It’s squat day. There… stands the bar. It’s just a hunk of metal, right? No. No, it isn’t. In your mind it is a death trap meant to send you into an oblivion from which there is no return. Now, I’m not here to talk about mental fortitude. What I am here to offer is a simple solution that WILL help you lift heavier weights, be they squats, presses, or any lift that requires your spine to be stiff and rigid i.e. every lift with an external load!
To lift heavy weights, you have to learn how to master the Valsalva Maneuver.
What the Valsalva Maneuver Is
How rigid you can keep your core is an important factor in lifting heavy weights. Given that there is so much fluid and so little gas in the abdominal cavity, you need a strategy for making all that liquid work for you! By tensing the muscles of the abdomen, you are able to increase the intra-abdominal pressure on these fluids which then supports the spine during heavy lifts. The Valsalva Maneuver goes a bit further to help you increase the amount of pressure you can exert into your core.
How it works is that you draw a deep breath in and hold it prior to your lift commencing. By holding your breath and squeezing your abs you increase the pressure of the abdominal fluids on the lower torso and air in the upper torso, respectively. Bracing both parts of the torso through this strategy increases the rigidity of your entire torso. A stiffer torso means you have a better chance of lifting more weight.
Valsalva Maneuver: Use with Caution
While this strategy can aid performance, there are a couple of drawbacks. First, holding the breath while lifting heavy will increase your blood pressure and potentially cause you to pass out. Exhibit A…
Second, if you have any kind of heart issues, do NOT utilize this strategy as it increases the compressive forces on the heart. Increasing the difficulty of blood returning back to the heart is something you don’t want if your ticker is not tip-top!
The Valsalva Maneuver is essential to improving your performance and safety in the gym. With any training tool at your disposal, however, use it with understanding and caution.