Training

The Lost Art of Smelling Salts

Chad Aichs Elite FTS

Maybe it is just that I am getting old and am starting the time-honored old man tradition of using the phrase “back in my day!” Yep, back in my day, I walked to school 10 miles in six feet of snow all year and it was uphill both ways.

OK, so I am not that bad yet. I have not competed for many years now and have not really utilized the smelling salts, but while judging at a recent meet, I could not help wonder why so many lifters were wasting the greatness of smelling salts. I mean if you’re going to use them, then get all you can out of them. It is an old school powerlifting tradition! Back in my day!


Some of the younger or novice lifters may not even know what smelling salts are. I know I have been asked many strange questions in my time about them. One of my favorites is if I am sniffing cocaine before I lift. SHEESHHHHH!

Smelling salts are nothing more than an ammonia-based compound used to arouse consciousness. When a football player or fighter gets knocked unconscious, they wave a small capsule under their nose. If you have ever seen this on TV, then you have seen what smelling salts were designed for. The most common form is in capsules. This is basically an ammonia compound in a small glass capsule inside a sealed thick paper case. They can be squeezed to break which releases the ammonia gas and help to wake the unconscious athlete up.

Nowadays there are many forms of smelling salts on the market. Ranging from straight ammonia bottles at the grocery store (I do not recommend this; it’s probably not the safest idea) to small bottles of smelling salts designed just for lifters. I prefer old-school ammonia caps because I can stick them behind my ear until I need them, and I can also stick them straight up my nostrils, but more on that later. I think the small bottles are actually the most potent of all the options.

I remember the first time I purchased a bottle of Nose Tork. It arrived at my house when my brother happened to be in the living room watching TV. Of course, I had to open it right then, and I sure as shit was not going to try it like a sissy bitch. If you’re going to do something, do it all the way right? I cracked the lip open and took a massive hit. Even with the great effect it had, I remembered my brother was in the living room. So I jumped around the kitchen with tears coming out of my eyes as quietly as possible.

Once I had composed myself, I figured, “Who better to take along for the ride of stupidity than my own brother?” He also has the blast or dust mentality like me, and if I told him this shit is good, he would dive right in. Oh, yes, he took a huge hit and jumped around the living room with tears coming out his eyes. It’s much funnier watching someone else do the stupid thing you just did.

I personally have never tried the straight ammonia bottle, but I have a story for that, too. Back in my day, I happened to see one of the top lifters with a straight bottle of ammonia, which piqued my curiosity. Watching him at the meet, he broke it out a couple of lifters before he was up. He cracked the cap open and began breathing through his nose with the bottle stuff right up there. I mean he was actually breathing in and out so hard the ammonia was bubbling out of the bottle. This was some crazy stuff and amused the living hell out of me. That was some hardcore shit, but like I said, probably not the smartest way to go about it. I don’t think it is necessary to breathe ammonia for minutes at a time to get the desired effect.

So back to the old-school capsules that I like for convenience and the whole breaking the glass thing. If you work in a warehouse or somewhere with a good first aid kit, there will probably be some in there. I have a friend who discovered this and thought he had found the mother load. He took a box, and hey, somehow a week later, there was a new box. Some things are just too good to be true. The boss finally questioned why he kept getting billed for ammonia caps and removed them from the first aid kit. I am not saying this is a good option, but maybe don’t be so greedy because a few might slide by easier than whole boxes. Just saying!

If you have never taken a hit of ammonia, well, you’re missing out, my friend. Seriously, if you have not figured it out yet, smelling salts give you a burst of energy and focus. They get you hyped up and ready to go. On the technical side, the ammonia gas irritates the nasal membranes and lungs, which initiates the involuntary inhalation reflex. This causes heavier breathing, which causes higher heart rate, which activates the sympathetic nervous system and fight or flight. Adrenaline, blah, blah, blah. Like I said, it gets you hyped up and ready to get some shit done. It does not have a long-lasting effect, but it wakes you up.

There is a right way and a wrong way to use an ammonia cap. In this case, right means Chad’s way, but wrong still means, well, wrong. The ammonia cap is only good for so long once broken and the greatest effect is immediately at breaking. This effect is not to be wasted. I should also mention that in order to best utilize this greatest effect, it must be inhaled maximally.


The right way to hit an ammonia cap starts with the removal of the cap from behind your ear. Then place the unbroken ammonia cap directly under your nose. Next, you exhale every bit of air you can while bending over. Bending over helps you exhale more air, which allows for absolute maximal inhaling at the right moment. In the bent-over position with the ammonia cap directly under the nose, you break the capsule. Then immediately take the biggest damn inhale you can as you stand up, allowing for more air to be inhaled. This next part isn’t necessary, but take my word that a big yell right afterward does help the effect. You are now ready to kick some ass, take some records, and SFW!

Girls UGSS 2015-5679

Although this all seems like a pretty simple operation, I often see it done, well, wrong. The biggest mistake I see is cracking of the ammonia at an extended arm’s length in a manner that looks like it might jump out of the person’s hand to bite them in the face.

Next is waving the ammonia cap in a very dainty fashion, four to five inches under the nose, while the head seems to want to run from the hands. The whole time they have an “I-smell-a-fart” face and do little baby inhales as if it was mustard gas. This pretty much defeats the whole purpose and you might as well go a day without deodorant so you can sniff your armpit before lifting. The only time it is acceptable to wave the ammonia under your nose is when you pick up a dead soldier off the platform to check for any last little hit you can get. In this case, it is acceptable to wave it in a circular motion directly under the nose trying to generate a small tornado of ammonia gas that you can suck up like it is your dying breath. The ammonia cap should always be cracked directly under the nose and the head should never pull away but rather drive to the capsule.

The smelling salts must be trained just like anything else. The problem with this is the building up of a tolerance to them, which we must watch out for. I recommend deloads and complete unloads of the ammonia caps at times. I have always chosen to build up this tolerance to a point at which I back down with a complete unload, especially before a competition where I want the potency to be at its highest.

My personal build-up point was what I call the double barrel technique. This consists of two ammonia caps, one in each hand. With proper technique, each is cracked directly under the nose after a full exhale. Once the inhale is almost through, I would shove the caps into the nostrils to get that little bit for more effect. Of course, I remove them before the actual lift. Whenever I got to the point this did not bring tears to my eyes and fully energize me, I knew it was time for a big unload.

So in short, stop being a pansy. If you’re going to use smelling salts, then use them all the way. If your eyes aren’t watering and you don’t feel like yelling, then you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t have the serious urge to jump around or lift some heavy shit immediately after hitting it, then you’re doing it wrong. Let’s make smelling salts hardcore again!

Source: https://www.elitefts.com/education/the-lost-art-of-smelling-salts/