes me feel so seen. The video shows Union going through a series of powerful exercises, like step-ups, medicine ball exercises, and weighted hip thrusts, all to the tune of "All I Do Is Win" by DJ Khaled. The thing is, even though Union is always winning in my book, she admitted she doesn't always feel that way when she works out. Sometimes, she wrote on Instagram, she feels a surge of negative emotions.
"There are times I workout for a job or specific athletic goals but usually I workout to maintain my peace. Sometimes i grunt, grimace, scream...many times I've cried while training," Union admitted in her Instagram caption. "I've cried due to frustration. I've cried from physical pain. Many times I've cried as my fears and anxiety leave my body. For me, I'm always working out my spirit and exercising my soul."
Union's post hit home with people who have experienced this flow of emotion themselves, but perhaps never realized just how common it is to have these feelings. "I thought I was the only one- i never quite understood why/how there were deep emotional breakthroughs that occur when Im working out that can't happen anywhere else," one Instagram user commented on the post. "Thanks for the inspiration."
While you might expect that these strong emotional responses would happen only when you're working out by yourself, many fitness instructors intentionally try to bring an emotional component into group workout classes. “I’ve had classes where people are literally on all fours sobbing,” fitness instructor Taryn Toomey told TIME. “But it’s not just my class, it’s happening everywhere. Emotional release in public can feel very uncomfortable. But I think there’s a growing movement of people who want to find a space for it.”
Even though it might seem strange or random to start crying during a workout, it's actually a totally natural response for your body to have. "This is normal. I’ve had many patients report crying during their workouts over the years. It all goes back to the mind-body connection," Dr. Michael Genovese, clinical psychiatrist and chief medical officer of Acadia Healthcare, tells Elite Daily in an email. "When we exercise, our body releases a number of chemicals. These chemicals can cause a variety of responses, one of which can be tears."
If you're familiar with the idea of a runner's high, it's a similar concept, Dr. Genovese explains, though the actual emotions you experience in the moment might not be exactly the same.
So what kind of exercise can bring on the tears? It really depends on you. A high-intensity aerobic exercise like mountain biking could cause an emotional response, says Dr. Genovese, and so can something much calmer like a yoga session. But rest assured, experiencing uncontrollable or unexpected emotions during a workout, whether it's after a run or while lifting weights, doesn't mean you're emotionally unstable or have a serious problem, unless the emotion won't go away. "As long as you feel better after your workout, then there is no cause for concern," Dr. Genovese explains. "I understand the tears may feel alarming, but crying is cathartic.”
In fact, instead of treating a good cry during your HIIT workout as a weird side effect, try embracing the connection between emotions and fitness. "It's not the majority of exercise professionals who have tuned into [this], but the more enlightened ones understand that stress management is a very common reason that people have for exercise," Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of kinesiology at Iowa State University, told HuffPost.
So if you happen to feel tears coming on out of nowhere during a workout, let them come. Chances are, you'll feel much better once you're finished giving both your body and your mind an outlet to release some of those pent-up emotions.