To grunt, or not to grunt? That’s the question new gym-goers might be asking themselves when preparing to lift a heavy weight. And according to recent studies, perhaps they should: It turns out, grunting may actually improve one’s ability to go the extra mile.
The first and perhaps most convincing of these studies was performed by Drexel University Health Sciences Program researchers Chris Rodolico and Sinclair Smith, who asked 18 men and 12 women to squeeze a handgrip that would record the force of their embrace. The participants were told to squeeze in three different ways: Silently, while exhaling and while making some type of vocalization, which in most cases, took the form of a grunt. The researchers found that participants were able to exert 10 percent more force when grunting than they did while squeezing silently.
Why exactly the grunting subjects were able to conjure up more strength is up for debate, but Smith offered up this theory in a recent interview regarding the study: “Our hypothesis is that yelling may activate the autonomic nervous system, which is the nervous system that controls the fight-or-flight response—that feeling you get when you become startled or scared, that adrenaline rush that a lot of people speak of. And that may help the muscle contractions be more complete and more forceful,” he explained.
These researchers aren’t the only ones who have come to the conclusion that grunting brings out our innermost beast. A 2014 study found that grunting increased college tennis player’s serve and forehand velocity by an average of 4.5 mph, while another study performed during that same year found that grunting could increase an athlete’s broad jump distance by an average of 5.2 percent compared to exhalation alone.
Grunting isn’t the only vocalization that kicks us into gear, either: Cursing has a similar effect on our pain threshold. A 2009 study at Keele University found that subjects were able to endure their hand being submerged in icy water an average of 50 percent longer if they were allowed to swear like sailors throughout the frosty dip. It’s believed that this is because curse words affect a different part of our brains to regular language—specifically, an area called the amygdala, which (you guessed it!) triggers our fight-or-flight response and makes us less sensitive to pain.
All that said, don’t do it anyway. The occasional involuntary grunt is perfectly acceptable, but repeated, deliberate grunting is the hallmark of an attention-seeking meathead. The gym is a shared space and “gym beast” behaviors like this are one of the main things that intimidate other, newer gym-goers into quitting their fitness goals. Polls show that more than ten percent of U.S. adults who signed up for a gym membership as a new year’s resolution will quit before the year is over, and although we can’t place all the blame for that on grunting, it’s inarguable that an uncomfortable environment is discouraging for newbies (also discouraging: Calling them newbies). That’s why franchise fitness centers like Planet Fitness have strict no-grunt policy facilities, equipped with sirens that go off when a member grunts too loudly—because excessive grunting scares their members out of the gym. So please: Do you fellow gym-goers a solid and stick to cursing maniacally under your breath.