Drop those F-bombs, shout the S-word, and let those mofo's fly:
A new study has found that swearing out loud can boost physical performance, strength, and power in exercise.
The research published online in the current issue of the Journal of Psychology of Sports and Exercise revealed that cussing, as opposed to more neutral language, resulted in a 4.6 percent increase in power during a stationary bicycle test known as the Wingate test. In addition, study participants who swore achieved an 8.2 percent power spike in a separate test of hand grip strength.
The trials were carried out in two bastions of colorful language: Brooklyn and England.
Richard Stephens, a senior lecturer with Keele University in England, and David K. Spierer, a researcher and professor with Long Island University Brooklyn, conducted the study with student volunteers from their schools. The students were asked to complete each of the two physical tasks. In one trial, they repeated a curse word of their choice – one they might utter if they banged their head. (The F-word proved to be the favorite among participants.)
In the other trial, the same students were asked to use a word to describe a table —such as flat or round — while doing the bike and grip tests.
The researchers have theories about the relationship between profanity and the brain.
"The take-home message of this study is that when you swear, you become distracted. In science, we call it disinhibited," said Spierer, who years ago was director of exercise physiology at Riddle Hospital in Media. "Basically you don't pay attention to what you're doing or how difficult the activity and therefore you are able to put more force or more effort into the activity."
In addition, Spierer said, when you swear, you are using an area of the brain responsible for emotion, as opposed to usual speech function.
"So you are generating more force and more emotion, which can be a very powerful thing," he said.
Earlier research had found some patients who suffered loss of verbal ability due to damage to brain areas associated with more routine speech may still retain their ability to swear, bolstering the idea that cussing is centered elsewhere.
Swearing also seems to help us withstand physical discomfort.
Stephens found in his own past research that study subjects could tolerate pain for longer – they had a hand plunged in cold water – if they were repeating a curse word rather than a neutral word. Women in labor have known this since the dawn of humankind, but now they have scientific evidence.
However, with the current experiment, the researchers were surprised that they weren't able to attribute certain biological measures like increased heart rate and blood pressure to swearing.
"We expected that the effect would be brought about via the fight-or-flight response – elevated autonomic nervous system arousal – which is associated with increased adrenaline," Stephens said.
Spierer, who also operates his own online health platform, WellnessRoundtable.com, said it is possible the physical tasks they chose were too strenuous to allow them to see the separate swearing impact on the nervous system, so he and Stephens have embarked on a new study using more routine exercises like sit-ups and push-ups.
They also want to use testing like functional MRIs to document which parts of the brains are activated by all these factors, but that kind of research is expensive. So they've started their own crowdfunding site, swearingmakesyoustronger.com, that sells T-shirts and hats that read "Swearing Makes You Stronger."
In the meantime, the researchers' early findings may appeal to cyclists, bodybuilders, and other athletes. President Trump, who angered millions last week with his profane reference to Africa and Haiti, might do better to save his salty expressions for his backswing.
Local fitness professionals weren't surprised to learn the swearing/strength connection is now backed by science.
"It's a real thing," said Joseph Renzi, owner of PHL Athletics in South Philadelphia. "Everybody kind of toes that fine line between how they feel and then trying to be socially acceptable by not making everybody think they're crazy or very vulgar, but it definitely happens."
That cuts across genders, Renzi said.
"Sometimes the women try to be not as loud," he said. "But they're still going to let it out."
Marshall Roy, owner of RISE Gym in King of Prussia, said he is fine with verbal lubrication.
"With my clients, I'm pro-cursing," Roy said. "I don't necessarily encourage it, but if a few choice words slip out, it's probably a good sign."
Ashley Blake Greenblatt, a Philadelphia health and fitness expert, said she's seen the benefits with her clients.