Gassing Out: What It Is and How to Avoid It


If you’re in any weightlifting or fitness communities, you might have heard of or experienced gassing out. Most people experience this when they’re using more energy or breathing faster than usual, like with huge lifts, and especially people that do MMA or boxing.

Put simply, gassing out means that your body isn’t able to send enough oxygen to your muscles. You’ll quickly become exhausted, and unable to perform whatever you’re trying to do.

Explaining the true meaning of gassing out and how to prevent it.

There are a few different causes of getting gassed out, but most of it comes down to your cardiovascular strength and anaerobic reserve. I’ll go over these more in depth below, but basically, it means how efficiently your heart and lungs work together and how strong they are.

The best way to overcome this is practicing your sport, and doing more cardio. Lots of weightlifters, in particular, avoid cardio because they think they don’t need it, myself included. However, you need some cardio training in order to do big lifts.

Gassing out is a big problem for weightlifters in competitions. When you’re in a competition it’s easy to become nervous and lose your breath. Losing your breath means that your muscles aren’t getting oxygen, and you’ll get tired very quickly.

Your breathing patterns also come into play. If you aren’t breathing the right way, you won’t get enough oxygen into your blood and muscles to fuel whatever activity you’re doing.

Once you become gassed out, it’s difficult to recover in time. You’ll probably have to sit the rest of the event out, or just perform poorly. This being said, it’s easy to avoid gassing out with the right knowledge and training.

Causes of Gassing Out

As I mentioned, the cause of gassing out is the lack of oxygen getting to your muscles. This itself has a few different causes, and here are a few of them:

Weak Heart

If your heart is weak, it won’t be able to pump enough blood to your body. Without this oxygen-rich blood, your muscles won’t be able to function properly. You might not even feel tired or sore, but you won’t be able to use your muscles to their full extent.

Weak Lungs

The same as having a weak heart, having weak lungs will set you back. Your lungs are responsible for putting the oxygen from the air into your blood as you breathe. If your lungs aren’t strong enough, they won’t be able to give your blood the oxygen it needs fast enough. Just like having a weak heart, this results in your muscles not having enough oxygen.

It Boils Down to Cardio and Conditioning

All of this comes down to not doing enough cardio. You can practice lifting all the weights you want, or hit the punching bag a thousand times, but if your cardiovascular system isn’t in shape, you’ll fail to perform. It sucks, but if you want to keep up your performance, you have to practice cardio.

Who Deals With Gassing Out?

Men in a boxing ring, doing muay thai.

The only people that really experience gassing out are people that do a lot of physical activity, especially in competitions when it matters most. Here are just a few:

Weightlifters

Weightlifters are often guilty of not doing cardio, myself included. Lots of people think that because weightlifting is just, well, lifting weights, that they don’t need cardio. Believe it or not, this is far from the truth. Lifting large amounts of weight raises your blood pressure, and demands oxygen-rich blood. If you never do cardio, you’ll get gassed out, and unable to finish your workout or competition.

MMA/Boxing

MMA is probably the sport that most people get gassed out in. While less MMA fighters are guilty of avoiding cardio, it demands much more cardio training than other sports. Fighters often use cardio as one of their main aspects of training. This being said, sometimes it’s not enough. With any sport, cardio ends up being one of the most important parts of training.

Runners

For runners, this one is obvious. The pillar of running is cardio, and if you push yourself too far, you’ll get gassed out. You’ll find yourself unable to keep going, even if your muscles aren’t even tired. The way to get around this is just to keep practicing and work your way up to bigger runs slowly.

Why Cardio Does Matter

As I mentioned, many weightlifters skip out on cardio. Cardio is hard to do, and if you’re trying to build muscle, you don’t want to burn too many calories.

This makes sense, but if you’re a competitive powerlifter or weightlifter, you need cardio. If you don’t train your cardiovascular system, you’ll end up running out of energy very early on.

Even if you’re actually strong enough to lift those big weights, if your muscles don’t have enough oxygen, you won’t be able to. Gassing out seems like a big problem, and that’s partly true.

This being said, even if it’s a big problem, it’s relatively easy to avoid. Competitions have variables that the comfort of your own gym doesn’t have. Things like nervousness, a different environment, and more can all negatively impact your ability to perform.

This means that when you’re in a competition, you might struggle to lift weights you could easily lift normally. To avoid this, find a way to add cardio into your routine, and adjust your diet if you have to account for more burnt calories.

Getting gassed out can ruin a competition, and set you back the whole day. If you want to do your best at your next competition or training session, start doing some cardio.

Tips to Avoid Gassing Out

Men biking up a hill in a race.

Getting gassed out isn’t inevitable. If you do a few things, you can avoid getting exhausted prematurely and hit bigger lifts, for longer. These are a few ways you can avoid it:

Train Cardio

As I’ve mentioned a few times by now, cardio is key for avoiding gassing out. If you’re in shape cardio wise, you’re much less likely to run out of energy. Going for a run, or even a walk, will make you healthier. Anything that works out your heart and lungs will be hugely beneficial to you.

Remember to Breathe

When you’re doing a big lift, it’s easy to forget to breathe. Holding your breath allows pressure to build up in your body, which can actually help you lift bigger weights. This being said, if you aren’t breathing enough, your muscles won’t be getting any oxygen. Within a short amount of time, you won’t be able to lift anymore, even though your muscles aren’t tired. Remember to breathe!

Practice as Much as Possible

Practicing anything will make you better at it, improving little by little. If you’re planning on lifting a certain amount at a competition, make sure that you get to that weight or more in practice. If you try to lift more than you should at a competition, you’ll run out of energy and won’t be able to perform.

Explaining the Anaerobic Power Reserve

If you don’t know, aerobic means a surplus of oxygen, and anaerobic means the absence of oxygen. Your anaerobic power is basically how much power your body can produce without taking in oxygen, and the opposite for aerobic.

Put simply, your anaerobic power reserve is the combination of the two, so it’s the total amount of power and energy that you put out. Once you use up your anaerobic power, you have to recover before you get it back.

Because weightlifting and powerlifting require so much energy, you run out of anaerobic power much faster than in other sports. If you want to avoid getting gassed out, you have to increase your power reserve.

You can do this by practicing and training, as well as doing cardio. Preparing your body for extreme performance is the best way to actually perform well in a competition.

Expanding your anaerobic ability is beneficial for every physical activity, not just weightlifting. It’ll help you with every sport, as well as making your heart healthier, which can even give you a longer life.

The downside to this is that your anaerobic power reserve is hard to calculate. This being said, you’ll know it’s increasing when you can do more of your sport for longer periods of time.

Gassing out in Competitions

When you’re in a competition, weightlifting, powerlifting, or any other sport, it’s easy to get nervous. When you’re nervous you aren’t performing at your best, and you start to breathe faster.

All of this leads to you running out of energy faster and getting tired before you should. This is a harder problem to fix, but it can still be done. Honestly, competitive weightlifters and powerlifters have a lot to be nervous about in competitions.

You can be worried about how you’ll perform if it’s a public event you could have stage fright, or be worried about how you look in front of other people. All of these things suck, but you can overcome them by getting used to competitions and gaining more confidence.

Being nervous about how well you do in the competition will only make you do worse, so it really hurts your performance. In a competition, you should be focused on doing your best, and not worrying about anything.

If you’re too nervous, you’ll get gassed out, and you can even pass out if it’s bad enough. If you work on your confidence, and you keep going to competitions, you’ll do better in no time.

How to Control Your Breathing

Learning to control your breathing has benefits in and outside of weightlifting. Lots of people, myself included, forget to breathe sometimes while you’re actually lifting the weights.

This is a surefire way to run out of energy and get gassed out before you reach your full potential.

The secret to breathing the right way is actually simple. Just remember to breathe!

While you’re lifting, just think about breathing, and actually do it. While this is simple, there’s a great method to enhance you’re breathing.

For example, while hitting the bench press, inhale as you bring the weights down, and exhale as you push up. This goes the same for other exercises, just breathe out during the part of the lift where your muscles are doing the most work.

There’s actually not much research to back this up, but it’s a great way to set up a pattern for your breathing.

If you forget to breathe, you’ll run out of breath and energy in no time. It can actually ruin your entire session in the gym because it takes a while for your body to recover.

Next time you’re in the gym, focus on breathing during your lifts. This way, you can spend more time effectively in the gym, and make more gains.

Stop Being so Tense

A lot of the time, when you’re weightlifting, your whole body is tense. You need to tense up some of your muscles to complete any exercise.

This being said, tensing up unnecessary muscles is a quick way to use up all of your energy, run out of breath, and get gassed out.

If you focus on relaxing your other muscles, you’ll find that you can lift even more weight than you thought.

This can be difficult, especially with compound exercises like deadlifts. This being said, it can still be done, it just might take a little extra effort.

Whenever you use a muscle or flex one, it requires oxygen from your blood. Putting tension on muscles that you don’t need to wastes oxygen, and will make you run out of air faster.

You’ll get tired much faster and probably finish lifting before you should. All this energy put into your muscles is unnecessary, and a waste.

When you’re in the gym, try to be conscious of what muscles are relaxed and which ones are activated.

If you find that extra muscles are being flexed, try to relax the ones you don’t need. If you do this, you’ll be able to lift more, and for longer.

Gassing out in Martial Arts

Men fighting each other in a boxing match.

As I mentioned earlier, people who do martial arts often experience gassing out more often than weightlifters. Because this site is mainly about weightlifting, here’s an article about avoiding gassing out in MMA.Opens in a new tab. 

This being said, I’ll still give fighters a few tips. The only difference between weightlifters and fighters is how much cardio you need. In MMA or any type of fighting, there’s much more cardio involved than weightlifting.

You’re running around the ring, dodging attacks, throwing punches and kicks, which all takes a huge toll on your cardiovascular system. If you don’t properly train cardio, you’ll run out of breath right after you get started. With any sport, cardio is the building block to success.

Without it, you won’t have enough oxygen going to your muscles to do well. For MMA, try going for runs, practicing footwork, or just boxing itself. Another great way to do cardio for MMA, or anything else, is jump rope.

If you’ve been doing MMA for a while, you probably already know this, but it’s important nonetheless. The basics to avoiding gassing out in MMA, just like any activity, is more cardio. For MMA however, it might be a little more vigorous than weightlifting.

The Bottom Line

Gassing out may seem like a complicated issue, but the solution is relatively simple. The word “gas” in gassed out is referring to the oxygen in your body and muscles. As I’ve mentioned, gassing out is what happens when your heart and lungs can’t give your muscles enough oxygen.

This causes your muscles to not work right, and you’ll stop being able to lift as much. While this is happening, you won’t even feel tired or sore, and you might be left wondering what happened to your muscles.

It’ll also take your body a while to recover from being gassed out, and you’ll probably be done for the day or at least a few hours. Getting gassed out can have many different causes, but avoiding it comes down to simple basics: doing more cardio.

If you do more cardio, your heart, as well as your lungs, will become stronger. This means that they can pump oxygen-rich blood to your muscles in bigger quantities and more efficiently. Your muscles need oxygen in order to work, so when they get more of it, they end up working better.

Running is a great way to get better at cardio. If you’re not ready for that, try building up to it by going on walks, and slowly increase your speed.

Another way to overcome gassing out is to do more of what you do, whether it’s running, weightlifting, or boxing/MMA. More practice will help your body get ready for a competition, as well as making you more healthy along the way.

Gassing out is something that almost all athletes deal with. It can seem daunting, but with the right practice, some cardio, and some dedication, you can lessen its effect on your performance.

Pete Schenkel

My name is Pete Schenkel, and I've been into weightlifting since I was a teenager. Now, my main focus is growing Powerful Lifting and putting more information out there. In fact, I'm also currently working on becoming a certified personal trainer.

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