If dropping an expletive (or five) makes you immediately flash back to mom shoving a bar of soap in your mouth—or worse, dousing your toothbrush in liquid soap, which yes, mine totally did—take a deep breath: Swearing is actually good for you.
This may not be what your parents wanted you to hear, but it’s true. Letting that F bomb fly has scientifically proven benefits that can actually improve your life—including your sweat sessions. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof that the time has finally come for you to embrace your inner sailor and cuss whenever sweat builds.
You’ll actually work out harder.
When you’re in the middle of, say, tire flips, it’s not uncommon to hear someone let out a guttural cry—and many think this kind of release makes them perform better. While that may be true, others prefer to whisper a simple “f*ck” under their breath. Nothing crazy, just a verbal display of how they really feel about trying to lift this heavy object and propel it forward.
If that sounds more like you, have hope: It’s likely working. A new study published in the Journal of Psychology of Sports and Exercise found that swearing can increase physical performance, strength, and power during your workouts. Researchers put 81 athletes through one of two tests: a 30-second high-resistance stationary bike test or a 20-second handgrip strength test. Some athletes were randomly chosen to utter a swear word every three second—any one they wanted, though study author David Spierer says “f*ck” was chosen most often—while the remaining athletes kept their language PG.
The results showed that swearing produced a 4.6 percent increase in initial power during the bike test and an 8.2 percent increase in handgrip strength during the latter test. Sure, an 81-person sample size isn’t going to 100-percent prove anything—but why not test the theory out for yourself?
“Swearing can improve the amount of weight lifted, force generated, and sprint speed,” Spierer says. “But it can also be used to generate enough force to open a pesky jar of pickles. We think that using swear words can improve one’s ability to handle various tasks of difficulty or tasks that may be painful.”
Why? One theory is that swearing may cause a disinhibition—or distraction—in the brain, Spierer says. That disinhibition means the person cursing doesn’t focus on the difficulty of the task at hand (see tire flips above), but rather the curse words they’re dropping. So the next time you have to do an exercise that feels particularly painful, go on and let your favorite curse word distract you.
You’ll feel less pain.
The last time you stubbed your toe or slammed your funny bone into the table, it’s likely you screamed an expletive. (Nearly) everyone does it because swearing can help relieve pain—in a 2009 study published in Neuroreport, psychologists asked subjects to come up with a list of words—including curses—that they would use if they hit their thumb with a hammer. They were also asked to come up with a list of words that they’d use to describe a chair (because those are more neutral and you’re not likely to sling profanities when talking about how a chair looks).
Once participants had their words, they were randomly divided into swearing and non-swearing groups. Both groups had to submerge their hand in ice water for as long as they could, spewing their selected word all the while.
The results will shock no one: Those who opted for expletives were able to keep their hand submerged longer. But here’s the fun part: They didn’t keep their hands in the water for a second or two longer. Oh, no: They were, on average, able to keep their hand under for almost 50 percent longer than those making their mamas proud with their non-potty mouths. They also reported feeling less-intense pain, leading the researchers to believe that swearing reduces your sensitivity to pain.
And yes, all of these results can be transferred over to your workout because when you exercise, it’s likely you’re feeling some sort of pain (not the “I’m injured” kind, more the “I’m tearing my muscles so they can grow bigger and stronger” variety). So drop a few four-letter words next time you feel like dying during burpees—they may feel just a smidge less painful.
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You’ll bond with your workout buddies.
Whenever you’re in a group workout, there’s that moment when you lock eyes with someone else, even if just for a second, and you both exhale deeply before moving on to the next exercise. That’s non-verbal bonding, a way for both of you to basically say, “I feel your pain.” But scientists want you to take that nonverbal companionship and add—you guessed it—actual words.
In her recent book, Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language, Emma Byrne discusses (quite colorfully, I must say) how swearing can fuel bonding and likability. She exemplifies it in the workplace in particular. “From the factory floor to the operating theatre, scientists have shown that teams who share a vulgar lexicon tend to work more effectively together, feel closer, and be more productive than those who don’t,” she writes. And science backs her up: A 2017 study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology suggests that swearing with coworkers can help foster a sense of belonging and mutual trust.
Those feelings of partnership can easily transfer to the gym, especially for those who prefer working out alongside other people. Many boutique studios now have athletes partner up for a circuit, so next time you’re in one, don’t just stop at the deep exhale—throw in a “f*ckin’ a, right?” and the two of you may feel close enough to grab a post-sweat protein smoothie, cheers-ing to the fact that you really did survive those box jumps.
You’ll release pent-up emotions.
One of the best parts of working out is the emotional and mental clarity it can provide. Nekeshia Hammond, Psy.D., a psychologist at Hammond Psychology & Associates in Brandon, Florida, says swearing while you sweat can help further that release. That’s because curse words are processed by the limbic system of the brain, which is primarily responsible for memory, emotion, and basic behavior—not language, explains Spierer.
So rather than using curse words as another way of expressing, well, words, we use them to emphasize and show emotion, anger, discontent, and elation. Doing that during a workout can provide an avenue of release that you may not find elsewhere—basically, you’re “letting go” of the emotions that were pent up inside you, which can, in turn, help you sort through any sticky situations going on in your life.
That said, Hammond warns that swearing can still have negative connotations, especially if it becomes a real distraction during your workout. “Swearing may bring up some negative memories that throw off your concentration,” she says. And we all know a lack of concentration can lead to injury.”It’s harder to work out if you’re still thinking about the fight with your significant other or how much work you didn’t get done at your job.”
Her tip: If you’re emotionally charged or feeling distressed about something going on in your life, press pause on the profanity and instead concentrate on the workout itself as a stress reliever. But if you’re feeling good going into it, let the F-bombs fly for as long as they make you feel like the badass you are.
Samantha Lefave is a freelance writer who is living, eating, and sweating her way around the world. You can find her Instagramming her favorite destinations, squeezing a Friends quote into every conversation she can or—when there’s downtime—eating peanut butter straight from the jar.