Why Smelling Salts Are Used in Strongman Competitions

Why Smelling Salts Are Used in Strongman Competitions

Have you ever watched a powerlifting or weightlifting competition? If so, have you ever witnessed a lifter or two inhale from a small bottle just before performing a huge lift, at which point they instantly displayed superhuman strength?

Most likely, if you saw that, you have seen the lifting wonder that is smelling salts. These are essentially powdered ammonia and are a weightlifter's greatest friend since they can assist them in increasing their strength performance when it counts.

Do you have any doubts about the usage of smelling salts in strongman competitions? You won't be there for very long! We will provide all the essential information about smelling salts.

What Exactly Are Smelling Salts or Ammonia?

Whether you are familiar with ammonia or not, you come into contact with it every day. In actuality, you already contain ammonia inside of you! Ammonia, sometimes referred to as ammonium carbonate in science, is a smelly gas that is colourless and inert at room temperature. Today, it is one of the most widely used industrial compounds, and you may find it in anything from fertilizer to cleaning supplies.

It can be found inside of your body in addition to being present in numerous home goods. Your body naturally creates ammonia, which it employs for a variety of physiological processes, including acting as an amino acid precursor. A vital component of practically every ecosystem on earth, ammonia also occurs naturally in the environment.

Moreover, ammonia sniffing is common among heavy lifters, powerlifters, and even professional football players. They specifically sniff a powdered form of ammonia that is known as "smelling salts."

Ammonia gas is compressed into a powder and then placed in capsules. There are numerous sources of smelling salt capsules. The very same capsules that athletes use today are still available at your neighbourhood pharmacy.

How and Why Are Smelling Salts Used By Powerlifters?

A lifter will grab their ammonia caps, tear one or two open, and take a deep breath before doing a difficult deadlift, squat, or bench press. They typically do it when competing, but occasionally you will see them doing it while they are performing their regular strength training regimen in their home gym.


They inhale smelling ammonia for a number of reasons, such as:

  • To make lifting large weights simpler
  • To lessen aches and pains in the body
  • To sharpen awareness and concentration

To begin with, most athletes who use smelling ammonia mainly aim to improve their performance and ability. For powerlifters, that entails having the capacity to lift the largest weights when it counts. Meanwhile, for other athletes, such as football players, it can entail making the best tackle or running as quickly as you can. Although powerlifters don't use it to substitute training, they do use it as a stimulant to advance their skills!

Second, to help with pain relief, powerlifters and athletes use smelling salts. They utilize it specifically to lessen discomfort in the muscles. Indirectly reducing discomfort enables individuals to lift greater weight and enhance sports performance.

A powerlifter, for instance, can inhale ammonia-smelling salts to ease chest soreness after a week of training and before performing a chest exercise during a competition. They can lift a greater weight with less discomfort. Third, to sharpen their attention and awareness, athletes and powerlifters inhale smelling salts.

Imagine experiencing the same level of anxiety as a powerlifter competing in a competition. If you don't calm those nerves down, they can affect how well you perform. Smelling salts can be used as a calming agent. Your mind will return to the current task with their assistance, leaving your nerves in the dust.

What Is the Research Behind Smelling Salts for Boosting Performance?

You believe that this is all just a lot of hype and that using smelling salts won't genuinely boost focus, decrease pain, or improve performance. Before drawing any conclusions, let's examine what scientific research has to say about ammonia-smelling salts and their efficacy.

According to research, inhaling smelling salts has a number of physiological impacts, including:

  • Increasing breathing
  • Causing an inhalation reflux
  • Starting a flight or fight response

First of all, the inhalation response is triggered by the smell of ammonia smelling salts. Ammonia causes the mucous membranes in your nose to itch when you inhale it. You take deeper and longer breaths as a result of the inhalation reflex, which is triggered by that irritation. As a result, your body receives more oxygen.

Greater oxygen flow is essential for powerlifting performance.  Your bloodstream receives more oxygen the more you breathe in. Additionally, your muscles have greater energy the more oxygen there is in your blood. Your muscles contract harder and generate more force when they have access to more energy in the form of oxygen.

This is crucial if you're a powerlifter since you want to be able to lift heavy weights with as much force as you can. Additionally, having muscles that receive a lot of oxygen will lessen muscle discomfort. Second, inhaling ammonia-scented smelling salts quickens breathing. 

What Benefits Do Smelling Salts Have for Powerlifting and Other Sports?

Your respiratory rate increases significantly after inhaling smelling salts due to an unconscious inhalation response. Your heart rate rises as your breathing rate does. Your sympathetic nervous system activates as your heart rate rises.

Your body uses the sympathetic nervous system as a natural method to deal with stressful situations. When the fight or flight response is activated, hormones like adrenaline begin to flow, enhancing your focus and alertness. Additionally, gross motor abilities like lifting and running are enhanced.

You might be able to lift more weight by activating your sympathetic nervous system just before a major lift. When you inhale smelling salts right before performing a hard squat, you're essentially providing your body with a stressor that prepares it for action.

Not only powerlifters but other athletes benefit from smelling salts' ability to increase adrenaline. Before entering the ice or field, football and hockey players can frequently be seen sniffing them on the sidelines.

Are Smelling Salts Really Safe to Use?

Large volumes of ammonia gas are harmful. No side effects from using ammonia salts have been documented in the scientific literature since the amount of ammonia gas they release is so minimal. You probably shouldn't use ammonia-smelling salts every time you lift weights or engage in your sport, though, because they irritate the lungs and nose. Just use them occasionally when you're trying for a big PR or playing a game with a lot on the line.

Final Thoughts

Smelling salts are frequently used to improve sports performance or to recover someone who has fainted. If a healthy person uses sniffing salts as directed and refrains from taking them to return to a game or event after becoming injured, there is little risk involved. 

Before taking gym-smelling salts for athletic performance, a person must still speak to their doctor to learn more about how it can impact their health. 

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