FAQ066: Why do some people hold their breath when they're lifting weights?

Proper lifting technique and your Breath: Lifting 101

When we are talking about resistance or strength training, it can be for a variety of goals. At STAVE OFF, some of our members are looking to stay or get stronger after an injury. Others are looking to reach certain numbers in their lifts (one of their performance goals). In the world of lifting weights, there is a common technique called Valsalva that is often used. Valsalva is when a person hold their breath in order to brace their stomachs during lifting.

So why do we do that?

What happens when a person is performing a Valsalva maneuver, is that they increase their intra-abdominal pressure. This is the pressure pushing against the space from the ribs to your pelvis and hips. It also contains the spine and low back muscles.

When we hold our breath, we are essentially bracing our bodies and tightening up our core and low back. It causes our blood pressure to spike as well. We do this very naturally actually when we are picking up something heavy. Pay attention the next time you do when you are doing chores around the house. However, in strength training, this becomes very intentional.

Holding our breath allows us to transmit force better. Which means we can lift more weights, more easily. It also helps to make our low back more rigid. Also protecting against injury. This is why you also see people using a belt. It gets you to push against it to make your spine more stiff.

Is it safe?

Because of the rise in blood pressure, some people have raised questions around how safe it is for people who are lifting weights on a consistent basis. There have been no reports of people having any negative heart event because of the Valsalva maneuver. If you are a person with heart disease or really high blood pressure, you may want to avoid this maneuver just in case! (See this video for normal ranges)

Enjoy the video and let us know if there are any other questions you would like answered!

Sorry for the pause in these videos – the clinic and gym got crazy!


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Christina Prevett

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