Swearing can make you stronger! You've got to be f@?king kidding me!!

August 2, 2017

Reading the article above in the Guardian immediately got my sports science senses tingling… What was the test for strength? Who were the participants? What as the study design?


The original article is not currently online, but I always approach articles of this nature with caution. Often journalists can misinterpret the data or misconstrue the conclusions. On further inspection, research Richard Stephens has published a number of studies in this field. His previous papers give a theoretical basis, for the mechanism by which swearing can make you stronger. Too good to be true?


The mechanism: Swearing increases pain tolerance in most* individuals (not men who catastrophise pain, similar to man flu) (1). The proposed mechanism back which this occurs is through emotionally mediated, stress-induced analgesia (2) … so…  when we swear we induce anger and aggression, this emotional response dampens the link between pain (physiology) and our perception of pain (psychology). Stephens presents a strong case for the use of swearing in pain reduction. Decreasing the perception of pain allows us to train harder and thus, get stronger. Could he be on to something for athletes?


The considerations: The studies above were not completed in athletic populations, often just undergraduates. If you are working with athletes, they deal with pain a lot and so swearing may not produce an effect as they often have developed mechanisms to cope with that pain.  The pain was induced through cold water immersion (1,2), more research is required looking at sport specific, pain inducing activities. The study the Guardian article is based involves cycling, hopefully the research group continue to explore this sport specific outcome in athletic populations.


The conclusion: Self-talk is a powerful mental skill that can be uses to enhance performance. A famous example is Jens Voigt, the German cyclist with the attacking riding style. His attitude to riding is embodied by his signature phrase that he repeated to himself as he went on his attacks up the mountain… “Shut up legs!”. Similar to this, swearing could be used as self-talk method that has the function of dealing with pain and thus could enhance performance.


So why not give it a go, train tonight, crank up the intensity and see how you get on. Although swearing out loud in your gym local may get you ejected, keeping it internal may help you push yourself, raise the bar, and reach your performance goals quicker.


Email stephen.leckey@athletefocused.com to find out more about how sports psychology support can enhance your performance. 


#athletefocused #evidencebased #science #sportspsychology #whatdidyoujustcallme?


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