This morning I went to my usual Sunday training session in my powerlifting gym. During my rest periods between lifts, I watched a group of lifters preparing for a competition. They all looked fearsome, strong, and aggressive. Many had tattoos and body piercing. Some had tribal haircuts. The athletes growled and shouted before lifts, some stamped their feet. Loud heavy metal music played from the sound system, so everybody was shouting to communicate. Somebody walking into this gym for the first time would probably find it quite scary.
Having been going to this gym for over a year I soaked up the atmosphere, wondering about all this terrifying display of aggressiveness. I have to admit that I too engage in this behaviour, in powerlifting competitions particularly, where I know I have to push out the boat. There are certain routines I go through to get the adrenaline flowing, perhaps to get into fight mode, to push myself to lift heavier than ever, to win and break records. I growl, through up my arms, I hit my weightlifting belt.
To find out why athletes display aggressive routines before lifting heavy weights, I turned to sport science and existing knowledge to find out what is known about aggressive behaviour in sport, in particular weightlifting. I found out that in sport there seems to be a difference made between hostile aggression and instrumental aggression. So maybe aggression is not always a bad thing? It appears instrumental aggression can help to focus and increase performance.
But what about aggression at work, aggression towards others? Surely that type can only be hostile. We likely think of someone who is loud, maybe angry, probably has a bullying manner, talks over people, throws their weight around etc. It is a very negative, emotional image. Aggression does not belong into the workplace, schools and other institutions. It has a negative effect on people’s health and wellbeing. So perhaps anybody feeling the need to be aggressive and cannot control it should try channeling it into sport – applying the instrumental kind!