Spartans will do what it takes to get where they want to go but let’s not mess with the BS. In this Spartan Fit franchise, we talk to experts to find out what’s worth your time, and what’s not. This month, we’ll cover a popular tool in the powerlifter’s box: the Valsalva maneuver. \nYou’ve seen it before: Powerlifters and weightlifters wrapping lifting belts around their waists, cinching them tight, and stepping into the power rack to vie for squat, deadlift, and clean PRs. \nBut what you haven’t seen is the athletes’ internal lifting belts — created through an advanced breathing practice called the Valsalva maneuver. \nRelated: Spartan Standards: The 300 (Staple Exercises to Build Strength + Stamina) \nThe Valsalva Maneuver — The Basics\n\nWhat Is Valsalva?\nA breathing technique in which exercisers forcefully exhale against a closed airway to maximally brace their core, protect their spine, and up their lifting capacity — typically when lifting more than 80% of their 1RM (rep maximum). \nIt’s like popping your ears on an airplane, but it doesn’t actually require that you hold your nose. Rather, your vocal cords form a valve, called the glottis, that opens and closes to shield the airway from food and water when you swallow. To perform the Valsalva maneuver, exercisers consciously close the glottis, and then exhale against it. \n“In the Valsalva maneuver, the airway is closed to keep air from escaping the lungs and the muscles of the abdomen and rib cage contract,” explains Jeff Godin, Ph.D., CSCS, Head of Fitness Education for Spartan. “This creates pressure in the torso, increasing stability of the torso and spine.” \nBecause the abdominal cavity is primarily filled with fluids, as opposed to gas, the tightening of the deep core muscles and diaphragm creates a “fluid ball” in front of the spine. Meanwhile, the strong contraction of the erector spinae, or back muscles, press against the back of the spine, he explains. Together, they squeeze and further brace the spine, making the torso as rigid as possible. \n\nPros and Cons\n\nA strong, braced torso not only protects the spine against max loads, but also allows for a more effective transfer of power when lifting those loads, Godin says. He estimates that, for elite athletes, the Valsalva maneuver may improve maximal strength by about 5%.\nHowever, increased intra-abdominal pressure isn’t without its potential downsides. The Valsalva maneuver triggers a brief, yet sizable spike in blood pressure and reduction of blood flow to the heart. This increases stress levels on the heart, and can be excessive in anyone with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Dizziness and passing out can occur even in otherwise-healthy folks. In some cases, people push so hard they burst blood vessels in their eyes, he says.\nIs It Worth It? The Valsalva Breathing Technique\nIt depends on your health, lifting experience, and willingness to listen to your body and adapt. \nAnyone with underlying cardiovascular conditions should not perform the Valsalva maneuver during exercise, says Godin. And if you’re new to max lifts, you shouldn’t jump right into intense breath holds, and instead gradually progress into them, per one 2019 Biology of Sport review.\nAs you get stronger and more proficient at big lifts, that’s when you can start to progress into full Valsalvas. \n\nRelated: Is It Worth It? Tracking HRV\nHow to Perform the Valsalva Maneuver\n\n\nSet up at the top of your exercise, take a large breath in through your nose, allowing your abdomen to inflate.\nLower through the eccentric phase of the exercise, holding your breath as you do so. Pause.\nAs you drive "out of the hole", close your airways (nose and mouth) and act as if you were exhaling (even though the air won’t escape), feeling your core contract.\nOnce you're just past the "sticking point" of the exercise, open your airway, and fully exhale.\nTake a few breaths at the top of the exercise before descending into the next rep. If you feel any lightheadedness, stop what you're doing and take a few-minute breather.\n\nIf all goes well, you can keep at it, using the Valsalva during all heavy compound lifts. Again, it's most useful when performing total-body exercises with loads greater than 80% of your 1RM, since those are the ones that involve the transfer of power between the lower and upper extremities. It won't benefit you much during single-joint, upper-body, or lightly-loaded exercises. \n\nFor more exclusive content, personalized race results, Spartan Fit app workouts, and more, sign up for your Spartan+ account NOW!