Don’t Hate the Grunters!

By Tara Daye, PTS

We’ve all been in the gym and have heard clanging weights, grunts and groans coming from the weightlifting section. Some may think the noise unnecessary or silly. Some gyms even have an alarm that will sound if the grunts and bangs get to loud; truthfully, it’s called a “Lunk Alarm”! Most often this behaviour is met with dirty looks, snide comments, complaints or silent criticism. Stereotypes can get placed on those who grunt…. “attention seeker”, “dramatic”, “gym jockey”, and so on further expanding this misunderstanding that is happening.

Yes, I agree there are those who do take this to the extreme. Some really bang the weights or throw them down as if in triumph of that last set. More respect could be given to the equipment, although sometimes the occasional clanging is hard to avoid. Some enjoy counting reps aloud or giving grunts their all, some even yell much to the chagrin of the other members. There is of course a kind respect for others that should happen in the gym and there are times when the noise level could be toned down. The respectfully low-level grunts though…..

Ask any lifter why they grunt and most likely the answer will be, “because it helps…” Now we may ask, why? It is not just because the weights are too heavy, or because the exerciser is overexerting themselves. It actually helps us to lift when approaching fatigue or failure within a set of lifts. Now we may ask, how and why?

Let’s look at what happens when we grunt. When getting ready to perform a strenuous act, we inhale a deeper-than-normal breath and then forcefully exhale and produce a grunting noise. The act of grunting upon exhalation produces a contraction in the lungs, diaphragm and through a chain reaction our core muscles and pelvic stabilizers. This allows the lifter to be more solid in their position, especially throughout our mid-section by maintaining our posture, reducing sway in the spine and therefore, reducing compensation and targeting the appropriate muscle more effectively throughout the movement to produce more force.

I wanted to know if there was scientific evidence to support this specifically in regards to lifting weights, so I went on the hunt. Chris Rodolico and Sinclair Smith, researchers at Drexel University Health Sciences Program, did an experiment to try and answer that question. Their study won the Biomedical Sciences Award for undergraduates at Drexel Research Day. Basically this study compared force applied in a controlled environment and compared it to force applied upon exhalation, and then finally force with exhalation and a grunt or “yell”. They found that with the exhalation of breath the force was indeed greater. Add in the grunts however, and the force applied jumped a dramatic 10%!

This shouldn’t mean we should all grunt to the rhythm of each lift in the gym, but simply if we need to let out a grunt or two near the end of a strenuous act, use it respectfully and as a tool to aid form and performance! One question I have been asked is, “if they were lifting the appropriate weight for them would they actually need to grunt?” Remember that when lifting weights, on average, if we cannot do 8 repetitions of that load then it is too heavy, and if we can do more than 15 repetitions, the weight is too light. If the correct load is chosen, the last few repetitions of the last set or two should be fairly strenuous and difficult to complete without breaking form. This is when we can haul out the deeper breaths and grunts!

Test the fact for yourself if you haven’t before. Use your inner caveman at the gym and see what happens! Lift smart, lift safely, be respectful, have fun and don’t hate the grunters!

Posted in Fitness.