Curse Your Way to Faster Runs

If you’re stuck at a performance plateau, did you ever think it’s because you’re not getting mad enough? Some research shows that channeling your frustration and anger – maybe even dropping a few choice four-letter words — may actually give you a performance boost.

Yes, researchers have found what some potty mouth runners have suspected for years: Cursing while running may help you run harder and stronger. A study from Keele University a few years ago showed that swearing may increase one’s tolerance to pain. Researchers had subjects dip their hands in ice water and told half of them to yell a word from their list of five words they’d use after hitting their thumb with a hammer, and told the other half to use a word from their list of “five words to describe a table.” Those who used expletives were able to withstand the pain significantly longer.

Researchers at Keele University recently followed up on their initial study in an effort to determine why swearing seemed to help athletes cope with pain better. One theory was that the swearing and feelings of aggression trigger the fight-or-flight response, getting our adrenaline pumping.

The researchers performed two tests in which participants were asked to repeat either a swear word (their choice of words) or a neutral word. The first test had 29 participants cycle on a bike for a short but intense period. Researchers found participants were stronger when they were saying the swear word than the neutral word. Next, 52 participants completed a handgrip test. In that task, researchers found an eight percent stronger grip in swearing versus non-swearing.

But why does swearing help? Although researchers anticipated that the fight or flight response was being triggered, they found no physical indicators to suggest that. Another theory is that cursing is a distraction from pain, allowing people to tolerate it better and therefore push themselves harder.

So, if you still haven’t found that perfect mantra or you’re seeking another secret weapon to get through a tough run, try saying — even screaming — a few expletives. (Just make sure you check for children in the vicinity or at least give them the “earmuffs” warning.)

Mean Thoughts May Also Help

If swearing isn’t your thing, you can still use mean thoughts to your advantage. In yet another study, researchers found that imagining a good deed enabled subjects to hold a 5-pound weight for longer than they could when thinking neutral thoughts. But they were able to hold the weight even longer when they thought about doing something evil – like hurting someone.

Obviously you don’t want to keep swearing or thinking mean thoughts during every run (especially when running with buddies) but, once in a while, dropping a couple of four-letter words may just help you push through a tough workout or propel you to a strong finish.

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