If you’ve ever seen Maria Sharapova play tennis, you know what we’re talking about.
Grunting during sports (or during workouts, for that matter) can be loud, strange, and distracting. In tennis, some have even called it cheating. But when it comes to harnessing power and focus during physical activity, we have news for you: Grunting actually works.
According to a two-part study published in PLOS One last month, grunting gives athletes a competitive advantage by allowing them to exert more physical force during activity.
EXPERIMENT 1: YEAH, GRUNTING WORKS
The researchers behind the PLOS One study conducted two experiments (Experiment 1 and Experiment 2) to test the effectiveness of grunting in allowing athletes to generate more power and to also distract their opponents.
During Experiment 1, the scientists had 20 MMA athletes kick a 100-pound (45kg) heavy bag both while grunting and staying silent. It turns out, the athletes were able to generate significantly more g-force while kicking with a grunt than without. (Wanna train like an MMA fighter? Here’s how.)
They generated a mean 24.2 g-forces when grunting compared to a mean 22 g-forces without, which works out to a 9-percent increase in force.
This isn’t exactly breaking news; scientists have long been researching the benefits of grunting while working out. In 2016, for example, a Drexel University study found that grunting instead of regular breathing can improve your weightlifting performance by a significant amount.
EXPERIMENT 2: YEP, IT’S STILL A DISTRACTION
In addition to boosting your performance, grunting is also great for annoying and distracting your opponents.
In Experiment 2, 22 athletes were shown video clips of a martial arts fighter kicking at them — sometimes with a simulated grunt in the audio, and sometimes without a grunt. The goal was to confirm whether or not having an opponent grunt during physical combat was a distraction to participants.
Previous studies by the same researchers used this exact format of experiment to confirm that grunting is a distraction to opponents during ball sports — specifically tennis.
By replicating the experiment with martial arts techniques, the researchers were able to conclude that grunting is distracting not only because it masks the sound of a ball being hit, but also because, well, it’s distracting. (Speaking of distractions, here are some of the worst ones you’ll get in the gym while working out.)
“In previous work using similar conditions to those used here, participants were slower and made more errors when responding to the direction of a tennis shot that included a simulated grunt,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.
“In the present study distraction is likely the only viable explanation, as the act of kicking does not involve multisensory signals that could be masked.”
THE TAKEAWAY: GO AHEAD AND GRUNT
If you’re playing an intense set of doubles at the tennis court, trying to finish your third set of power cleans, or land a kick during MMA training, the research surrounding the effects of grunting during exercise reaffirms the importance of breath during physical activity.
While it may be distracting to others, it’s beneficial to open up your diaphragm and give a little grunt in your next workout. Science says so.
By Lauren Steele