This Is Why Exercise Can Make You Feel Like Crying Your Eyes Out

crying during exercise


I’m an avid exerciser, but cycling classes are definitely not my thing. I worked through my spin phase years ago, and my passion for it simply never returned. But that doesn’t mean I won’t suck it up on occasion and attend a class for a worthy cause.

Recently, a good friend of mine invited me to attend her cycling class on a Saturday afternoon. As a new instructor in New York City, she’s working incredibly hard to build her following, so I agreed to be another body in that room and play the part for the full 45-minute sweat session. And the experience was absolutely shocking. Solid workout aside, I’ve never felt like bawling my eyes out so many times during a single bout of exercise in my life. I did my best to hold it together (lots of deep breaths with my eyes closed) because I cannot stand crying in public, but the memories of that class stuck with me days later.

This crying-during-exercise phenomenon isn’t new, and I’m certainly not the only one experiencing it. But why does it happen exactly?


When we think of exercise and its benefits, we usually connect with how it gets endorphins flowing, boosts our mood and even relieves residual stress and anxiety from our daily lives. We push ourselves and we zone in on that physical moment. However, when we allow total self-awareness to take hold instead and let that mind-body connection become our focal point, wild things happen.

I certainly push myself with honest self-talk during my solo workouts, but when an instructor constantly drives home the importance of living with a clear intention, shedding the stuff in life that doesn’t serve me and practicing gratitude via emotion-driven cues, the game totally changes. My muscles become the mechanisms through which all of my mental and emotional struggles are processed and released. Not to mention, high-intensity workouts that leave us exhausted also help our emotional brains become less inhibited, making it easier to let go and cry a little if that’s what the body says it wants.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that fitness can truly be a form of therapy if you’re open to it, and workout studios across the country are leaning into this truth and designing their classes with this particular idea in mind. Society has stigmatized this kind of emotional expression, especially in women, for so long that there is now a clear desire (and economical demand) from the fitness community to find a safe space for this natural component of the human condition.

So instead of using sweat sessions to escape from our tough realities, we should make them opportunities for fully processing what’s going on in the rest of our lives. And if that means that our workouts leave us sobbing sometimes, that’s entirely okay.  The effectiveness of our exercise time won’t suffer, and our mental health will likely benefit even more from the experience. Finding and understanding our inner selves for the long haul is so much more profound and valuable than a fleeting sense of euphoria anyway.

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