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Valsalva Maneuver- Are you breathing the right way ?

Suraj Ray
Suraj Ray
Lifting heavier weight is always associated with the right technique used for execution. We always emphasize on how executing the exercise or the lift with proper form and posture is helpful in terms of minimizing the risk of injury and impacting the worked muscle group. But we seldom talk about the breathing technique. 

Till now we know that we should always breathe in during the negative movement or eccentric phase of an exercise and should breathe out during the concentric or the positive movement phase. There is nothing wrong with this technique, in fact, if you are new to weight or strength training then you must practice this properly. But what should be the approach when one is lifting more than 80 % of his/her 1 RM (repetition max)? Should the same breath in and breath out technique be followed or something else is needed?

Valsalva Maneuver, an act in which air is exhaled forcefully with a closed glottis (Opening between the vocal folds). It helps in creating inter-abdominal pressure which stabilizes the spine and midbody and safeguards the lumbar while lifting the heavier weight. We don’t need to do anything out of the box to implement it; we unknowingly use it while we are lifting around our max or while we are on the verge of failure and trying to push out the last few reps. This technique is quite effective in minimizing the spine injuries and enhancing the performance, but there is a certain risk which one should be aware of. Valsalva Maneuver has shown to increase blood pressure and cardiovascular strain, but researchers have also shown that if it’s done with resistance training then these effects are minimized. But the question still remains, is it safe?

The answer to it will be, if you have a past history of cardiovascular disease then it’s better to be cautious while using this technique. Resistance training will improve the cardiovascular profile, so if you are one risky individuals then slowly improve your lifting profile through a structured periodized workout program, rather than jumping to heavier weights which would involuntarily induce Valsalva maneuver, you must make your core strong and body adaptable enough to sustain that pressure.

How to use this technique then? The time limit of holding the air should be limited to about 3 seconds while executing a single repetition of squats, deadlift, overhead press, bench press or any such compound workout.  For example, if performing a back squat then,

1.        First, un rack the weighted bar.

2.        Take your position and place your foot at considerable execution position.

3.       After you are stable, take a deep breath and tighten your core. (Valsalva Maneuver)

4.       Go down and come back to the first position by holding the air, once one full repetition is done release the air.

This should be done in a span of a 3-4 sec, holding the air for too long might give you dizziness, bleeding nose, lightheadedness which might be dangerous. Proper caution should be maintained while utilizing this rewarding technique. Also, if you are new to training then gradually increase your lifting capabilities rather than jumping to heavier weights.