Grunting During a Workout Can Boost Your Performance, Study Says

British men's weightlifting championship in January. A new study says grunting during workouts could help you exert more force but expert says practice should be reserved for elite athletes. Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Aside from the dispute over which diet plan is best to improve muscle gains, grunting during exercise may be one of the most hotly debated arguments in the fitness community. Some believe grunting is natural and helps them lift more weight, while others argue it's nothing more than a nuisance.

A new study aims to clear the air with its findings: both sides are right.

Related: Physical Exercise Fights Illness by Keeping the Aging Immune System Young

In the professional world, grunting has been called a form of cheating by tennis star Martina Navratilova, as it distracts opponents. For amateur gym goers, grunting can be seen as intimidating and just plain annoying, causing some chains to prohibit the habit. In the latest study on this topic, researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu looked at how effective grunting is and whether it's a distraction off the tennis court. The study was published this month in PLOS One.

Researchers discovered that yes, making noise during workouts helps you exert more physical force at the expense of your opponent's ears and attention.

Two grunting experiments were conducted. In the first, 20 mixed martial arts athletes kicked a 100 pound bag while grunting and remaining quiet. Participants exerted a 9 percent increase in force when letting out their grunts, compared to when they held it in.

In the second experiment, 22 people watched videos of martial arts fighters and were asked to judge the direction of their kick. Clips included audio with and without grunts. Turns out, grunting is a distraction as people responded slower to the clips with sound.

Exercise scientist Kevin Heffernan of Syracuse University was not surprised with the findings. Previous research has shown that grunting can be beneficial to performance when people are exerting maximum effort, he noted.

"For heavy exercise it's actually instinctive to hold your breath a little bit and give that little grunt," he told Newsweek.

In addition to being natural, grunting helps protect the back.

But before you let loose, Heffernan explained that grunting could be bad for your heart. Grunting occurs when we hold our breath during workouts, and that creates pressure in your chest that pushes on the aorta. As blood pressure goes up, the heart works harder to keep blood flowing and you could pop a few blood vessels.

Bottom line: unless you're an elite powerlifter, chances are you don't need to grunt. The majority of us getting in a cardio or weight lifting session should focus on breathing and not annoying everyone else at the gym.