The Best Workouts for Your Mood

Five workouts to give you a boost when you’re tired, happy, stressed, whatever!

Everyone’s entitled to their feelings. The problem is we don’t always express them in the most productive ways. (That pint of ice cream went down way too easy last night.) But whatever your mood—happy, sad or giphy, because you can’t even put it into words—exercise can ease it if it’s negative (that yoga flow class can put a big dent in your stress level) or enhance it if it’s positive (feeling confident can fuel you to crush that high-intensity workout—which only makes you feel more confident!).

Not only do regular workouts boost mental health, but specifically pairing your mood with your exercise activity could help you reap even greater physical benefits than you would otherwise, says Leah Lagos, PsyD, a New York City–based clinical and sport psychologist who incorporates exercise into her treatment plans for clients. Before your next workout, take your emotional temperature and follow our advice for using your mind-set to select your sweat session.

workout

Photo by Jessica Antola

Photo by Jessica Antola

See red: When you’re fired up, let the color of strength, power and determination help you stay that way as you punch out right hooks and left jabs.

Get the look: Vest, savetheduckusa.com, $158. Sports bra, champion.com, $22. Leggings, outdoorvoices.com, $75. Hand wraps, shop.gloveworx.com, $10. Sneakers, ryka.com, $74.99.

When you’re feeling angry...

...your mood-matched workout is boxing.

“Catharsis is the process of getting something out that you have stored inside,” says James Houle, PhD, a counseling and sport psychologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. And that’s exactly what throwing a few punches when you’re upset may help you achieve. Dominating the bag can also empower you to feel like you can dominate life’s frustrations, says Kansas City, Missouri–based Marques Jackson, corporate head trainer at TITLE Boxing Club. Most classes take you through rounds of striking (you’ll beat your bag to pulp) that raise your heart rate while you release your frustrations.

CORE MOVE: Boxing Stance
Every move in boxing begins with a fighting stance. Here’s how to get into one: Start by placing your feet shoulder-width apart and staggered, one in front of the other, knees slightly bent. Turn your torso to face the bag at an angle. Make sure your elbows are in tight to your torso, both hands are up by your cheeks, and your chin is tucked toward your chest. Never tuck your thumb—doing so is a good way to accidentally hurt (or even break) it. Instead, make a fist by wrapping your thumb around your pointer finger. Then get ready to throw your punch.

ADVICE FROM THE PROS:

  • Always use wraps. Hand wraps—generally 2 inches wide and a full 180 inches long—support your hands and wrists underneath your boxing gloves to keep them injury-free, explains trainer Marques Jackson. 
  • Think gritty, not pretty. Leave your jewelry at home or you’ll run the risk of damaging your rings and injuring your hands.
  • Consider buying your own gloves. You can use your studio’s, but if you invest in your own, they will conform to your hands over time to help you deliver better, more comfortable strikes.

TECH GUIDE: FightCamp Punch Trackers
Subscribe to FightCamp to get exclusive workouts, hand wraps and these small trackers. Tuck them under two or more wraps for feedback on the speed and intensity of your jabs and uppercuts. They also count punches and monitor your progress. joinfightcamp.com, $39 per month

workout

Photo by Jessica Antola

Photo by Jessica Antola

Say yes to yellow. Not so mellow, this vibrant color may give you energy to push up (and race down) hills. Get the look: Top, shop.lululemon.com, $48. Leggings, $79, athleta.com. Sneakers, asics.com, $160.

When you’re feeling tired...

...your mood-matched workout is indoor cycling.

No matter how exhausted you are when you walk in the door, you’ll get off the bike feeling energized. “Indoor cycling is like a dopamine bomb,” says Susan Albers, PsyD, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “It hits all the things that make us feel good.” Think pumping music, dim lights (bonus points for classes with fragrant candles) and positive, dig-deep, you-can-do-anything mantras than can prime your brain for confidence and drive. Plus, even if you’re riding in sync with everyone else in the room, the amount of resistance you pedal against is totally up to you. That means no one will know if you need to crank it down to the lowest setting! (wink)

CORE MOVE: Perfect Form
One way to sabotage a perfectly good workout? Lazy posture. When on the bike, make sure you maintain a strong core and keep your chest lifted. Not only will you be engaging your lower abs, but you’ll also eliminate tension that can build up in your spine and shoulders. As you pedal, be sure your knee has a slight bend in it when your foot is at its lowest point. Otherwise, you run the risk of hyperextending your joint.

ADVISE FROM THE PROS:

  • Adjust your bike. When you’re standing beside your bike, make sure the saddle is right above your hip bones and your handlebars are even with or slightly higher than your seat. Place your elbow at the tip of the seat, and set the handlebars so they are 1 to 2 inches away from your fingertips. When you’re seated, elbows should be ahead of your knees; when you’re up out of the saddle, knees should be behind the resistance knob. Usually, set-up helpers walk through the studio prior to class, so don’t be afraid to ask for assistance, says New York City–based SoulCycle senior instructor Soeuraya Wilson.
  • Clip in, clip out. Clipping shoes into and out of the pedals can give even veterans problems. Here’s the trick: To clip in, make like you’re putting on high heels. Slide in the ball of your foot, then stomp down your heel until you hear a click. To unclip, rotate your heel away from the bike.
  • Consider padded pants. You will be saddle sore after your first class. If that doesn’t sound like a good time, invest in a pair of padded-tush cycling pants. Try Pearl Izumi Women’s Select Pursuit 3/4 Tight (pearlizumi.com, $100).

TECH GUIDE: Aquio

Spin at home and feel like you’re in a studio with music pumping from a water bottle with a Bluetooth speaker attached. This stainless steel bottle keeps 16 ounces of water cold for 24 hours. The speaker below it is good for 6 hours of wireless play time. Post-workout, detach the bottle to use each component separately. aquiobottles.com, $70

workout

Photo by Jessica Antola

Photo by Jessica Antola

Think pink Neon feels bold and cheerful—exactly what you want while grooving through your dance class. Get the look: Top, adidasoutdoor.com, $38. Leggings, oldnavy.com, $33. Sneakers, altrarunning.com, $90.

When you’re feeling happy...

...your mood-matched workout is dance.

Sure, you could just do a happy dance in your living room. But joining a dance party like Zumba, AKT or BodyJam can be infinitely more fun, with interval-style expert choreography to get your heart pumping and endorphins flowing. “Dancing exists in most cultures as one way to communicate joy and happiness,” says sport psychologist James Houle. “When we feel good, there is an energy in our body that we want to get out.” Meanwhile, research shows that dancing in sync with others promotes social bonding that can capitalize on good moods and promote the release of feel-good neurotransmitters that can buffer any physical discomfort that comes with huffing and puffing through dance moves.

CORE MOVE: The Reggaeton Stomp 
The dance-a-thon’s just warming up when you step into fun, easy moves like the salsa side lunge, merengue march and this reggaeton stomp, which you can pull out at any party to look like a pro: Stand with feet together, knees slightly bent and arms bent and relaxed in front of hips. Your weight should be on the balls of your feet. Reach both arms in front of you, then pull them back while moving hips forward and stepping one foot in front of you. Immediately bring your foot back to starting position. Repeat on other side, alternating legs.

ADVISE FROM THE PROS:

  • Pick a spot at the front. “It might seem intimidating, but you’ll be able to follow the instructor without any interference from those in front of you, which is very helpful at a first class,” says Zumba instructor Loretta Bates of Pembroke Pines, FL. 
  • No one is judging you. Zumba is huge on community (so say hi to your neighbor or high-five them at the end), but don’t worry about anyone watching you during class. “Everybody is too busy looking at the instructor and themselves in the mirror,” Bates says.
  • Maximize support, minimize traction. To have a good time on the dance floor, you have to be able to slide, pivot and turn without rolling your ankle or having your shoes catch. The Zumba Energy Boss high-top gives you the stability and smooth soles you need with a lightweight design that won’t weigh you down (zumba.com, $87).

TECH GUIDE: Vivosmart 4
This sleek fitness tracker will ensure you get credit for all those steps you’re taking. It also measures your heart rate, energy level, stress level, sleep stages and blood oxygen saturation. And there’s more: The swim-proof band delivers text messages to your wrist and has a seven-day battery life. garmin.com, $129.99

    workout

    Photo by Jessica Antola

    Photo by Jessica Antola

    Get a blue boost. Lean on this color associated with depth and stability, to stand tall while you lengthen and strengthen. Get the look: Top: GapFit, gap.com, $43. Sports bra, craneandlion.com, $65. Leggings, outdoorvoices.com, $95. Socks, tavinoir.com, $14.

    When you’re feeling stressed...

    ...your mood-matched workout is barre.

    Drawing on ballet, yoga and Pilates, this workout puts you in touch with your inner ballerina. The class integrates full-range movements (like leg extensions to the rear) with isometric ones (like pulsing pliés) to fully fatigue muscles, explains Athens, Georgia–based Rachelle Reed, PhD, a barre kinesiologist with Pure Barre. After stressing a given muscle, barre stretches it. Because of the precision and control required, focus is a must. “Being present allows us to recognize that there is no bear in front of us, just the stressors of everyday life,” says sport psychologist James Houle, “and we can diminish them.”

    CORE MOVE: The Teaser
    Here’s one move that gives your midsection a serious workout (you’re welcome). Lie flat on your back with your arms long overhead and legs extended and together. Squeeze your core to roll your torso up, one vertebra at a time, as you lower your arms and lift your legs until your body forms a 90-degree angle. Hold at the top for a few breaths. Slowly return to start.

    ADVICE FROM THE PROS:

    • Embrace shaking. Don’t get embarrassed if you quiver your way through class, says Reed, who explains that it’s not only normal but also expected. Remember: The goal of barre is to fully fatigue each muscle. 
    • Don’t use the barre as a crutch. Lightly place your hands on it and be careful not to dump your weight onto the barre. Doing so takes the load off the muscles you’re supposed to be working and can interfere with proper and safe alignment. 
    • Wear leggings. Loose workout clothes hide your form. Tight leggings will give your instructor a better visual on your exercise posture to help you achieve proper alignment for every move. Try Lululemon Athletica’s aptly named Align Crop (lululemon.com, $88).

    TECH GUIDE: Google Home Hub
    Make exercising at home as effortless and flexible as possible. Direct this new smart speaker to find a barre workout on YouTube and it will stream the video on a 7-inch screen propped up on a stand that’s convenient for viewing. store.google.com, $149

    workout

    Photo by Jessica Antola

    Photo by Jessica Antola

    Show purple prowess. Symbolizing power and ambition, this color will help push you through the most challenging sets. Get the look: Top, altrarunning.com, $55. Leggings, brooksrunning.com, $85. Sneakers, newbalance.com, $110. 

    When you’re feeling confident...

    ...your mood-matched workout is HIIT.

    Build on those self-assured vibes by fearlessly pushing your mind and body to their limits in a high-intensity interval training class. HIIT alternates periods of all-out effort with periods of recovery. “It’s going to be hard, but that’s the whole point,” says Los Angeles–based Joel Freeman, creator of Beachbody’s LIIFT4, a high-intensity interval training and lifting program. By going hard, you’re able to do more work in less time. Another bonus: the rewards you reap once you stop moving. This workout revs up the number of calories you burn even after your workout’s over and you’ve moved on with the rest of your day.

    CORE MOVE: The Catcher Jump
    Get a taste of HIIT with this move that wastes no time while working nearly every single muscle in your body—and throws in a dash of cardio to boot. Stand tall with your feet wider than your shoulders and sink down into a low squat, like a baseball catcher. From there, put your hands down on the floor, jump your feet back into a high plank, then jump back between your hands and raise your torso to return to the squat position. Repeat.

    ADVICE FROM THE PROS:

    • Warm up before class. In the name of short-and-sweaty workouts, high-intensity interval classes usually keep warm-ups to a bare minimum. Take 5 to 10 minutes before class starts to warm up on a treadmill or elliptical, suggests trainer Freeman.
    • Use RPE. To get the best workout, ignore how fast your classmates are moving and let your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) be your guide. Before class, ask the instructor how hard you should work on a scale from 1 to 10 during high-intensity as well as recovery intervals. When in doubt, especially during your first few classes, cap your high-intensity work at a 6 or 7 and recover around a 3 or 4. 
    • Form is everything. When going all out or performing AMRAPs (HIIT lingo for “as many reps as possible”), it’s easy to sacrifice form for speed. Resist the urge, says Freeman. Move at whatever pace is necessary for you to maintain form, and take a few seconds to rest when necessary.

    TECH GUIDE: Tickr X
    Strap on this monitor to track your heart rate and calorie burn and count reps. While you run, it also measures your cadence, ground contact time and vertical oscillation (how much you bounce). Plus, it has onboard memory that allows you to access all your data after a workout even if you weren’t near your phone when you exercised. wahoofitness.com, $80

    Build Your Fitness Résumé

    Just as a work résumé strengthens your focus on career ambitions, a fitness résumé can do the same for your health. Matt Barrack, fitness coach at Hilton Head Health in South Carolina, explains how to create one in just five simple steps. 

    Choose an objective.
    Wanting to be healthier is a great overarching goal, but think about the exact steps you’re going to take to make it happen. If you’re just starting your wellness journey, you might want to learn how to breathe more deeply, cook one healthy meal or do a full-range squat. Put that at the top of your résumé. If you’re more experienced, you might want to improve how you handle discomfort during exercise, train for a 10K or even coach others.

    Solidify your skills.
    Once you conquer the burpee, for example, your next goal might be to do 10 in a row. Keep track of your progress. When you master something, add it as a skill, then set a new objective. “Accomplishing a goal builds confidence, and confidence creates the motivation to achieve your next goal,” says Barrack. “That’s how you make progress.”

    Go back to school.
    To master something, you needed to acquire knowledge. Maybe you learned to take deeper breaths in a yoga class at a local gym or to build your running endurance from a 5K training app. Include those in the education section of your résumé.

    Create a team.
    You probably have a bigger support system than you think. List everyone who has helped you on this journey—fitness trainers, health coaches, nutritionists and the like. These are your “references,” so turn to them for “recommendations” on your workouts.

    Put it on display.
    Don’t write all this down and then toss it aside. Post it on your fridge or in another spot where you’ll see it daily. “Just like a career résumé, you should always be adding to your fitness résumé,” says Barrack.