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Grunting and Exercise

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Grunting in the gym made recent news. A member was forcibly removed from a gym when others complained. The article told of factions arguing who was right if grunting and other loud vocalizations when exerting for exercise were helpful or needless annoyance.

Exercise is supposed to be healthy and build discipline of mind and body. Antagonism and disputes are not healthy for mind or body. Moreover, both sides have missed the point.

Breathing out, either quickly or slowly in coordination with effort can help. It can be done silently - by exhaling without vocalizing. You can have both, the exhale and the peace. This quiet but forceful exhalation practice is used in many high exertion fields from martial arts to warfare to meditation.

Fighting ninjas were legendary for both focused effort and silent tactics. No sense making a war cry until it was needed for its better purpose - to increase tendency to submission by the other party on the receiving end of the cry. In other words, to be scary.

For exercise, focused exhalation can increase acceleration at specific points of the move to increase power. For heavy moves, it can help lessen increases of pressure in the chest cavity and blood vessels, depending how it is done. Sometimes, people put so much pressure into the exhalation that they increase internal pressure instead of prevent problems. Done either quickly or slowly, it can be used to strengthen the move by including expiratory muscles. Often in martial arts and yoga classes, we (teachers) use noisy breathing just to remind students to breathe at all. It is a cue until they remember to breathe on their own (quietly) instead of holding their breath.

In the war dances and drumming in many countries, in martial arts, and in meditation arts, a concentrated exhalation coordinated with effort is variously called kiah, kiai, hihap, battle cry, and other terms. Each school is certain that their own different translation and beliefs about these terms is the "right one." The exhalation can be vocalized in a short yell, a loud breath, or silent. In group efforts, from martial arts to hauling sheets on tall ships, to chain gangs, to exercise classes, it helps unify mood or keep cadence. Done without coordinating effort, it is called yelling, and sometimes it is just vocalizing in corny ways.

Related:

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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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