Why Weightlifters Huff Smelling Salts Before Lifting Heavy

If you’re reading this, you’re intrigued. You want to learn more, because you’re wondering if (and how) smelling salts could improve your results if you’re lifting heavy. Take a seat, and grab your favorite gym-friendly drink, because there’s a lot to learn about!

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What Are “Poppers” aka Smelling Salts?

One scientific paper — aptly titled simply Smelling Salts — sums things up quite nicely when it defines smelling salts as “preparations of ammonium carbonate ((NH4)2CO3H2O) and perfume, sniffed as a restorative or stimulant”. The paper adds that it’d be better of smelling salts were instead called “aromatic spirits of ammonia”. 

Today, smelling salts may be composed of either ammonia, water, and ethanol, or an ammonium carbonate and perfume blend. 

So, what are they for? Alchemists are known to have used smelling salts since the 13th Century, and they’ve consistently been used, ever since that time, for the same purpose. That is, to help a person who has fainted regain consciousness. 

In this case, the smelling salts are held 10 to 15 centimeters (approximately 4 to 6 inches) from the person’s nose. The distance serves a particular purpose — that is, to ensure that the patient’s nasal mucosa are not excessively irritated or even burned by the ammonia as the person regains consciousness.

Smelling salts are totally legal because of this use. The benefit of using smelling salts outweighs the possible risks when a person has lost consciousness. There is no evidence that smelling salts are in any way dangerous when used to help someone who has fainted regain consciousness so long as they are healthy, but in people with asthma and other respiratory conditions, smelling salts may cause shortness of breath and wheezing. 

How Smelling Salts Work (ammonia impact on nervous system)

We know that smelling salts are very effective in helping people who have fainted regain consciousness — and ancient medical practitioners have been aware of this fact since long before the precise mechanism of action was uncovered. 

It’s now clear that the reason smelling salts are so good at helping people “return to the land of the living” is because the ammonia gas released in the process irritates the sensitive membranes found within the nasal cavity and the airways. This, in turn, sets the powerful inhalation reflex that wakes the patient up in motion. 

ammonia poppers vs preworkout

Why Do Weightlifters and Other Athletes Use Smelling Salts?

Smelling salts, and the ammonia vapors they release, have an abundance of potential far beyond their ability to help a person who has fainted regain consciousness by triggering an inhalation reflex.

Weightlifters, bodybuilders, and other athletes use them for slightly different purposes — ammonia is also, as it turns out, a powerful nervous system stimulant. The actual mechanism of action remains surprisingly similar.

Research into the use of smelling salts outside of their original purpose is still in progress. What’s known so far, however, is fascinating. 

Ammonia has been shown to lead to “significant increases in blood flow velocity in cerebral vasculature” — that is, it boosts blood flow to the brain, which exercise also does. This, of course, results in a sudden and acute sense of alertness. Or, in plain English, if you huff smelling salts, you’ll feel a rush of energy and focus, more so than you’d get from a typical preworkout supplement for example.

Ammonia, as found in smelling salts, was additionally found to increase the heart rate, as the vapor widens blood vessels throughout the body and causes people to breathe more rapidly. This, as any athlete will already know, has the handy side effect of helping people “push through the pain”, by triggering an influx of adrenalin. 

Finally, there’s that inhalation reflex. When you help someone recover after fainting, smelling salts work precisely because this reflex forces them to inhale deeply and fully, flooding their body with oxygen and renewing all the body’s survival processes. 

When you’re getting ready to lift heavy, all that extra oxygen comes in handy — your muscles need that stuff to do their best work, too, after all!

So, does huffing smelling salts and ammonia actually work when you lift heavy? Does it, in other words, increase the maximum force you’re able to exert? Research on the topic is still sorely lacking, but a fairly recent study, published in 2018 and titled Acute Effects of Ammonia Inhalants on Strength and Power Performance in Trained Men, indeed found that smelling salts are able to enhance performance. 

What’s more, despite ample warnings that would make it seem like powerlifters who use smelling salts are inhaling dangerous street drugs, there’s no indication that smelling salts can cause complications in otherwise healthy athletes. 

The only exception would lie in the use of smelling salts and ammonia to overcome the effects of a concussion more quickly. This may, as anyone working on sports medicine would readily tell you, mask the symptoms of a concussion. That may give an athlete the temporary power to keep going, but only at the cost of potentially extremely serious consequences. Don’t keep training and competing when you could even conceivably have a concussion. Your health is worth more than that.

What Do Smelling Salts and Ammonia Make You Feel?

Huffing smelling salts before lifting heavy gets your blood flowing, floods your body with oxygen, awakens every part of your brain, and makes your adrenalin levels spike as your fight or flight (in this case, hopefully fight!) response is activated. 

Smelling salts are irritating — in the literal, not the proverbial, sense — AF, so at first they’re gonna shock your system and make you feel pretty ticked off. The experience isn’t meant to be fun. It’s meant to take your lifts to the next level. That’s what happens next. All the effects kick in, and you’ll be ready to kick ass in that training or competition. 

You’ll feel more powerful, because you’ll be more powerful.

Because the ammonia gas released through smelling salts bypasses your natural fear response as you get ready for battle, it’s crucial to remain fully in control and responsible. Don’t lift more than you’ve been preparing for, more than the maximum you know your body (at its very best) can handle. If you ignore this warning, you could end up hurt. But it won’t be the smelling salts that are hurting you, it’ll be your own irresponsibility. 

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How to Use Smelling Salts for Weightlifting

If you’re not familiar with the right way to use smelling salts to enhance athletic performance, we would warmly recommend that you check out some videos that show it in action. Before huffing smelling salts for the first time, remember that:

  • Huffing smelling salts has absolutely nothing in common with smelling a flower! You don’t bring the bottle to your nose and then inhale deeply through your nostrils!
  • Huffing smelling salts for athletic performance is also a bit different than administering smelling salts to someone who’s just fainted. When someone has fainted, they’re obviously not taking any conscious actions of any kind. You bring the bottle to the general vicinity of their nose (about 15 cm) and wait for the response to kick in. 

When you’re huffing (not sniffing!) smelling salts, you keep the bottle further away from your nose — around 30 cm, or one foot. Wait for the ammonia molecules to make their way to your system. You’ll know when it happens. 

Then, get ready to lift heavy! Really, though, only use smelling salts to enhance the performance of techniques you’ve already practiced and have down cold, to get that added advantage.

Best Smelling Salts for Powerlifters & Weightlifters

Want to try smelling salts for yourself? Take a look at the best smelling salts for athletes on the market today! If you’re a bodybuilder then yeah these are for you too but unless you’re one rep maxing on the regular we think efficaciously dosed preworkouts get the job done well enough.

1. Dynarex Ammonia Inhalant

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Dynarex is a leading American provider of medical supplies of all kinds and their ammonia inhalant is the gold standard option. They make stuff like bed rail bumpers for hospitals and nursing homes, medical squirt bottles, tattoo needles, gauze dressings, aspirator tips for dentists and orthodonists, and so on. 

We mention this because that means your smelling salts — called ammonia inhalant, in this case — will arrive in the most inconspicuous, pharmaceutical-looking, package possible. These smelling salts look like something you might carry in a first-aid kit on the off chance you encounter someone who faints. Which is good for you if you want to be discrete. 

Here’s what else you need to know:

  • Dynarex Ammonia Inhalant comes in single-serve ampules that you crack open. There are 50 in a package.
  • The ingredient list is short, as it should be — 0.33 cc of 35 percent alcohol and 15 percent ammonia.
  • They’re really cheap — $0.36 per ampule.

2. AmmoniaSpor Athletic Smelling Salts

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AmmoniaSpor’s RAW Splas & Sniff Athletic Smelling Salts were formulated especially with athletes in mind, and actively advertised as offering strength, energy, and focus. These, too, have an ammonia content of 15 percent. They’re also more expensive, at $0.64 per ampule. 

So, what do you get from this product made for lifters, apart from a heavier price tag and a pretty package that will look at home among your collection of preworkouts, protein powders, and athletic multivitamin supplements, you wonder? 

These smelling salts add some nice essential oils, including lavender oil NF, lemon oil NF, and nutmeg oil. Respectively, these might help you find inner peace, add to your energy, and help you counter the sense of respiratory irritation you get from the ammonia. That last one, especially, is a nice touch.

3. Jujimufu AHHH!!! Smelling Salts

extra strong smelling salts

Jujimufu AHHH!!! Smelling Salts are some of the strongest smelling salt anywhere in the world. At $18 a bottle, they’re also among the pricier ones. Don’t want to mess around with single-use ampules that can only offer quickly-waning, and sometimes disappointing, effects? Go for this formula, which will reach your nose and nervous system directly through the bottle’s opening, instead. 

4. Zenith Wicked Strong Smelling Salts

Zenith | Wicked Strong Smelling Salts | Heaviest Powder Smelling Salt Available | Low Profile Bottle Design | Designed With Chemistry In Mind | Reliable | Long Lasting Ammonia Power
  • EASY TO USE - JUST ADD WATER TO THE COTTON BALL AND SHAKE - It doesn't take a lot of liquid to start the reaction that creates the extremely potent ammonia smelling salt reaction in our Zenith smelling salt bottle. Add just 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of water...

If you’re a fan of that general genre — strong smelling salts that don’t require ampules, that is — Zenith Wicked Strong Smelling Salts are another very solid choice. This product calls for you to add a tablespoon of water to the cotton ball inside the bottle to activate the smelling salts. Once its efficiency decreases, over time, you can just add a little more water to get your smelling salts going again. Zenith’s smelling salts cost $10 a bottle.

5. Crains Nose Tork Smelling Salts

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Crains Nose Tork Smelling Salts have got to be on your radar, for the simple reason that these potent smelling salts have been on the market since 1993 and the brand’s still going strong. Why are these smelling salts a winner? Because they’re just lying around there, inside the bottle, in chunk form, and a single bottle of these smelling salts will last you a very long time. All you have to do is seal the bottle back off immediately after huffing your smelling salts, and Nose Tork will be the gift that keeps on giving. The price, nearly $30, is more than worth it. 

6. Atomic Rhino Smelling Salts

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Powerlifters who have been relying on smelling salts to boost their performance for years will always be on the lookout for the strongest stuff around — including the picks we’ve highlighted already. If you’re reading this beginner’s guide to smelling salts, though, chances are you’re entirely new to them. In that case, you won’t want to start with the most potent formula right away. 

Atomic Rhino Smelling Salts are a good and convenient choice for you. These smelling salts come in a liquid form and follow the same open and huff philosophy you’ve just read about. They’re quite powerful, but not so powerful that you won’t know what hit you. Atomic Rhino’s smelling salts are, in other words, just right for beginners. 

lift furiously

Skinny Yoked Summary

The six smelling salt brands we’ve highlighted are far from the only ones, of course. They’re joined by a whole army of smelling salts designed especially for athletes — and what generally sets these apart from the medical-use-only ones is that they rely on the idea that the same athlete can use the same bottle again and again. They’re also joined by single-use smelling salts for first-aid use, which tend to be cheap and discrete but also slightly less powerful.

Last update on 2024-06-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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