Feeling dizzy or lightheaded when exercising happens to all of us at some point, but the process of why is more complex than you might think!
Introducing…… the Valsalva maneuver
The valsalva maneuver is a forceful exhalation against a closed airway that increases pressure in the thoracic cavity and results in decreased venous return.
The valsalva maneuver is a technique used by weight lifters. It involves holding the breath to generate greater force. It increases the pressure in your abdominal cavity, while not limiting the end volume. Its designed to enhance force production and power within an exercise.
Holding your breath is a natural response when exposed to lifting heavy loads. I guess we all think breathing is one extra thing to do, or suddenly we feel stressed ‘can i lift this, how is this going to be possible!, ill hold my breath to lift it’.
Well in a sense it does. Holding your breath increases the pressure in your abdominal cavity through the contraction of the respiratory muscles.
But! This also means heart rate and blood pressure levels rise to account for the increase in carbon dioxide this causes.
Have you ever felt very hot, find yourself puffing harder once you lower the weight, or can’t catch you breath back altogether afterwards??
While holding your breath may give you a better force production to lift the weight, the affects on your heart rate can mean:
- You will recover from the lift a lot slower
- You may feel light-headed due to the change in blood pressure this causes
This move can however prove beneficial in protecting against injury during heavy lifting.
The ligaments surrounding the spine can only support a certain amount of pressure before failing. Using the valsalva maneuver during heavy lifts, such as the Romanian dead lift, squats, bench press, and clean and jerk, assists core musculature in supporting the spine and decreases the compressible load. It is beneficial to use this technique with exercises like these that require a stable core.
So how do you get the balance of both right?
When lifting lighter weight i.e. dumbbells or hand weights DO NOT use this technique. Focus on keeping an even inhale and exhale, exhaling during the most difficult part of the exercise, or when lifting the load.
When using a barbell to perform heavy lifts, use the following technique:
Inhale before the exercise,
Hold your breath during the most difficult part of the lift (e.g. while pulling the dead-lift from the floor)
Exhale to complete the lift
Using these 2 practices will ensure you keep the balance between injury prevention and avoiding dangerous changes in blood pressure and heart rate just right.
What’s your breathing like?
If you have trouble breathing and would like some correction, or simply need time to practice these techniques get in contact!. Our yoga classes are a great option for training the valgus response and allowing your body to become more aware of its breath.