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Working Out Their Emotions

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Even Captain America needs a way to relieve stress.

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.


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     Anime and Manga  
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: In "Ag2O", Batou is ordered to investigate a former Paralympic silver medalist who might be spying on the state. After getting to know Zaitsev, he finds out that he actually leads a pretty good life — a supporting wife, a nice house, stable income. At the end of the episode, Zaitsev becomes a Broken Pedestal for Batou, because his idol really was running numbers. After Batou put him away, he returns to Section 9 to let out his frustration. Throwing away the natural oil that he gave to the Tachikomas prior, as well as the bottle of honey mead that Zaitsev's wife gave him, he takes out his anger on a punching bag.
  • 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.

     Comic Books  
  • Starfire (2015): Sheriff Stella has a really bizarre "workout" routine for when she's stressed which involves getting into the bottom of her pool and start practicing karate underwater. Starfire actually gets worried she might drown.
  • 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 Batwoman #28, Kate Kane takes out some anger on a heavy bag, punching it so hard and for so long that she cuts up her knuckles despite wearing hand wraps.

  • 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:
  • In Massacre at Central High, Theresa asks David if he has an outlet for all his aggression. He tells her that he runs.
  • Tyson from Tyson's Run deals with stressful situations, like angry teachers at school and fighting parents at home, by running.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990): A scene mostly deleted from the film (but shown in its novelization and comic book adaptation) shows that during the Turtles' retreat to April's old family farm, Michelangelo spends most of his time training in the barn by himself, pummeling a bag hard enough to snap the rope holding it up, and he even goes on to start breaking several other items before breaking one of the barn's walls with a punch. It becomes quite clear that out of the Turtles, he was hit the hardest by Splinter's kidnapping earlier in the film. April herself even takes note of how different Mikey has become.
    April: But the one that worries me the most is Michelangelo. He spends all his time in the barn, training. Alone. Withdrawn. On the edge...
  • Rob from We Too Together copes with stress and anxiety by working out at the dojo.

  • 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 
  • Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation: 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.
  • In These Words Are True and Faithful, after an experience that calls Ernie's self-definition into question, he decides to go to the gym:
    Eventually, he motivated himself to go to the police station to use the gym; working out was always a good way to relieve his 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.
  • Cradle Series: Yerin's general response to her emotions is "train, preferably by killing something." Of course, that's her response to everything, but she does note it makes her feel better when she's confused and doesn't know what else to do.
  • Asperger Adventures: When Lisa was younger, she used to run away from school when she got upset. The rhythm of her feet thumping on the footpath and the wind in her face made her feel calmer.
  • Tornado Brain: On the advice of an occupational therapist, Frankie runs to get her mind off Sensory Overload.
  • Peta Lyre's Rating Normal: After a rift in her relationship with Sam, Peta spends the day on the slopes. Skiing is something she can be good at without having to follow lots of rules, and the discomfort and exhilaration provide a welcome distraction.
  • Emily from The Evolution of Emily has been running to deal with stress and frustration since she was eleven. Running makes her feel so alive that it feels like nothing else matters.
  • Kitty from The Secret Life of Kitty Granger has felt for years like there's a coiled spring inside her that grows tighter with each moment of stress. When she joins The Orchestra, her training begins with several weeks of intense exercise, which physically exhausts her but also makes the spring feel looser and looser. By the time she starts martial arts training, she feels better than she has in her life, and her superiors are impressed by her boundless energy.
  • Almost Perfect: After Logan and Sage break up and Sage is assaulted, Logan throws himself into mowing lawns to distract himself.
  • Morgan from Sanctuary deals with stressful situations by cleaning and organizing almost everything in the house. After Holly's Interrupted Suicide, Vinnie calms Morgan down by having them wash dishes.
  • Underground: Robyn either runs or starts throwing punches at a punching bag when she's upset, although she notes she prefers running for handling stress and anger because she can do it for longer, keeping herself distracted longer.
  • Shock Point: Cassie's group is allowed to play soccer twice a week. Everyone looks forward to it, even kids like Cassie who weren't previously interested in sports, because it's the only outlet for their anger and misery from being trapped at Peaceful Cove. Cassie spends the games kicking and bulldozing everyone who gets in her way. Other girls use dirty moves like yanking her to the ground by her ponytail.

     Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • Schitt's Creek: Alexis Rose often goes for a run to deal with her emotions, including once after her mother casually talked about her ex and his new girlfriend, she impulsively does so in a day dress and heels.
  • 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".
  • Supernatural: Season 6 has Sam, having returned from Hell, apparently dealing with his trauma by working out and spending time with prostitutes. Turns out, Sam returned from Hell without his soul so in fact, he has no emotions to work out.

     Video Games  

  • 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.


     Web Video  

  • 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.

     Western Animation  

  • 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.

     Real Life  

  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Colonel Tan-Sun Moon

Colonel Tan-Sun Moon is introduced to the audience while beating on a punching bag to work out some frustrations, then the punching bag is unzipped, revealing that he'd stuffed his anger management therapist in there.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

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