#*&%! Studies Show Swearing During Your Workout Boosts Strength & Performance
Can swearing at the gym make you stronger?
Anyone who’s ever really pushed themselves to run farther, lift heavier weights, or spin faster knows that intense exercise can cause even the most reserved gym-goer to unconsciously mutter expletives. And if you don’t typically cuss when you’re working out, you may want to try it: New research suggests a few choice four-letter words during your workout can boost performance, strength and power during your workouts, and can even increase your pain threshold.
Sure, your mom won’t like it. But she’s not attempting to crush her one-rep max on the bench press, is she?
Swearing’s Hidden Superpower
The new study, published in the Journal of Psychology of Sports and Exercise, challenged 81 athletes to complete either a 30-second high-resistance stationary bike test or a 20-second handgrip strength test.
Half were asked to vocalise a swear word of their choice (one they’d utter if they banged their head) every three seconds, while the control group were instructed to keep their language family-friendly and repeat ‘neutral’ words.
They found that the bad-mouthed cyclists saw a 4% increase in power in the first five seconds on the bike and a 2% increase across the full 30-second test. Swearing helped even more in the handgrip test, as they demonstrated a grip that was about 8% stronger.
So what gives?
The study authors initially assumed that the strength and power boost was due to a sympathetic response – the “fight or flight” effect. But the fact that there were no changes to the athletes heart rates, blood pressure and other automatic responses from their nervous system ruled that hypothesis out.
A better theory is that the taboo nature of profanity distracts your brain, transferring focus away from the difficulty of, say, that final push of a 4am stairclimber workout.
The researchers also suggest that swearing could trigger a response from the amygdala, the part of the brain that’s responsible for emotions, leading to a surge of adrenaline.
Swearing Can Increase Your Pain Threshold
A surprising number of studies in recent years have examined the pain-relieving ability of swear words. According to the latest such study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, constantly repeating the F-word can increase one’s pain threshold by 32% and pain tolerance by 33%.
It builds on a 2009 study in which researchers measured how long people could keep their hands immersed in cold water. When the participants were allowed to repeat a curse word of their choice, they were able endure the cold about 50% longer, and reported less pain throughout.
This is a phenomenon known as ‘stress-induced analgesia,’ and it’s a naturally occurring pain-relief mechanism.
Here’s the catch
Cursing isn’t likely to give you a performance edge when it comes to slower or less intense workouts, so don’t go offend everyone at your 10am water aerobics class by cussing up a storm because your chiropractor said to. But when you’re really pushing yourself, swearing might make a difference. That little surge of adrenaline and distracting your brain from what you’re doing can help you push through the pain and harness some extra power.
That said, how you curse matters. It wasn’t off-the-cuff swearing and yelling that did the trick in any of the studies. In each of the studies mentioned above, participants were instructed to cuss methodically, just loud enough for them to hear themselves, every few seconds.
And finally, be warned: the effect also depends on how frequently you swear in your day-to-day life. Studies show the power-boosting and pain-minimizing effects of swearing quickly wear off through overuse.
The Ascent Chiropractic Difference
Whether you’re a pro athlete, weekend warrior or just looking to tone up, study after study shows that regular chiropractic care is an essential part of reaching your full potential. Ready to get stronger? To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.