Maria Sharapova is one of the best women's tennis players in the world. She has won five Grand Slams, and she's consistently ranked in the WTA's top 10. Yet despite all of her success, she may be most recognized for her grunts and screams on the court.
Sharapova's grunts have been measured at 101 decibels, and they routinely escalate as a point lengthens—to the dismay of most spectators. She certainly isn't alone. Many of the world's best tennis players routinely grunt when making a shot—although they probably aren't quite as loud.
Some think it's a tactic of deception—attempting to distract the opponent and hide the sound of the ball. Others think it actually impairs breathing and oxygen consumption.
However, a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that grunting may actually have tangible performance benefits.
Researchers from the University of Nebraska had five male and five female NCAA Division-I tennis players participate in two standardized practice sessions—one with grunting and the other without. Each athlete wore a portable metabolic unit to measure oxygen consumption, and each shot was measured with a radar gun.
The finding: grunting increased average groundstroke velocity by 3.8 percent. It also did not impair oxygen consumption—which came as a surprise.
Essentially, it's a free way to add a few miles per hour to your shots without exerting additional energy. It may not sound like much, but every bit of extra speed on your shots gives your opponent less time to react to the ball, increasing your chance of hitting a winner or inducing an error.
The researchers theorized that an increase in trunk stability when grunting produces the added velocity. The core can more efficiently transfer and produce force without wasting energy, which translates to more powerful groundstrokes.
This caused an instantaneous improvement among the tested athletes, which is remarkable given that NCAA athletes are already near the top of their game, so small improvements are hard to come by.
Did the study have limitations? Certainly. The athletes were only measured over two-minute periods, and a long tennis match can last upwards of five hours. Also, each athlete reported feeling more tired when grunting, even though physiological data indicated otherwise.
However, the study provides a pretty compelling reason to give grunting a try next time you play tennis. Also, it may also apply to other sports skills involving quick bursts of power, such as a baseball swing or a slap shot.
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