A character is upset. Really, really upset. They need something constructive to do with themselves to let off some steam, but art takes too much time, they don't want to break anything, and they aren't about to destroy themselves with Comfort Food, a Cigarette of Anxiety, or by drinking, so what else can they do? Well, when someone has a lot of pent-up frustration and just can't sit still, a common way to handle the situation is by picking up some weights and exercising the pain away.
This works for a multitude of reasons. The activity gives them something else to focus on, while also allowing them to keep moving. They get to do something productive and healthy for both their body and their mind, burning calories while letting their emotions out. This may even serve as a good way to let the audience and other characters know this character is angry- after all, if a character who usually has no physical ability is found furiously lifting weights in their room, something isn't quite right.
Another big reason for this may involve the opinions of other characters. If this is someone looked down upon for being weak, especially if they're a male, this emotion-borne act may signify that they're finally done with being mocked, letting their hurt feelings inspire them to become the strong person they believe they need to be.
Of course, this need not be a literal trip to the gym. Characters can throw themselves into sports, physical training, or even a fight, so long as the intent is that they're using these activities to take out their anger while getting stronger.
This method is particularly helpful for a few characters, mostly those who can't or don't want to express their emotions in a "weak" way. "Macho" men, for example, may find emotion to be a weakness, and so deal with it through physical activity, because beating up a punching-bag or doing sprints around the track is a lot manlier than letting their feelings show. That said, this trope can apply to any sort of character, regardless of how "tough" they usually are.
Truth in Television; this is a common way people deal with stress in real life.
Compare Angry Dance and Dance of Despair, other ways a character can use physical activity to deal with their emotions, as well as Percussive Therapy, where anger is taken out by beating someone or something, and Hulking Out, where a person literally gets stronger as they become angrier. This may lead to Workout Fanservice or Kingpin in His Gym.
Anime and Manga
- In Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, Fuse can be seen jogging himself to exhaustion after the opening scene when his mission goes wrong and a teenage girl kills herself in front of him.
- Wonder Woman (2011): In Issue #37, Clark notices Diana is being unusually aggressive in their workout session, as she's venting her frustrations (such as being the new God of War, killing her own mentor, and her mother's death) on her training.
- In Child of the Storm sequel Ghosts of the Past:
- Steve Rogers spots a teenage Carol Danvers (his great-granddaughter) punching a boxing bag specifically designed for him (after she broke the previous one), all technique thrown out of the window. Turns out that she just discovered how Yelena Belova sexually assaulted her Best Friend/potential Love Interest Harry.
- This turns into a trend, when chapter 66 shows that she's broken one again - for similar reasons. Natasha informs her that breaking punchbags is beginner level, and instead offers to spar with her. And by 'spar', she means 'kick the crap out of her for half an hour'. It's successful in burning off the angry chemicals.
- In Girls Among Sheep, a fanfic of The Loud House, Lynn goes jogging, does weightlifting, and punches a tree to feel better after losing a game.
- The Rigel Black Chronicles: Lycanthropy is hard on the body, but even harder on the mind, so Remus Lupin maintains a high level of fitness in both, not just occasionally venting frustration but regularly training and getting stronger in order to cope with the monthly ordeal. Those who don't, tend to break within a few years and either die or surrender to the wolf.
- In The Last Dragon, Bruce Leroy does an intense, angry workout after Sho'nuff destroys his family's pizza restaurant. His little brother calls him a coward for not being there, and these words ring through his ears as he works out.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- The Avengers (2012): Steve Rogers' first scene shows him working out on a punching bag in an empty gym, interspersed with World War II Flashbacks from his first film, until he completely destroys the bag.
- Captain Marvel (2019): Carol Danvers is introduced in the midst of a Past Experience Nightmare related to her Identity Amnesia, leading her to collect her mentor Yon-Rogg for some late-night sparring practice. His reaction suggests this is a regular occurrence.
- In the Guardians of Ga'Hoole guidebook, Ezylryb starts dating the very same girl that his younger brother, Ifghar, is secretly nursing a crush on. Ifghar is distraught but wants them to be happy, so he throws himself into missions and combat training, becoming faster and stronger than he's ever been before. And then, one day, he sees the couple out together...and realizes he isn't hurting anymore. note
- Mo Dao Zu Shi has a scene in which Lan Wangji kisses a blindfolded Wei Wuxian. He backs away before the blindfold can be removed and when it is, all Wei Wuxian notices is Lan Wangji punching trees. This is extremely abnormal as the latter doesn't outwardly express his emotions and Wei Wuxian's inability to connect the dots makes the situation all the worse.
- In The O'Sullivan Twins (the second book from the St. Clare's series), Margery Fenworthy is an angsty teen and her anger and frustration is described in these words: "She plays games and does gym as if she was fighting someone all the time."
- In The Story of Valentine and His Brother, Val copes with his Double Consciousness by running two miles to say goodbye to Hunter the gamekeeper the day before he leaves for Eton. Later on, Dick throws himself into his work at the docks to deal with stress.
- Daystar and Shadow: Robin deals with what he calls brain-burners when his mind races out of control and he starts to retreat inside himself, by sprinting a few miles until he's burned off the excess energy. He teaches Shadow to do the same.
- Alison from Language Arts was hit hard by 9/11, which killed two of her friends. She coped by throwing herself into aikido so hard that Charles felt like a single parent.
- Altered Carbon: In "Fallen Angel", Ortega is frustrated with the situation with Kovacs, and begins her day practicing boxing with her partner to work on her anger. When he tells her that You Need to Get Laid it prompts her to get even angrier and to actually start kicking his ass. Even after she's done with him, she moves on to pummelling a punching bag and ends up punching so hard it bruises her hands.
- Dexter: Dexter's adoptive sister Debra survives a kidnapping from a serial killer (who was also her fiancé and kidnapped her as a bait for Dexter who is his long-lost biological brother). After that, she can't be alone and she's unable to do anything except working out obsessively.
- In Happy Days, when Richie Cunningham is sad, he bounces his basketball without shooting any hoops.
- House of Anubis:
- When Mick is frustrated after a bad call with his dad, he tells Mara he's going out for a run.
- Season 3 reveals that Mara, known for being an unathletic nerd, takes out her anger in work-out sessions in her bedroom. This comes as a surprise to the other girls, who find her furious weight-lifting to be rather funny and unusual.
- Smallville: Tess is often seem training or practicing some sport or martial art in the Luthor Manor. In "Instinct" she tells Chloe she does it because it "focuses her anger".
- In the opening cinematic of Dance Central, Emilia ends up taking her anger out on a punching bag after getting off the phone with Miss Aubrey. While there is no dialogue in the scene, Emilia has some colorful thoughts about her ex-friend and, later on, it's revealed that the two can't stand each other.
- Crusader Kings III: Working out through athletics is a stress-coping mechanism available to certain personalities or which you can take up on your own accord by taking the Medicine focus. It's one of the most benign stress-managing activities, giving the character a small health bonus, counteracting obesity (as they stay in shape) and only causes a small opinion penalty whenever you work out because of the smell.
- Questionable Content: Bubbles the retired Robot Soldier takes to a punching bag when her social anxiety gets the better of her in early appearances. Despite her lack of endorphins, it seems to help.
- In The Cry of Mann, Jack struggles to make art his family can be proud of. When his art show becomes a disaster, he destroys his work in a fit of rage, and then decides to start obsessively exercising in his bedroom until he is the aggressive and muscle-bound "Jack Prime", a far cry from the sweet and creative brother his sister begs him to become again.
- Futurama: In "My Three Suns", Leela punches a bag with Fry's picture on it after having a fight with him.
- In She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the Horde strongly discourages any signs of weakness, including displays of emotion or illness. So, hitting things or training are the only viable options if one can't keep it together.
- This is a fairly common way people work out their stress. Getting enough exercise will build a healthier body and vastly reduces the chance of future heart problems. A healthier body can also build self-confidence, which further reduces stress.
- Working out (alongside cognitive therapy) is a common treatment for mild cases of many mental disorders, including depression and bipolar disorders.