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Profanity for Power?

7205-mind7Does swearing make your workouts better? Consider that many commercial gyms will not tolerate profanity and obnoxious behavior. One successful commercial gym, Planet Fitness, installs “lunk alarms,” which go off when trainers scream, grunt or slam weights. What does the research say on this matter?

At Keele University in the United Kingdom, researchers with too much time on their hands arranged a study in which they asked participants to name five words that they would most likely utter after they struck their thumb with a hammer. They were also asked to give five neutral words, as might be used to describe a rusty teapot on “Antiques Roadshow.”

The subjects were each asked to submerge an open hand into freezing water and to curse repeatedly while holding the hand underwater as long as they could. Heart rates were recorded immediately before and after the experiment, and the subjects were asked to estimate how painful the test was. The experiment was repeated, but the second time the participants could use only the boring words.

Discussing their findings in the journal Neuroreport, the researchers found that using curse words “increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing,” possibly because cursing “induces a fight-or-flight response and nullifies the link between fear of pain and pain perception.”

Does this research apply to heavy lifting?

In powerlifting, athletes often engage in wild antics to get themselves prepared to lift heavy weights; in contrast, elite weightlifters rarely engage in such behavior. The great Russian Vasily Alexeev would stand over a barbell looking almost as if he was going to sleep before he grasped it, and during the lift he would seldom produce more than a slight grunt. Two different styles, same results.

If you’re training in your garage by yourself and you think that swearing like a sailor will help you train harder, go ahead—pretend you’re a Norse god (or Charlie Sheen) and you’re under the influence of Warrior Madness (by zachary berry). But if you’re in a commercial gym, be considerate of others and tone down the antics.

—Charles Poliquin


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