Some of the world’s best tennis players grunt almost religiously on their big hits. Often distinct, its nuances reflected in the type of shot, the grunt was an extension of the player; a piece of their personality—one which critics have claimed is unnecessary and a tarnish on an otherwise quiet, gentlemanly sport.
Studies, however, confirm what many—particularly though who grunt in those all-important moments of maximal effort—already know: grunting can help athletic performance when it matters most.
“Grunting is pervasive in many athletic contests,” one study notes. Here’s how it can help.
Exert More Force
“Empirical evidence suggests that it may result in one exerting more physical force,” the study says.
Force can be increased if an action is accompanied by a strong exhalation of breath—up to 12%, one study from 1961 showed. That’s a significant boost.
Distract the Foe
In addition to turbocharging force, grunting can have the benefit of diminishing your opponent.
According to one study, grunting “led to an opponent being slower and more error prone when viewing tennis shots.” Another concluded that “grunting is advantageous in terms of not only generating increased force when kicking, but also as a means of distracting an opponent.”
When a mixed martial artist grunting during kicks, both easy and hard, the opponent recorded higher latency times in responding to the strike and higher error rates in terms of deflecting the blow.
Is It Cheating?
“The issue of grunting has led to heated debates amongst tennis professionals, the fans, and the media, with some, including tennis legend Martina Navratilova, claiming that grunting in tennis is akin to cheating,” one study acknowledged, before determining that “the fact that the grunt is used to create more force appears to remove the onus of responsibility from the grunter, and place the burden firmly on the opponent to develop ways to cope with the grunt.”
We agree—it’s fair game. Tennis superstar Serena Williams may have put it best: “I just play my game and sometimes I grunt and sometimes I don’t. I’m not conscious when I’m doing it. I’m zoned out. It doesn’t affect me if my opponent is grunting.”
So, this doesn’t mean you should scream during every rep of a bicep curl at the gym. But perhaps give it a try on, say, a deadlift PR, and see what you can get away with during sports. Or at least don’t suppress the beast should he want to emerge.
A boost in force and bamboozling your opponent are benefits that even the world’s best competitive athletes cannot afford to ignore.