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Lynn Hummel column: Grunting helps get the job done

FedEx has just delivered a 60 pound box to your step and your job is to pick up the box and move it to a three foot shelf. You won't tell yourself you're going to grunt when you pick up the box, but you will — even if you're not aware of it. That grunt is an indication of effort and it helps to get the job done.

In my opinion, we don't know enough about the effects and potential of grunting.

But we do know that in sports the grunt is used to good effect. If you watch tennis, for example, you will note that many tennis players grunt with every stroke. And it seems to help. When male tennis players grunt, it sounds natural. When women grunt, the grunt sounds like squeals and the high pitch brings a smile to your face. That's not a sexist comment, it's like enjoying the sounds of kids playing.

The same thing happens in volleyball. If you watch the kids play volleyball, you are generally watching girls, because the boys play basketball instead of volleyball. But the girls squeal just like tennis players. But these squeaky grunts indicate effort and effort wins games.

In track and field, grunting is part of the fun and the entertainment. Shot putters and discus throwers, both boys and girls, tend to be husky and strong. They hold the grunt until the very climax of the throw, and if you're paying attention, the grunt may be the highlight. The better they are, the stronger the grunt. If you pay attention to Olympic level competitors, you will hear many world-class Olympic yells. Of course, these sounds are not inadvertent, they are deliberate, and I'm convinced they work.

Weight lifters are notorious grunters. How can anybody lift hundreds of pounds of iron without loud grunts?

If you watched Tarzan movies as a kid, you will remember a long, loud ape call before Tarzan swung from a tree to crush evil or subdue a wild beast. And it always worked didn't it?

How far can you take the idea that well timed grunts can increase the effect of serious physical effort?

Recently I have been involved in physical therapy. The therapists work hard and earnestly to move their patients, day by day, step by step, toward physical recovery from whatever their physical limitations are, almost all involving pain.

All this progress is made through exercise, massage, manual therapy, hydrotherapy, manipulation and guidance. In all corners of the huge therapy room are machines for patients to peddle, lift, pull, push, rotate, step on, bend, twist and manipulate to gain further strength, agility, coordination and return to their former good condition. Everybody works quietly. The therapists and patients speak in low tones and the atmosphere is like there are about a half dozen private transactions taking place around the room.

I heard one loud yawn. No other sounds of pain, pleasure or emotion. So, I asked if there is much grunting in the therapy process. Very little I was told. Aren't the patients working hard enough? If you had a room full of weight lifters, it wouldn't be quiet. Is weight lifting more important than physical therapy?

So, I propose a new emphasis in physical therapy: patients should be encouraged to grunt. Grunt when you lift. Grunt when you push. Grunt when you pull. Grunt when you bend, twist, rotate or peddle. What will all the grunting do? It will motivate the group to push harder and get better sooner. It will accelerate the healing and make healing a group activity rather than a lonely drudge.

The world would not be what it is today without grunting. Grunts help get a job done. But grunts come in many different sounds and volumes. In Germany, grunts sound like "ochh." In Russia, I imagine the sound is "huschka." In Norway, it is certainly "oof da." The American grunt for pure pain is a long and loud "owwww." And, of course, grunting is absolutely essential in childbirth where the sound is "aiiiee."

Effective grunts are not quiet whimpers. In medicine, patients are asked to evaluate their pain on a scale of zero to 10. with zero being none at all and 10 being unbearable. Grunting volume should be evaluated as well in therapy with the louder the grunt, the greater the healing value.

Just one word of warning. When the therapists are grunting louder than the patients, maybe they're pushing too hard or bending too much. Ouch.

NOTE: Order Lynn Hummel's new book, The Last Word (171 articles, 310 pages) by sending $15 plus $3 postage ($10 plus postage for additional books) to Pony Express Books, 721 N. Shore Drive, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501, or order at: