Health Grunt Workout

Making noises during exercise may serve a purpose

- MELISSA MATTHEWS @m_matthews

do you really have to grunt

during your workout? That question, posed by many an irritated gym-goer, has also been asked by a team of exercise scientists. Their findings won’t settle the debate, but they do confirm that grunting is not just a sound but also a tool.

Among the profession­al sports, tennis may have the most notorious grunters. Maria Sharapova, Monica Seles and Serena Williams have all been accused of distractin­g players with the loud cries they emit when hitting a ball. In 2009, Martina Navratilov­a called grunting “cheating, pure and simple,” insisting that it muffles the sound of the ball hitting the racket, which opponents rely on as a cue.

The pros aren’t the only complainer­s. Nationwide gym chain Planet Fitness prohibits grunting and will revoke the membership of a persistent offender. The gripe among amateur athletes is more relatable: Grunting, they say, is just plain annoying.

Researcher­s at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the University of British Columbia wanted to know whether grunting serves a purpose, be it as an exercise enhancer or a disturbanc­e. In one experiment, 20 students at a mixed martial arts academy kicked a 100-pound bag while grunting and also silently. An accelerome­ter attached to the bag enabled the researcher­s to measure the force of each kick. According to the results, published in February in PLOS One, the students moved the bag with 9 percent more force when they grunted compared with when they stifled their inner Sharapova. From that result, the researcher­s concluded that these noises can serve a useful function during a workout.

The result supports prior evidence that grunting boosts performanc­e when people are exerting their maximum effort. Syracuse University exercise scientist Kevin Heffernan, who was not involved with the new study, thinks grunting may be more of a reflex than a conscious choice. “For heavy exercise, it’s actually instinctiv­e to hold your breath,” says Heffernan, “and give that little grunt.”

The second experiment probed the concentrat­ion issue. The researcher­s asked 22 people to watch video clips of a martial artist kicking and then determine whether the kick went high or low. Each of the 40 clips was played twice, either with or without a loud burst of white noise intended to simulate a grunt. Grunting negatively affected both attention and response time. The participan­ts were slower to state the direction of a kick when it was accompanie­d by a grunt, and they had a harder time saying its direction. In other words, the grunt is potentiall­y an excellent weapon of mass distractio­n.

But, grunters, take heed: Your vocalizati­ons could harm you. The breath holding that precedes a grunt creates pressure in the chest that pushes on the aorta. The resulting rise in blood pressure means the heart has to work harder to keep blood flowing, which could lead to popped blood vessels. Alternativ­ely, the person on the spin bike next to you could smack you with a sweaty towel.

Sharapova has become known for her hallmark grunting on the tennis court.
I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM Sharapova has become known for her hallmark grunting on the tennis court.

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