Novak Djokovic isn’t the first tennis player to lose his cool on court. But after missing three set points and falling, injuring his shoulder, in his US Open match this weekend, the 17-time Grand Slam champion struck a ball behind him in anger without looking – striking a line judge in the throat, and leading to his being defaulted from the competition. Not a career ender, it seems – John McEnroe’s unsportsmanlike mien cost him the Australian Open in 1990, while even (mostly) mild mannered Tim Henman was banned from the rest of Wimbledon in 1995 after a ball girl became an unwitting victim of his on-court ire – but the incident has highlighted how much of a role exercise can play in releasing tension.
So much so, in fact, that some classes capitalise on rage reduction. From ‘angry yoga’ to CrossFit (which involves hurling tyres around) and axe throwing, dialling down your fury through fitness has become a commonly accepted outlet. At Gymbox, a chain in the capital, such was their clientele’s stress levels that it led to the creation of a new class – Anger Management – in which seething attendees undertake endless burpees and swing hammers and weighted balls about the place to let off some steam.
This “absolutely” makes sense to Sam Wall, 50, who turned to running and swimming three years ago in a bid to de-stress. “I know that exercise is making a huge difference to my mindset and life,” she adds of a change that has seen her lose four stone, and combat mental health issues. “I run nearly every day purely as a mood-lifter. It 100 per cent makes a difference to stress and depression levels.”
Research has routinely echoed Sam’s findings: one 2003 study found that those who exercised regularly scored lower for anger overall; a 2019 analysis of nurses in South Korea deduced that those who engaged most frequently in aerobic activity ‘exhibited lower levels of state anger and higher levels of anger control than those who did not.’ A myriad observational studies have found similar while stress physiologist Nathaniel Thom, lead researcher of a small-scale 2010 paper, remonstrated that ‘exercise, even a single bout of it, can have a robust prophylactic effect.’
All of which is put to far better use in controlled environments – rather than a globally televised tennis competition – naturally. “We have all been there before, when you are having the worst day ever and all you want to do is curl up into a little ball and die, or some people like to smash themselves in a strength and conditioning class,” says Rob Smyth, CEO of boutique gym UN1T, “and get themselves out of that bad mood.” His preferred anger-busting options are 250-metres on the ski ergonomic machine, in which pulleys are yanked down in a similar motion to using poles on the slopes, immediately followed by a 20-metre sled push, non-stop, on a 10 minute loop: “the idea would be to get as many laps as possible completed.”