Why Every Lifter Should Be Using Ammonia (Smelling Salts)


It might seem strange for you to hear that lifters are sniffing ammonia, but it’s actually pretty common, and it’s becoming more common every year. But why do lifters sniff ammonia, and does it really work?

Some lifters use ammonia, or smelling salts, because they allow the user to lift more weight. This works by giving you a rush of adrenaline, which helps you ignore pain and fatigue, giving you greater strength capabilities.

The basics of using smelling salts is pretty simple. You sniff the ammonia, either from a bottle and a capsule, and you get a burst of energy and adrenaline that helps you lift more weight. While the basics are straightforward, the use of smelling salts get much more complicated, which I’ll get into below.

So What Do Lifters Sniff?

With how complicated the response process is with smelling salts, you’d be surprised to learn how simple their makeup is. But what are lifters actually sniffing?

Many lifters choose to sniff smelling salts, which are made mainly from ammonium carbonate. This chemical is combined with water and ethanol, to provide an easy way to consume them, either in capsules that you break open, or powder form in a bottle.

Historically, smelling salts were made up of a combination of ammonium carbonate and perfume. Ammonium carbonate is the active ingredient that makes smelling salts work, and perfume was added to make them smell not so horrible.

Lifter recovering after lifting a lot of weight.

During these past times, smelling salts were used to wake up people that had passed out. In modern times, we’ve learned it’s potentially dangerous to use ammonia to revive someone who’s unconscious, as it can exacerbate head and spine injuries.

Either way, the main ingredient has always been ammonium carbonate. More specifically, ammonium carbonate is ((NH4)2CO3H2O). Today, we have the ability to make this chemical in laboratories, but in the past, we actually got ammonium carbonate from the hooves and horns of deer!

In the present, the production of smelling salts is much more simple. Scientists create the ammonium carbonate in a lab and combine it with water and ethanol. Put it in a bottle, and it’s ready to help you reach a new PR.

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Why Lifters Should Use Ammonia

As I mentioned earlier, smelling salts give you adrenaline. I’ll get more into how that actually happens later on, but for now, let’s focus on why more adrenaline is a good thing for lifters.

Graphic showing the benefits of smelling salts.

While adrenaline from ammonia helps you lift more weight, it doesn’t actually make you any stronger. In fact, you’re just as strong without extra adrenaline as you are with it. According to a professor from the University of Washington, most humans can lift up to 6-7 times their body-weight. The reason you can’t go out and lift your car, however, is mostly fear.

Fear of injury, pain, and fatigue all limit your strength. Even if you’re not consciously afraid of hurting yourself while lifting, it’s always in the back of your subconscious. This is where adrenaline comes in.

Getting a surge of adrenaline from smelling salts, or from anything for that matter, causes you to forget about fear and pain for a short time, by going into fight or flight. Once you get past these worries, you can lift an incredible amount of weight.

To put it simply, your body and muscles are capable of doing a lot more than you would ever think, but fear and pain limit this hidden strength severely. Smelling salts give you adrenaline, which allows you to overcome these fears and feelings, and lift a lot of weight.

If you’re a lifter who’s not using ammonia, you’re at a disadvantage. How can you compete when other lifters are able to overcome their pain, fatigue, and subconscious fear of injury?

While ammonia itself won’t make you any stronger, it will indirectly. You will be lifting more weight with ammonia, which in turn does end up making you stronger. It’s somewhat similar to how creatine functions.

Read Next: Should Beginner Lifters Take Creatine?

Creatine doesn’t make you any stronger, but it helps you lift more, which will make you stronger in the long run.

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How Smelling Salts Work

Now that you know how this adrenaline helps you lift more weight, let’s get into how smelling salts give you adrenaline in the first place. This might get complicated, so stick with me.

Ammonia gas, which is the key component in smelling salts, is toxic in large amounts. There’s no evidence of it being harmful from smelling salts, because the concentration is so low, but it’s toxic nonetheless.

When ammonia gets into your nose, it irritates your nerves. Through a large chain of events, this causes your breathing rate to increase, which causes your heart rate to increase, which jump starts your sympathetic nervous system.

Your sympathetic nervous system turns on in “stressful” environments, which starts the fight or flight process. As you learned earlier, this fight or flight effect is responsible for supplying your brain with adrenaline.

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Is Sniffing Ammonia Bad for You?

I mentioned earlier that large amounts of ammonia gas is toxic, and the fact that it’s dangerous to use to wake someone up that’s become unconscious. All of that is true however there are a few caveats.

Ammonia is toxic in large amounts, but smelling salts are generally safe to use. The amount of ammonia contained in smelling salts is negligible for ammonia toxicity, and it would be difficult for you to overuse them.

When smelling salts are used in the right context, like in the gym, there’s no evidence to prove that they’re harmful.

First, let’s get into ammonia toxicity. Yes, it’s harmful in large amounts, but when you’re only taking one or two sniffs from a bottle, there’s not nearly enough of it to put you in harm’s way. There’s just the right amount to give you some adrenaline without endangering you or your health.

Now, let’s get into using it on people that have passed out. In boxing, for example, when someone was knocked out, they used to use smelling salts to wake them back up. This sounds fine, but issues came about with those boxers having injuries, and it lead to smelling salts being banned in boxing altogether (I’ll get more into this later).

Boxer being knocked out in the ring.

If someone that was knocked out has a spine injury, using smelling salts can make that injury much worse. I mentioned earlier that when you use ammonia, it causes you to breathe faster. It also causes you to inhale sharply, which, if you already have a spine injury, can make bend your spine and make your injury even worse.

Fortunately for you as a lifter, you don’t have to worry about this. If your spine isn’t actively broken, there’s nothing you have to worry about. The sharp inhale I just mentioned isn’t dangerous to someone that’s uninjured, and it’s not going to break your back.

To wrap everything up, as long as you’re not inhaling gallons of ammonia, and you aren’t already severely injured, smelling salts most likely won’t hurt you.

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Do Sports Leagues Allow Ammonia?

As I just mentioned, smelling salts are banned in boxing competitions because of concerns about pre-existing injuries. While this is true, there are no other major sports leagues that bar the use of ammonia during or leading up to competitions.

In fact, the use of smelling salts is widespread among athletes of all types, lifters, hockey players, football players, and almost every major sport with high-intensity bouts of exercise, and their use is growing more widespread every year.

Even in boxing, some boxers presumably use ammonia in training leading up to matches because of how effective it is at pushing your body to new strength.

Aside from sports leagues, there’s also the question of whether or not ammonia is even legal to use in different countries. If you’re interested, check out my article on whether or not smelling salts are legal!

So, if you’re a lifter of any type, or an athlete, you’re able to use ammonia. The only time you wouldn’t be able to is if you’re a boxer, and you’ve just been knocked out. That’s pretty specific, and if you’re reading this, you’re most likely not in that situation.

How to Use Smelling Salts Safely and Effectively

I just mentioned this earlier, but it’d be pretty difficult for you to hurt yourself with ammonia. Yes, smelling salts work by irritating the inside of your nose, but that’s not enough to cause any harm.

In reality, smelling salts are pretty safe, but there are still some general guidelines for how you should use and take them not only for safety but effectively and efficiently as well.

Graphic showing instructions for using ammonia.

After you buy your smelling salts, which I’ll go over how to do below, you’ve done most of the hard work. Right before you’re about to lift, either open your bottle or break a capsule and take a sniff. Make sure you don’t hold them too close to your nose so that you don’t overly irritate your nerves.

It might take you a few times to get it just right, but it’ll be easy.

After you actually sniff the ammonia, all you have to do is lift. The extra adrenaline kicks in pretty fast, so you shouldn’t have to wait around.

The only other thing that I should add is that you shouldn’t use smelling salts too often. Use them when you need them, but if ammonia is overused, you risk becoming dependent on them while you’re lifting and even developing a tolerance. If this happens, smelling salts will stop being effective for you.

Where Can You Buy Smelling Salts?

Like most other supplements today, you can find smelling salts online. My favorite one is Nose Tork, and it’s available on Amazon. Nose Tork is one of the most popular brands of ammonia that you can find, but there are countless other brands available on Amazon too.

On top of that, you can also find them on almost any other website that sells any type of lifting website. In this day and age, buying smelling salts, especially online, is really simple.

These days, it’s very simple to find smelling salts. All you need to do is a quick search online, and you’ll be able to order them right away. To put it simply, if you want to find them, you will.

Why Lifters Use Ammonia in Competition

If you’ve read this article until this point, you already know how ammonia works and why it helps a lot of lifters. You might not know, however, that many lifters, and even athletes in other sports, use smelling salts before and during competitions.

After all, if you’re going to use ammonia when you’re training, it makes sense to use it when you’re competing as well.

Man squatting a lot of weight after using smelling salts.

Earlier, I mentioned that smelling salts help you forget about things like fatigue and pain when you’re lifting. When you’re in a competition, ammonia can also help you forget about things like stage fright and competition anxiety.

Think about it. If you’re scared, nervous, or anxious when you’re at a lifting meet, you won’t be performing your best. If ammonia can help you overcome these things, it makes perfect sense that lifters would use it in competition.

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What Do Smelling Salts Smell Like?

When you sniff ammonia, you tend to not actually smell it, because you’re so focused on the rush of energy. This being said, ammonia typically does have a very pungent odor to it. What do smelling salts actually smell like?

The main ingredient in smelling salts is ammonia. Ammonia is commonly used in many cleaning agents, causing many people to be reminded of products like Windex when they use smelling salts.

Thankfully, when you’re about to hit a big lift and you’re full of adrenaline, you’re not too worried about your sense of smell. I don’t know how many people are particularly fond of the smell of Windex, but again, with any luck, you won’t notice it at all.

A cleaning product that contains ammonia

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The Bottom Line

Smelling salts do not make you stronger. They only allow you to lift more weight. With or without ammonia, your muscles have the same capacity for strength. Without ammonia, things like pain, fatigue, and fear of injury all cause you to not lift as much weight as you physically can.

Even if you aren’t consciously afraid of injury, your subconscious always is and can limit your strength without you even realizing it. Ammonia gives you adrenaline, which in essence tells your brain to forget about these things that are limiting your strength.

Smelling salts are also relatively safe, although there are always risks when you’re putting something foreign into your body. Ammonia toxicity is a real thing, but it would be very difficult to achieve using traditional smelling salts.

At the end of the day, ammonia is an essential tool for serious lifters and should be considered by everyone who wants to lift more weight.

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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