Valsalva Maneuver- Are you breathing the right way?

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 targeted muscle group. But we seldom talk about the breathing technique that must accompany the entire range of motion.  

Till now we knew 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 breathe-in and breathe-out technique be followed or is something else is needed?

What is Valsalva maneuver?

Valsalva Maneuver is 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 stabilises the spine and mid-body and protects the lumbar while lifting heavier weights. We don’t need to do anything out of the box to implement it; we already 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.

Is Valsalva a safe technique?

This technique is quite effective in minimizing the occurrence of spine injuries and enhancing performance, but there is a certain risk associated with this maneuver which one should be aware of. Valsalva Maneuver has shown to increase blood pressure and cardiovascular strain, but researches have also shown that if it’s done with resistance training then these effects are minimized. But the question still remains, is it safe?

My answer to it will be, if you have a past history of cardiovascular disease then it’s better to cautious while using this technique. Resistance training will improve the cardiovascular profile, so if you fall in one of the high-risk profiles, then slowly improve your lifting 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 perform the Valsalva maneuver correctly

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 exercises.  For example, if performing a back squat, then –

  1. First, unrack the weighted bar.
  2. Take your position and place your feet 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.

The entire range of motion should be done in a span of 3-4 seconds (max), as holding the air for too long might give you dizziness, bleeding nose, or lightheadedness, which might be dangerous.

In conclusion

As with any other exercise technique, the standard warning is that proper caution should be maintained while utilizing this rewarding technique as well. While the Valsalva maneuver can benefit your heavier sets tremendously, doing it without adequate knowledge or sufficient experience can cause more harm than good. Also, if you are new to training then gradually increase your lifting capabilities rather than jumping to heavier weights.

Keep lifting and stay healthy!


Article Credits – Suraj Ray

Suraj Ray

Suraj Ray

Hi, I am Suraj Ray, an Expert Level Certified Nutrition and Training Consultant (INFS). I have 2 years of real time experience in fitness and lifestyle transformation. I prefer to understand the goals and limitations of my client before starting their program. The program is custom made based on the observations made by keeping the limitations and benefit under consideration. For me, fitness is an undetectable part and we are together for quite some time. The regime started long back when I used to train with my father and from where I learned the significance of a fit and healthy life. My objective is simple and clear, I want to make as many people as I can fit and healthier. I understand that the mission is not an easy one and “easy” is something that I am not looking for. With SQUATS I have taken an oath and will fulfill it by helping you with your fitness goal. It's will be a mutual job for me and you to bring your fitness goal and my vision into reality.