Here’s my confession: I am a prolific and unrepentant swearer. I drop F-bombs like I shed hair. And let me tell you, my shower drain is always clogged — you know, because I shed so much hair.
Along with being an expert in swear words and unclogging drains, I also love lifting heavy weights. I hadn’t actually thought to combine my strength training and cursing hobbies until I found a small research study that said swearing, apparently, could make me stronger.
This study was actually a presentation at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society, and all I could see was the abstract. But it described 29 young adults who took short spins on exercise bikes, and another 52 people who squeezed grip-testers as hard as they could. Each group did one trial while repeating their favorite profanity in what the study’s lead author, psychologist Richard Stephens, described to The Guardian as “an even tone.” It’s not really clear to me why the authors were investigating even-toned, repetitive swearing — even I can’t string together multiple “fucks” while trying to squeeze out one more deadlift. You could say I can’t give a fuck. Eh? Pretty good?
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Moving on. The participants also did a clean run where they instead repeated a neutral word like “wooden” or “brown.” The prompt, according to The Guardian, was to use a word describing a table. During the profanity-spiked trials, the abstract reports that participants spun faster and squeezed harder than during the runs where they had to repeat “wooden, wooden, wooden.”
This builds on earlier findings from the same lab that spewing profanity allows people to keep their hands in ice water for longer. But there are, obviously, a bunch of caveats: It was a small study. And since it’s a conference presentation, it probably hasn’t been through the full process of peer review — where other psychologists would pick apart the study for flaws and inconsistencies before it’s published.
There also wasn’t enough detail in the conference abstract to tell if the scientists compared swearing runs to, say, silence or other socially less-acceptable words that aren’t typically thrown around as expletives (like: urethra, urethra, urethra). And then there’s the possibility of the placebo effect — after all, it’s really hard to blind the participants or the researchers to whether or not someone’s cursing.
If the study didn’t already pair two of my favorite things — fitness and swearing — I probably would have ignored it. But if all it takes to finally break 185 on my squats is to repeatedly mutter F-bombs in “an even tone,” I’m willing to try it. You know, for the sake of my health.