You got to love it when science says supposedly bad things have benefits. Chocolate is chock-full of antioxidants. Wine may reduce risks of heart disease. Marijuana treats ailments from pain to nausea to glaucoma. And, right in The Barbell’s wheelhouse, cursing can make you stronger. Fuck yeah!
In a 2009 study, researchers demonstrated that swearing can increase the ability to tolerate pain, concluding: “The observed pain-lessening effect may occur because swearing induces a fight-or-flight response and nullifies the link between fear of pain and pain perception.” However, a second study showed that habitual swearing reduced its pain-lessening effectiveness.
Dr. Richard Stephens and Dr. Richard Stephens conducted a more recent study that focused on swearing with anaerobic and isometric exercise. In one experiment, 29 participants did 30 seconds of maximum stationary cycling (the Wingate test), once while repeating their swear word of choice and once while repeating a neutral word. In a second experiment, 52 participants performed a hand grip test thrice while swearing and thrice while repeating a neutral word. While swearing, subjects demonstrated 4.6% more initial cycling power and 8.2% more maximum hand grip strength.
“Swearing appears to be able to bring about improvements in physical performance that may not be solely dependent on a stress response arising out of the shock value of the swearing,” Dr. Stephens explained. “We know that swearing appears to be handled in brain regions not usually associated with language processing. It is possible that activation of these areas by swearing could produce performance improvements across many different domains.”
Dr. Spierer added, “Cursing may allow people to shut down their inhibitions and somewhat veil the effort and the pain of this really difficult task. Using swear words might be helpful in any circumstance where muscle strength and a sudden burst of force or speed is required.”
This is probably not a strategy for Planet Fitness, but most people in most gyms are listening to their own earbud soundtracks (often laden with f-bombs), so, even if you don’t train at home, you can probably swear in a gym—as long as you’re not shouting—without being asked to chill. Cussing just before and/or during a set may help you block pain and eke out an extra rep or two. And if someone tells you to watch your bad language, tell them bad is good.