Could Your Tongue Be the Secret Weapon to Stronger Lifts?

Yes, you read that title correctly.

The other day I was on Reddit, when I stumbled across a study I hadn’t seen since my Exercise Science undergraduate years. When this study was initially published in 2014 it turned a few heads within the fitness community. Why? Well, check out the title,

“The acute effect of the tongue position in the mouth on knee isokinetic test performance: a highly surprising pilot study.”

Aka, how your tongue position influences strength acutely (in a fixed isokinetic setting). What really turned heads was the results the authors found from different tongue positions during their tested movements. So what did they find?

What Were They Looking For

How can an individual’s tongue positioning influence their strength in isokinetic testing at the knee joint? Study authors looked at three different tongue positions.

  • Tongue sitting in the middle of the mouth pressed against the teeth.
  • Tongue laying on the lower arch of the mouth.
  • Tongue extended to the upper palatine spot.

Study’s Population

18 healthy recreationally trained males (ages 26 +/- 4.5 years).

[Could swearing improve your strength? This study suggests that it might.]

How They Tested

The subjects performed knee extension and flexion on an isokinetic machine. Subjects performed multiple sets of knee flexion and extension with their tongues positioned in the three positions listed above with their dominant lower limb (what they’d kick a ball with).

They performed their sets at two different angular velocities slow (90 degrees/second for 5 reps) and fast (180 degrees/second for 20 reps) on a similar machine to what’s featured below. The totality of the experimented lasted two weeks with three different testing days, and subjects took two days rest in-between sets.

Between each set, participants took a 60-second passive recovery and researchers encouraged them to perform maximally.


Researchers found that performance (peak torque) improved in both the endurance (20-reps) and high-force muscular (5-reps) tests during flexion when the tongue was positioned upwards in the mouth pressed against the palatine. They point out in their results that there was roughly a 30% increase in performance of the upper position when compared to the middle lying tongue pressed against the back of the teeth.

In addition to the joint’s increased peak torque during flexion, researchers found that acceleration also improved slightly when the tongue was pressed against the palatine.

Why Could This Be?

Researchers suggest that there may be a connection with the central nervous system’s paths of flexion based movements (at least with the lower limbs) with the tongue in this position. But, that can’t be claimed definitively without further research. And research connecting the tongue’s position and connection to distal limbs on the body is lacking.

Before drawing final conclusions and making this a cut and dry finding, there still needs to be more research performed. This is only one pilot study that analyzed a tongue’s position with isokinetic knee performance. So keep in mind, results could be different in more dynamic movements.

Yet, this was an interesting study, and might be worth a try the next time you’re doing seated hamstring curls. We’d would love to see a newer follow-up study that shadowed a similar protocol, or used dynamic movements.

Feature image from @jaredenderton Instagram page, photo by @ericalivoti.