Have you ever seem Powerlifters snort a bottle of something, screw their face up and chuck the bottle on the floor before attempting an insanely heavy lift? Ever wonder what this stuff was, if it was legal and what was actually happening?
Well, so did I. It just looked really odd, and so did the lifters aggro stomping walk that immediately followed. What the hell is going on?!
It’s Nose Tork – They’re sniffing Ammonia
Turns out this stuff is quite popular, especially amongst those who regularly compete or train heavy max lifts. I was intrigued – curiosity killed the cat. I took the plunge and picked up a bottle, in the spirit of objective evaluation of course!
What Gap Is It Trying To Fill?
As I prep for a heavy daunting lift, such a new max in the 1-4 Rep Max range, here’s my standard process:
- I visualise the lift going well
- I try to not freak myself out about the weight. That said, I end up pacing…
- I blast music really loud – the more aggressive bassy beat the better!
- I make sure I’ve recovered from the last set
- I might do some light muscle activation work if I feel I need to wake up a certain muscle group (e.g. diagonal band pulldowns to fire up lats ahead of Deadlift)
- Strap on my SBD Belt with 30 seconds to go
- Approach the bar with some energy. Perhaps some aggression
- I say to myself “It’s light weight” or “this will be easy”
- Take a deep breath. Hold it in and Press/Squat/Deadlift
- Most importantly – I try to keep my head in the game as I am lifting. More difficult than it sounds, as your mind has a tendency to wonder around in destructive ways.
But That’s Not Always Enough…
However, this sometimes still isn’t enough.
Sometimes I find my airways feel stuffy, or I simply cannot get enough air in to fuel the level of intensity ahead. Sometimes I can feel sinus-y during a heavy set of 3-4 Reps.
Also, with every will in the world, sometimes you can’t tap into your inner beast. Maybe it’s because of my lower than normal testosterone level for my age. I’m just not a super aggressive guy – more of a lover than as fighter. Don’t get me wrong, I can get pissed when things aren’t going my way, but I can struggle to call upon that anger at the drop of a hat, set after set.
Enter Nose Tork…
In my personal experience, and based upon the common reasons for using this stuff, Nose Tork (Smelling Ammonia) helps fill this gap.
Smelling Salts are within First Aid Kits and used by doctors to bring people back to if they have fainted, or to stimulant concussed NFL players. Well, Ammonia is the same thing, just stronger.
The Sciencey Bit
It open your Trachea (windpipe) and fires up your Nervous System, causing an immediate stimulant-type response.
Going back to Smelling Salts, they arouse consciousness because the release of ammonia (NH3) gas that accompanies their use which irritates the membranes of the nose and lungs, and thereby triggers an inhalation reflex. This reflex alters the pattern of breathing, resulting in improved respiratory flow rates and alertness.
What Happens In Reality?
As the image below suggests, it definitely creates this reflexive scrunching of our face – that’s for sure!
You need to hold the pot at least 10-15cm away from your nose – get too close and you feel a sense of your nostrils burning! Once you take a big sniff, it lights you up like a Christmas Tree. It opens up your airways immediately like sniffing Vicks VapoRub when you bunged up as a kid. It felt good then, and still feels good now.
Plus, this jolt of extra oxygen and the mild irritation caused by the ammonia seems to sharpen your mind, awaken your nervous system and get your fired up. You literally get this flash of aggression and quite often the need to shout something out. I promise, I haven’t got tourettes… 🙈
Does It Actually Help Lifts?
I can confirm, it does seem to help… on the really heavy lifts. I’m talking the 1-4 Rep Range. For lighter weight it just isn’t needed in my experience.
It helps with that missing piece for me – that sharpness, concentration and aggression as you psych yourself up to rip the bar off the floor or commence the nervous accent with your max weight on your back. The video below was 2 (almost 3) reps at 180kg PB, following a quick sniff of the stuff. [now up to 185kg for 3]
Is It Dangerous?
While there are numerous case reports of the toxicity of ammoniacal agents when ingested in large doses or inhaled in high concentration for prolonged periods there are, in fact, no reports of adverse health problems related to the use of smelling salts in sport.
That PB Is Waiting For You…
You heard it here. If you need that extra little nudge to get you in the zone for your next max lift, than a quick sniff of Nose Tork may give you the edge you need. It’s not miracle stuff mind you, the strength and form is all you. Don’t overuse it, as the effect will wear off, like any stimulant. Be safe people, and…
Follow the Training Tips, Tricks & Tools Microblog as it unfolds, and we deliver more honest and practical experiences. Comment if you have questions or ideas.