Good news for anyone who often finds themselves biting their tongue when pushing through the final stages of a workout - swearing can boost muscle strength and stamina, a study has found.
Whether you’re cycling up a hill and need extra oomph or simply trying to open a tightly-closed jar, a good dose of foul language may be what it takes.
Psychologists from the University of Keele conducted tests in which some participants were asked to swear before either doing an intense session on an exercise bike or squeezing a device that measures hand grip strength.
In both situations, they found that swearing rudely resulted in significant improvements in performance compared with uttering ‘neutral’ words.
The study was a follow-up on previous research which found that swearing helps increase tolerance of pain, which may explain why so many of us let out profanities when hurt.
Dr Richard Stephens, from the University of Keele, who led both teams, said: “We know from our earlier research that swearing makes people more able to tolerate pain.
“A possible reason for this is that it stimulates the body's sympathetic nervous system - that's the system that makes your heart pound when you are in danger.
“If that is the reason, we would expect swearing to make people stronger too, and that is just what we found in these experiments.
“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,” Dr Stephens added.
The first experiment involved 29 volunteers (with an average age of 21) pedaling as hard as they could on an exercise bike while repeatedly saying either a swear word or a neutral word.
The researchers found that swearing increased peak power by an average of 24 watts.
In the second experiment, 52 participants of a similar age underwent tests of their hand grip strength and again asked to swear or say a neutral word.
On average, grip strength was increased by 2.1 kilograms by cursing.
Participants were asked to use a swear word they’d usually utter if they had a bang on the head - “f***” and “s***” were common ones. The thinking was that by allowing participants to choose a word that comes naturally, the swear words would mean something to them.
Rather than shouting, volunteers were asked to say the words in a “steady and clear” voice to prevent them getting too emotional.
The researchers expected to see in increases in heart rate and other expected changes linked to the ‘fight or flight’ response in their tests, but they didn’t.
Dr Stephens said: “It doesn't seem to be related to autonomic (fight or flight) arousal. We have some suggestions about what might be behind this effect which will need further research.
“It could be that it involves the pain relief effect we registered before. 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.”
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