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The Power in a “PSATTTTTTTT!”

Should climbers grunt? Is it even helpful, or is it just plain rude to others at the crag and gym? Here's what studies show.

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Tennis players, male deer in battle, big weight lifters, and Adam Ondra: they’re all grunters. From deep within their chests, people engaged in hard, powerful tasks often let out hearty bellows that reverberate like gunshots. Joe and Joanna Shmoe, too, let the barks fly at the local gym while cranking over the lip of the pink proj.

We let grunts out in times of adrenaline. According to Dennis O’Connell, a professor of physical therapy at the Holland School of Sciences & Mathematics in Texas, scientists aren’t clear as to why that loud grunt or shriek has the power to give us that extra oomph, but it’s likely related to “a communication signal from the part of the brain that controls breathing to the part that controls muscle function.” More motor units are recruited and more strength is produced following that obnoxious hear-across-the-gym yell.

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Studies show that you can kick harder, deliver a more powerful punch, or a faster backhand strike on the tennis court following a scream. A 2018 study examined force produced by mixed martial artists kicking a weighted bag. Researchers found that about 10 percent more force was generated when the kick coincided with a yell. Another study recording hand grip strength reported a 8 percent increase with a “Kiiiiap!”

Still, there’s no denying how annoying it can be to listen to the one bro screaming his way through a climb while you’re trying to enjoy an evening at the gym. At a certain point, screaming is unnecessary and just plain rude.

Planet Fitness is an example of one gym that said enough is enough. They have a hard and fast policy against grunting. Offenders are quickly challenged with the sound of a “lunk alarm,” a siren dubbed by the club as a warning against “one who grunts, drops weights, or judges.” The club prides itself on curating a zone where novice exercisers can feel comfortable.

Experts, while acknowledging sympathy for the anti-grunters, tend to disagree with such rigid policies.

“I’m not so sure it’s wise to tell people not to grunt,” Professor O’Connell said in an interview with The New York Times. While it’s clear that grunting helps, it’s incredibly unclear how to define a grunt and establish fair rules against it. Oxford denotes the grunt as the sound “of an animal, especially a pig.” But of course, everyone has their own unique noise. Some people’s grunts are almost quiet exhalations. Others have been compared to the sound of a jackhammer on the nearby highway.

As of now, there aren’t any climbing gyms with policies against grunting, although that may change as the sport continues to grow. For now, if you’re that guy shrieking on every move in the gym while the children’s birthday party ensues in another corner, be ready for the dirty looks!

One crowd-pleasing solution was offered by Professor O’Connell. His department found that athletes could get the same grunt-boost simply by forcefully expelling air. “Forced exhalation without the annoying sound is just as good at increasing force production as exhaling with the annoying sound,” said O’Connell to Business Insider.

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But if you choose to ignore his advice and to let the PSATTTS fly, remember that how you grunt matters. A 2011 study on vocalizations found that lowering your pitch makes you feel more powerful and think more abstractly. In a paper titled “Tennis Grunts Communicate Acoustic Cues to Sex and Contest Outcome,” researchers showed that winning players consistently grunt in lower pitches than losing counterparts. Just by listening to the grunts, tennis experts could more accurately predict match outcomes than bookies.

So SKIAT on if you must, but preferably do it outside and in a deep voice.