Want to up your gym game? Try letting a few obscenities fly. A new study from the U.K. finds that swearing can significantly improve muscle strength and stamina. Researchers at the University of Keele in the U.K. conducted tests where some participants were asked to swear during either an intense cycling workout, or while squeezing a device that measures hand grip strength. In both cases, those who swore saw significant improvements in performance compared to those who had used “neutral” words.
In the first experiment, 29 volunteers with an average age of 21 were asked to pedal as hard as they could on a stationary bike for 30 seconds while repeatedly saying a swear word or a neutral word. Those who cursed their way through the short, intense workout increased their peak power by an average of 24 watts. In the second, 52 participants of a similar age were asked to squeeze a hand grip device for 10 seconds; the potty mouths increased their hand strength by 2.1 kilograms. In both experiments, volunteers were asked to repeat the swear words in a calm, even tone to help isolate the effect of using a swear word as opposed to the effect of getting angry, or shouting.
In both tests, participants were asked to use whatever swear word they would use if they had been hit on the head (“sh*t” and “f*ck” were popular choices). For the neutral word, participants were asked to pick a word they might use to describe a table, like “wooden” or “brown”.
The study builds on previous research that found swearing can increase a person’s pain tolerance. Previously, researchers believed swearing might be connected to the body’s fight-or-flight response, but in these most recent tests, participants’ heart rates did not increase when they swore, which suggests other factors may be at play. Dr. Richard Stephens, the head of the research team, believes the increased pain tolerance associated with swearing could lead to improved performance.
“Pain perception and pain relief are quite complex things,” he said. “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.”
Still, Stephens acknowledges there is still much we don’t know about swearing: “Quite why it is that swearing has these effects on strength and pain tolerance remains to be discovered. We have yet to understand the power of swearing fully.”
No matter the reason, the next time you’re carrying a heavy bag of groceries up the stairs, or suffering through a particularly grueling spin class, feel free to let loose a stream of profanities. If anyone calls you out, just say it’s for science.