Cursing feels pretty good. We might be taught from childhood that certain language is naughty and shouldn’t be used in polite company, but we all have our favorite bad words that we turn to when we’re frustrated, in pain, or just really, really annoyed and in need of release. And according to new research, foul language is actually pretty fucking good for you — especially when it comes to getting the most out of your workout.
A study by researchers at Keele University and Long Island University found that people who used curse words while participating in the high-intensity Wingate Anaerobic Power Test (WAnT) on stationary bikes demonstrated increased muscular performance than those who used neutral language while engaged in the same activity.
“A boost to muscular performance is in line with our predictions and with earlier research indicating that swearing can trigger sympathetic activation, sometimes described as the fight-or-flight response,” the paper reads, adding: “A final possibility is that there is something particular to the sound and articulation of swearing that is less common in non-swear words, for example plosiveness (i.e. a speech sound produced by complete closure of the oral passage and subsequent release accompanied by a burst of air). While many non-swear words are also plosive, a systematic assessment of plosiveness would make for interesting further research.”
The “plosive” quality could indeed be what makes cursing loudly feel so cathartic and satisfying, particularly when you’re already grunting or groaning while cycling uphill or lifting weights.
The study also found that this fight-or-flight response triggered by extreme language can increase our capacity to cope with pain. A second experiment conducted as part of the same enquiry examined the effects of cussing on individuals and their ability to withstand pain as they plunged their hands into icy water.
“Swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing,” say authors Richard Stephens, John Atkins and Andrew Kingston. “However, swearing did not increase pain tolerance in males with a tendency to catastrophise. The observed pain-lessening (hypoalgesic) effect may occur because swearing induces a fight-or-flight response and nullifies the link between fear of pain and pain perception.”
The connection between a reduced perception of pain and a fight-or-flight response makes sense on an evolutionary level; we are more likely to be able to confront or flee a predator if we’re not concerned with injury or feelings of discomfort. By this logic, it stands to reason that dropping an F-bomb or two might help you do one more rep.
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