Grunting during tennis matches is not a new phenomenon. But in this year’s U.S. Open, runner-up Aryna Sabalenka was so noisy that opponents started to complain.
Why do some of the best athletes in the world make such a racket in front of millions of people? Well … to win, obviously.
As obnoxious as they might sound, there’s evidence that grunts of exertion give athletes an edge. For us mortals, meanwhile, grunting can add a measure of excitement to an otherwise arduous workout.
“The velocity, force, and peak muscle activity during tennis serves and forehand strokes are significantly enhanced when athletes are allowed to grunt,” one study found. “Although the ‘grunting’ sound is unpleasant to opponents, fans, and officials, it seems to offer a distinct competitive advantage.” Other research shows that vocalization increased men and women’s grip strength by 25 percent compared to passive breathing.
College tennis player-turned-coach, Ignacio Morera-Lucas (who was not involved in the study) agrees that grunting makes him feel like he can hit the ball harder. He also believes that making these sounds can help in sports beyond tennis, too. “In similar short-burst exercises, there is reason to believe that grunting would maximize the workout,” Morera-Lucas explained, noting that football players and competitive weightlifters have been known to grunt as well.
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My Exercise of Choice
To test the science for myself, I decided to attempt the same 30-minute high-intensity interval training session … with and without the high-intensity grunting.
I like at-home HIIT workouts for the same reason I enjoy a breezy mile run. It’s something I can do at any time of day for free, so I have few excuses. Plus, switching exercises every 30 seconds makes it harder to give up. Right when I feel like my thighs can’t take anymore squats, I switch to plank walk-outs, rinse and repeat.
A general issue I have with HIIT workouts at home, though, is that they’re rarely as intense as taking a class with other people in person. Sure, I can get my heart rate up, break a sweat, and even feel sore in my muscles the next day. But I tend to exert myself harder when in public — with anyone beyond my dog there to judge me.
Grunting x HIIT
Fortunately, the privacy factor does make it much easier to attempt a workout while grunting. The next day, I attempted the very same HIIT workout.
The grunting felt a little forced at first. It did make me laugh, though, and laughter can actually lead to additional muscle building. (Data also indicates that runners use their energy more efficiently when they smile, so the only time you should be allowed to tell someone to “smile more” would be if they’re running a 5K.) Point is, grunting gave the same HIIT session a boost out of the gate by making it more fun.
I started to struggle about 10 minutes in, at which point (to my surprise) the grunting became increasingly necessary. By 20 minutes in, I was embarrassed to learn that deep down, I’ve been a grunter all along. I just never endured tennis long enough to realize it.
Perfect for Home Workouts
When it comes to home workouts, grunting keeps me more dialed in, which is often a struggle when exercising alone. Ultimately, I still think working out in public is more effective. But if you have to get a session in at home, giving yourself the space to make ridiculous noises might keep you more engaged.
As for grunting at the gym, places like Planet Fitness have the “lunk alarm” for a reason. The punitive measure is meant to punish try-hards for being too loud, and even in tennis, “some opponents will find it annoying, especially if it is not a very intensive match or drill,” Morera-Lucas told me.
That won’t be enough to deter the diehard-grunters. Research reveals that the most grunt-happy tennis players may be superior competitors because their noises throw off their opponents. So, it’s reasonable to assume that this could cause similar distractions for gym patrons.
As much as grunting helped make my home exercise more effective, it wasn’t enough of an edge to ruin someone else’s workout over it. However, if my neighbors happen to hear some questionable sounds coming from my apartment, it’s not what it seems. I am just trying to get in Maria Sharapova shape.