The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Grunting leads to better tennis, says science

Three years ago, the chief executive of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club said in a newspaper interview that he “would prefer to see less grunting” in tennis and said players should complain to the umpire if they feel an opponents’ grunting becomes a distraction. The backlash against grunting grew so heated that, in 2012, the International Tennis Federation, the Women’s Tennis Association and executives from the four Grand Slams announced plans “to drive excessive grunting out of the game” by equipping umpires with decible readers that could be used to punish excessive grunters.

The plan to give umpires “gruntometers” has not officially come to fruition, though the WTA rulebook states, “Any continual distraction of regular play, such as grunting, shall be dealt with in accordance with the Hindrance Rule,” which states that a let should be called for the first offense (an “involuntary hindrance”), with any further hindrances considered deliberate, resulting in the loss of a point. A similar rule exists in the ATP rulebook, though the men’s tennis governing body goes a step further, saying that a grunt may be ruled deliberate on the first offense.

But don’t expect tennis players to silence themselves anytime soon, because a new study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research has found that grunting actually helps tennis players hit the ball harder.

A. Pawlowski, a “Today” show and NBC News contributor, has more:

Collegiate tennis players who were told to grunt hit serves and forehand shots 5 miles per hour faster than when they played silently, a new study found. It didn’t matter whether they’re male or female, whether they had ever grunted before while playing tennis, or whether they even liked grunting during the game, said Dennis O’Connell, the study’s lead author.
“We know it’s annoying to fans, but it does seem to provide an advantage,” noted O’Connell, a professor of physical therapy at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. “It serves the grunter in a beneficial way.”
Why that’s happening is not clear, but it has something to do with the exhalation process, he added. As people make noise when they’re exhaling, their strength seems to increase — think of a weight lifter going for a heavy barbell. Indeed, when O’Connell monitored the chest and oblique muscles of his subjects, their response was “significantly enhanced” when they grunted.
Grunting can also be the result of proper breathing, which helps stabilize a player’s core and generate the most power, said Angus Mugford, director of personal and organizational performance at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Joel Fish, director of the Center for Sport Psychology, told Pawlowski that grunting also gives a player more confidence that they’re performing at their best, and also can serve as a distraction to their opponent (though, as stated, the opponent can petition the umpire if they feel it’s being done on purpose).

“For certain athletes, it kind of motivates them to try harder, to reach that point where they’re giving so much exertion that they have to do that,” Fish told Pawlowski. “At that (pro) level, if you find something that helps you 1 or 2 percent, that’s significant.”