Swearing can make you stronger in the gym, study finds

If you’re a member of a gym or fitness club, odds are that letting loose with a few F-bombs in the middle of a workout is highly frowned upon, but new research suggests that doing so may actually improve your performance when lifting weights or cycling on a stationary bike!

According to The Verge, research presented by Keele University psychologist Richard Stephens at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society last week which found that athletes who repeatedly swore in an even-toned voice performed better on various fitness activities.

Stephens and his colleagues conducted a pair of experiments, one involving 29 individuals who completed a short, intense burst of activity on an exercise bike and one involving 52 people who completed an isometric handgrip test, twice – once regularly, and once while “working blue.”

In some cases, the athletes swore during their first attempt at the activity, while in others they did so during the second, to ensure that factors such as fatigue did not play a role in performance. All of the athletes were found to perform better during the attempt in which they swore, according to the study authors, producing more power on the bike or having a stronger handgrip.

Findings linked to stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system

During their experiments, the researchers had 29 men and women with an average age of 21 ride an exercise bike for 30 seconds while either repeating a profanity or a non-swear word (brown or wooden, for example), according to The Guardian. Similarly, they had 52 people, average age of 19, take part in a pair of 10-second-long hand-grip strength challenges.

Whether the participant repeated a swear word or a regular term, they were instructed to speak it calmly and repeatedly, in an even tone and were told not shout it, the UK media outlet explained. Bikers who swore saw their peak power increase by an average of 24 watts, the study said, while those saying profanities during the grip test boosted their strength by roughly 2.1 kilograms.

Previously, Stephens’ team had found that repeating profanities could increase pain tolerance in an individual who had placed their hands in water. One possible reason for this, he explained in a statement, is that swearing “stimulates the body’s sympathetic nervous system” (the system that causes a person’s heart to accelerate and stimulates the body’s fight-or-flight response).

Based on that hypothesis, Stephens said, they expected to find that swearing would make people stronger, and while his study did produce such results, he said that his team found no “significant changes” to “heart rate and some other things you would expect to be affected if the sympathetic nervous system was responsible for this increase in strength.”

So why does swearing seem to make a person stronger and more tolerant to pain? That “remains to be discovered,” the psychologist admitted. “We have yet to understand the power of swearing fully.” Also, it should be noted that the research was a relatively small study, and because it was presented at a conference and has not yet been published in a scientific journal, the methods and findings have not yet been evaluated as part of the full peer-review process.


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