Swearing Improves Strength and Stamina, Says New Study

It’s the last five minutes of an intense workout, your body is screaming at you to stop, your mind is screaming back at it to keep going! Keep going! You can do it! You can do it you m**********r!

We’ve all let slip a curse word or two during a gut busting workout, and a new study from Keele University has concluded that there’s a pretty golly gosh darn good reason to do so: swearing might improve performance.

Researchers performed two experiments and first, they got cardio out of the way. Twenty-nine participants (average age 21) worked out on a stationary bike for an intense thirty seconds and were asked to repeat either a neutral word or a curse word of their choosing. (F-words and s-words were the most common.) it was found that power output was four percent higher among the group with dirty mouths.

The second experiment was much larger with fifty-two participants, and it was all about strength — specifically grip strength, which is a great indicator of functional strength and even, according to some studies, longevity.

Again, they were asked to choose a neutral or a swear word, and it was found that those who cursed while they gripped were about eight percent stronger on average.

The participants were asked to swear in a “steady and clear” tone as opposed to an emotional shout. The study author Dr. Richard Stephens thought that swearing would cause an increase in heart rate and other mechanisms related to the “fight or flight” response, but it turned out he was wrong. He told The Independent that his results could be because cussing helps to distract our minds from the discomfort.

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.

This could be good news for athletes looking to add another strength building tool to their arsenal, but bad news for gym owners and anyone who’s already annoyed by lifters grunting and roaring their way through heavy lifts. So, most people. But hey, if you work out at home or in mostly empty gyms, it looks like you can feel good about having a foul mouth.

Featured image via @frederikaegidius on Instagram.

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I’m a journalist and content producer with over seven years' reporting experience on four continents, with most of that spent covering health-related issues. My resume includes covering cholera outbreaks in Kenya and the clubbing scene in Shanghai, which is also where I wrote my first ever health article for an English language magazine. (It was on diarrhea.)After returning to Australia to finish up degrees in Journalism and International Relations I wound up in New York City where I’ve worked for Men’s Health, VICE, Popular Science and others. I try to keep health relatively simple — it’s mostly vegetables and sweat — but I live to explore the debates, the fringes, the niche, and the nitty gritty.