Grunting: What’s All The Noise About?

What's with grunting at the gym? Are people looking for the attention their parents never gave them? That's a possibility, but here's why people do it.

You’re about to get a serious DYK down.

But before you do, let me ease you into it.

*ahem*

Breathing is the shit.

It’s what helps keep you alive by ridding the body of toxins (e.g. carbon dioxide) when you exhale. On the other end, inhalation supplies the body with oxygen, which the cells use to produce the energy needed to prop your ass on the couch all day, for instance.

As fully functioning adults, we all know how to breathe — sure, some of us are annoying mouth breathers, but we all know how to do the respiration thing.

Not all of us know how to breathe when working out, though.

As a general rule, you should breathe out during the exertion phase of an exercise (i.e. when you’re lifting the weight) and breathe in during the relaxation phase (i.e. when you’re lowering the weight). Doing so helps brace the load and stabilize the spine. Breathing also helps you last longer. How? Ummmmmmm, because the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is much greater in the presence of oxygen than in its absence. And as we know from clicking that link, ATP is the energy source for muscle contractions.

There are exceptions, but holding your breath while working out should be avoided.

So breathe.

But some people take it too far, don’t they?

Yeah, you know what I mean!

Thoooooooose people who make the gym sound like the primate area of a zoo.

Yeah, them!

Well, you’re probably like most people who get bent out of shape when they hear somebody violently exhaling through the use of their larynx, something otherwise known as grunting.

Why can’t that asshole just use a weight they can handle?, you say to yourself with your eyeballs rolling back to the deep recesses of your skull as you curl your 5 lbs dumbbells.

I know, what a dick! The nerve of them to interrupt your quiet time with their noise making while they try to keep some weight from crushing them to death!

…or at least that’s what they claim is why they do what they do.

Well, did you know that they’re right?

Say whaaaa?!?! Grunting isn’t a mating call done by gym brahs to impress female gym brahs?! Or done to remind you how much of a pussy you are with your pussy weights?!

It turns out that there’s actual science that proves grunters are right when they say grunting helps make them stronger and, by extension, save them from being squished to goo.

According to Chris Rodolico and Sinclair Smith, researchers who do science type shit for a living, up to 10x more force is generated when people grunt as opposed to performing strenuous activity like mutes.

How they arrived at this finding was through an experiment consisting of participants squeezing a handgrip one of three ways:

  1. squeezing as they breathed passively;
  2. squeezing while making the conscious effort to breathe out; and
  3. squeezing while making any type of noise to their liking, which was more often than not a grunt.

The exertion of force was greater when participants exhaled as they squeezed (2) rather than when they just squeezed as they breathed normally (1). And the results from grunting (3) shitted all over both scenarios.

Why?

Who the fuck knows?!

Seriously, it’s not a rhetorical question.

Who the fuck knows?

While no one really knows what mechanism gives grunting its performance-enhancing effects, it’s well known what causes the grunt.

First is the Valsalva maneuver, which occurs when you take a deep breath and hold it. This closes the glottis, or the opening between the larynx and vocal folds, and results in the buildup of pressure within the chest and abdominal cavity. This built up pressure then makes the body rigid and stabilizes the core in anticipation of extreme exertion. Then when a person, during or at the end of exertion, exhales, the formerly contained air held against the glottis bursts through the closed space and escapes from the lungs. This airflow is what results in that darned monkey sound hated by so many casual gym-goers.

Smith suggests that the ensuing extra oomph that gives people the ability to push more weight, serve a tennis ball with greater velocity, karate chop a stack of bricks in half, may be related to this rushing out of air “activat[ing] the autonomic nervous system, which is the nervous system that controls the fight or flight response — that feeling you get when you become startled or scared, that adrenaline rush that a lot of people speak of. And that may help the muscle contractions be more complete and more forceful.”

Whatever the increased strength is owed to, grunting does indeed have a purpose. It’s the vocal representation of effort.

That being, why is it that the people who run up to the front desk to complain about grunters usually have horrible bodies to show for themselves, despite their supposedly working out?

Well, how do you change the body? You do so by continuing to challenge it by increasing or changing stimuli, thus preventing the body from plateauing. In progressive weight training, the manner by which we attempt to do this is by gradually adding more weight or performing more repetitions over time — hence, the emphasis placed on “progressive”.

So if your mindset is that people should only be handling weights that they can manage so they’re quiet as a church mouse while training, what you’re really saying is that you want people to remain in their comfort zone. Well, the comfort zone isn’t where physical adaptations to the body are prompted to take place. If you think otherwise, then you may be doing this entire fitness thing wrong and you’re not truly pushing yourself as much as you think you are.

With all this moaning and groaning, am I at the gym or did I walk onto the set of Hammerin’ Holes #157? Either way, I’m not exactly complaining!

Do Y-O-U have to grunt and yell, or moan erotically like rent’s due and you’re so out of options that you’re relegated to sitting on a dirty casting coach trying to land the feature role for an adult movie (yeah, you ladies are as guilty of making noises as men)?

No.

You can treat the gym like a graveyard or library, only pushing yourself to the most superficial level of physical exertion, never letting out a sound or even scrunching your face.

But just because you want to remain average doesn’t mean someone else shouldn’t treat the gym like what it is: a gym. And because it’s a gym — NOT a graveyard or library — they can get after it, especially when there’s a clear reason for it.

But what if it’s someone grunting like a gibbon in the throes of love-making on their warmup set? Hooting and hollering on the adductor/abductor machine? Or screaming bloody murder while doing quarter reps?

Then, by all means, rat them out to management!

Are you a grunter? Why not? Too inhibited to let out the animal within?
How sedate is your gym? And in what shape is the average person?
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