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Can Grunting Improve Your Workout?

Are you grunting?

I've heard lots of strange things come out of people's mouths when they're exercising, but there was one in particular I'll never forget.

A visitor was in the gym working out. He had been exercising for almost an hour when he walked over to the squat machine. That's when it started.

The first thing I heard was a slight hissing noise like a snake. The sound of air being sucked in grew louder and louder for almost 15 seconds before it suddenly stopped. That was immediately followed by a sharp "Uuuuunnnhhhh!" and then a slow "Yeah - Yeah - Yeah - Yeah... Uuuuunnnhhhh...Yeah - Yeah - Yeah - Yeah." No matter what weight the visitor was using, he kept making the same noise.

People around him started backing away and moving to other places in the gym. The noise went on for about 5 minutes, and it ended as abruptly as it started. The "grunting man" finished his last set, grabbed his bag and walked out. It got me thinking.

Does making noise when you're exercising give you a better workout? After all, so many people do it; there must be some logical reason why.

The most obvious answer, to get a better workout, is false. In the few studies that have been conducted, researchers found no significant difference in either amount of weight lifted or duration of time that weight can be lifted between "vocalizing" or "non-vocalizing" subjects.

A more technical reason some people suggest is called the "valsalva maneuver." In a workout setting, it's a technique where you take a deep breath, hold it and tighten the abdominal muscles to achieve maximal stability of the spine.

There are two problems with this theory though. The first is that you don't have to make noise when you're holding your breath, so it still doesn't explain the grunting. The second is that anytime you hold your breath when you're working out, you're depriving your body of energy-producing oxygen. If the only way you can move a weight without injuring yourself is by holding your breath, you might be trying to lift too heavy.

(Warning! Holding your breath or performing the valsalva maneuver improperly can cause auditory damage from over-pressurization of the middle ear. It can also cause a drop in blood pressure leading to dizziness or even fainting. This is NOT something you want to experience when lifting heavy weights. Don't attempt it without trained supervision.)

So why do people still grunt? Psychologists suggest it can be a number of things.

The first is to psyche yourself up. By making guttural noises (the equivalent of an ape beating its chest), you're putting yourself into a more aggressive state of mind, so you might THINK you can lift more weight. Even if the weight doesn't change, you might find it makes getting through the workout a little easier.

Is this how people see you in the gym? Some people may be doing it as a way of marking their territory. It's quite common for animals to use noise as a way to let others know where they are and where you should avoid. Over the course of the visitors' workout, the gym had gotten busier and people were working out closer to each other. When he began to make his noises, people moved away and gave him much more room to do his own thing.

Still, other people may be grunting to draw attention to themselves. It's a way of saying, "Hey! Pay attention to me! I'm lifting a lot of weight here!" Our visitor certainly had that effect on people. Everyone was looking, just not for any of the right reasons.

Ultimately it was a distraction that didn't need to happen. All that grunting interrupted the workouts of the people within earshot and didn't do anything extra physically for the visitor.

The next time you work out in a public gym, think about the people around you and do them a favor. If you're a grunter, keep the noise to yourself.

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