New research says that dropping f-bombs and other curse words can help you get a better workout. That’s according to a set of researchers from Keele University in England. They’ve conducted several years of research on this and related (swear-intensive) topics, leading them to several conclusions. One of these conclusions was that humans “produced more power” when swearing whilst exercising than without said swearwords. Related tests showed that participants were better able to handle pain if they vocalized curse words.
We’ve been following this story for a few years – back in 2017 we read how “greater maximum performance” was achievable when swearing during a variety of physical tests. Increased strength and power performance were shown, but no significant effects were found with regard to cardiovascular or autonomic nervous system effects. As such, the way in which swearing increases one’s performance and power is yet unknown.
“We know from our earlier research that swearing makes people more able to tolerate pain,” said Dr Richard Stephens of Keele University. “A possible reason for this is that it stimulates the body’s sympathetic nervous system – that’s the system that makes you heart pound when you are in danger.”
NOTE: To be clear, here, I’m using the terms “swear words” and “curse words” interchangeably. Because (as was shown in one of the research papers below) the effects are cross-cultural, it all has to do with what each individual perceives as a curse word – not the specific sounds the words make, but the connection each person has with said curses.
In the realm of pain and swearing, research was done at multiple points over the past decade. In the most recent research from Dr Stephens, it was found that “Pain tolerance increased in swearers regardless of cultural background and no interaction was found between word group and culture, thereby suggesting that swearing had no differential effect related to the cultural group of the participant.”
Recent research by a team including Dr. Stephens, Emmanuel Katehis, and Dr. David K. Spierer of LIU Brooklyn, show that exercising whilst swearing can increase one’s ability to push forward and do more than they’d be otherwise able. “Cursing may allow people to shut down their inhibitions and somewhat veil the effort and the pain of this really difficult task,” said Dr. Spierer. “Using swear words might be helpful in any circumstance where muscle strength and a sudden burst of force or speed, is required.”
So what’ve we learned? It’s best to work out before breakfast and make sure you curse up a storm while you’re at it!
If you’d like to learn more, several research papers either authored or co-authored by Dr Stephens on these swear-related topics are available now. You’ll want to see ‘Effect of swearing on strength and power performance’ with DOI:10.1016/j.psychsport.2017.11.014 authored by Dr. David K. Spierer, Dr. Stephens, and Emmanuel Katehis.
Also see the paper ‘Swearing as a response to pain’ with DOI:10.1097/WNR.0b013e32832e64b1 and the newer expansion of said research: ‘Swearing as a response to pain: A cross-cultural comparison of British and Japanese participants’. That newer paper can be found with DOI:10.1016/j.sjpain.2017.07.014 with NCBI.
Also important here is the 2013 paper by Stephens called ‘Swearing – The language of life and death.’ Above you’ll see a video embed from YouTube that includes audio from Dr. Richard Stephens on his research on swearing up to that point – this was just after his paper was published in 2013, with this interview conducted in 2014.