The F-bomb is one of the most universally applicable words in the English language. Few words have the power to communicate feelings of frustration, pain and ecstasy as well as the four-letter curse.
In my honest opinion, it's an underrated word with a myriad uses. And one of the best uses may be the ability to boost your workouts at the gym.
Researchers have found that swearing increases pain tolerance and triggers an adrenaline response and, in turn, is highly beneficial for exercise and physical tasks.
In a test conducted by Dr Richard Stephen at Keele University, volunteers were told to submerge their hand into ice water for as long as they could withstand. In the first trial, volunteers chose their favourite swear word and repeated it aloud until they removed their hand from the tub of water. In the second trial, swear words were replaced with common adjectives that would describe household items.
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To the researchers' surprise, the swear words were more effective at increasing pain tolerance.
"We know from our earlier research that swearing makes people more able to tolerate pain," said Dr Stephens. "A possible reason for this is that it stimulates the body's sympathetic nervous system. That's the system that makes your heart pound when you are in danger."
The same practice can be applied to physical exertion.
In another case study, Dr Stephens tested the effects of swearing on anaerobic power. In an experiment requiring participants to engage in a short but intense period on an exercise bike, swearing was found to increase the effectiveness of the workout.
Researchers came to the conclusion that obscene language improved participants' strength and muscular performance.
However, Dr Stephens also discovered that while swearing increased the physical power exerted, their was no significant increase in the participants' heart rates.
One potential theory is swearing was developed as a tool to withstand pain by triggering the "fight or flight" response.
"Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon," said Dr Stephens. "It taps into emotional brain centres and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain. Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists."
WHAT IS FIGHT OR FLIGHT AND HOW DOES SWEARING HELP?
The "fight or flight" response describes the flood of hormones from the amygdala part of the brain triggered by stressful situations. This response results in a sudden release of adrenaline and cortisol hormones. When this occurs, muscles tense up, digestion slows and blood flow is sent to vital organs to increase performance.
Also known as the human distress signal, the amygdala sends signals to the adrenal glands, boosting adrenaline – known as the hormone epinephrine. This wave of adrenaline has a handy perk: The body's ability to register pain is impeded.
Dr Stephens' experiments theorise that swearing during an intense workout has a similar effect to the amygdala response, enhancing the way in which our bodies function. If you're chasing gains at the gym, dropping the F-bomb could be the way to survive the dreaded last set.
Increasing your workout performance isn't the only benefit to swearing either.
Psychology professor Emily Waters explains there are also several social advantages linked to potty-mouth behaviour.
"Swearing can serve to show that we are not a fragmented member of a society," Prof Waters says. "That's why cursing/swearing among friends can make you feel slightly better when it's coupled with a sense of validation from others."
Dropping an F-bomb around your mates indicates a willingness to be open and candid with one another and has shown to improve relationships as you appear more "real" and trustworthy.
"The trick is to make sure it isn't excessive and that your swearing is not coupled up with anger, or another extreme negative emotion, as that can be very detrimental to your overall wellbeing and to others near you," Prof Waters says.
There's another huge caveat to excessive swearing that may negate any workout benefits. Dr Stephens found that those who were accustomed to profanity were less receptive to pain threshold benefits. This is due to the desensitisation of swearing. Likened to drug and opioid use, increased exposure depletes effectiveness.
So if you're someone who drops the F-bomb daily, swearing may not be the best method of shedding the weight.