You might want to save this advice for the home gym – but a new study has found that swearing loudly during an intense workout can boost both muscle strength and stamina.
University of Keele psychologists conducted a series of experiments in which certain participants were asked to curse before either a rigorous cycling session or when squeezing a device that measures grip strength. In both situations, cussing resulted in considerable improvements in performance compared to saying “neutral” words.
“We know from our earlier research that swearing makes people more able to tolerate pain... a possible reason for this is that it stimulates the body's sympathetic nervous system - that's the system that makes your heart pound when you are in danger,” said research leader Dr. Richard Stephens.
“If that is the reason, we would expect swearing to make people stronger too, and that is just what we found in these experiments... quite why it is that swearing has these effects on strength and pain tolerance remains to be discovered. We have yet to understand the power of swearing fully.”
In the first experiment, 29 volunteers (aged 21, on average) pedaled as hard as they could on an exercise bike while continually uttering a swear word or a neutral word. Swearing increased peak power by an average of 24 watts, the researchers found.
In a second experiment, 52 similarly aged participants tested their hand grip strength and again were tasked with swearing or saying a neutral word. Grip strength was increased by an average of 2.1 kilograms while cursing.
The researchers anticipated seeing a rise in heart rate and other changes associated with the ‘fight or flight’ response in their tests, but this wasn’t the case.
“It doesn't seem to be related to autonomic (fight or flight) arousal. We have some suggestions about what might be behind this effect which will need further research,” said Stephens. “It could be that it involves the pain relief effect we registered before. Pain perception and pain relief are quite complex things. Swear words have a distracting effect.
“If you're asked to squeeze a hand gripper as hard as you can there's a certain amount of discomfort, and it could be that this is reduced by being distracted."
“Swearing seems to be a form of emotional language. Perhaps it's the emotional effect of the words that leads to the distraction, but this is just speculation at the moment.”
h/t The Independent