F*** Yeah: How Swearing Can Help You Through a Tough Mudder

By Gabrielle Kassel | May 30, 2019


Do dirty-mouthed Mudders finish first? Hell, yes. It turns out that there's research to prove the benefits of a good ‘ole expletive. Don’t believe us? Here three ways swearing can help you get through event day. 

The Benefits of Swearing 


1. Cursing Can Crush Pain

Imagine dunking your fine self in a cold-as-balls pool (Arctic Enema) or playing Tough Mudder’s version of human Operation (Electroshock Therapy). Now, ask yourself this question: would you rather yell a word like “sturdy” or “brown” as you power through, or a four-letter expletive?

Research suggests that opting for the foul lingo may help you tolerate pain better than the polite alternative. In one study out Keele University in Staffordshire, UK, researchers asked a group of participants what word they’d use if they dropped a hammer on their thumb (categorized as their “swear” word) and the adjective they’d use to describe a table (categorized as their “neutral” word).

Then the participants took a test where they submerged their hands into a bucket of ice water. Half were allowed to repeat only the cuss word, and the other half, only the table-descriptor. The results? The fouled-mouthed folks withstood the cold water 40 seconds longer than the neutral-tongued bunch, and reported feeling less pain.

“The observed pain-lessening effect may occur because swearing induces a fight-or-flight response and nullifies the link between fear of pain and pain perception,” the researchers concluded.  In other words, mouthing off makes you tougher.

Worth mentioning, though: the participants who reported frequent cussing in their daily life actually reaped less of the pain-relieving perks of dropping the F-bomb during the test. So swear sparingly, Mudders.

2. Swearing=Power

In a second study out of Keele, the researchers plopped a group of exercisers on stationary bikes and put them through something called the “Wingate Anaerobic Test”—which basically entails cycling really, really fast for 30 seconds—on two separate occasions.

During the first test the participants could repeat a “neutral” word while they pedaled. And during the second test, participants were told to repeat “whatever swear word they might say in response to banging their head accidentally.”

When the participants were allowed to spew non-niceties, they produced more than 24 more watts of power compared to the those saying pleasantries. The researchers concluded: “Swearing can increase physical performance.” 

3. Mouthing Off Is Motivating AF

Mudders are a special bunch. Case and point: we willingly crawl through 20 feet of semi-submerged culvert pipes, dodge dangling zap-tastic wires, haul fellow Mudders over our shoulders, and take a dip in swimming hole packed with more than 10,000 pounds of ice. Still, that doesn’t mean a little extra motivation hurts.

And according to cognitive behavioral therapist Kelley Kitley, LCSW, founder of Serendipitous Psychotherapy, LLC in Chicago, IL, that’s where swearing comes in. “What’s more adrenaline boosting than yelling F*UCK at the top of your lungs when you’re trying to push yourself to the limit? Not much!”

While other more tame mantras work, too, during times of competition Kitley says that tame sh*t takes work. “Swearing allows you to express yourself, motivate yourself, and acknowledge your pain in a single word, a single sound,” she says. No shade at phrases like “Yes I can” and  “You’ve come too far to only come this far”—these are great mantras, to be sure, and can and should be utilized during Tough Mudder training—but on event day, let ’em rip. “It’s the quick release you need to reboot your motivation,” Kitley says. 

Swear, But Smart

Before you start cursing your headband-sporting heads off, keep in mind Kitley’s warning: “Swearing can work to your detriment if you’re putting yourself down.” For instance, it’s more motivating to say, ‘Let’s kick ass’ than to tell yourself, ‘You’re dragging ass.’

Her suggestion? “Use swear words in a way that pushes you towards your goal, not in a way that puts you down and pulls you away from your goal,” says Kitley. Got it? Good.

So, go on, Mudder Nation, mouth off. Just make sure there aren’t any mini Mudders around to hear you.

Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based fitness and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 trainer. When she's not lifting heavy sh*t, playing rugby, or getting downright dirty, she can be found reading memoirs and guzzling cold brew. Follow her on Instagram.