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You’ve probably heard a lot of strange ideas about how to get stronger and build muscle.
You know, things like drinking a gallon of milk a day, doing ten sets of ten reps of every exercise, sipping flavored water BCAAs between meals, and so forth.
And if you’ve put any of these ideas into practice, you’ve also learned they’re more or less all humbug.
If you’re following a well-designed strength training program, eating enough protein and slightly more calories than you burn every day, and sleeping at least 8 hours per night, there’s little else you can do to further goose muscle growth or strength gains.
That said, it’s you’re doing all of those things, it’s worth exploring what that “little else” might entail.
For example, although blood-flow restriction sounds like something from the pages of Fifty Shades of Gray, it’s actually a scientifically validated method for boosting muscle growth and strength.
Recently, researchers have uncovered another potential way to increase strength (and thus muscle growth): hyperventilation training.
Isn’t that what happens when you have a panic attack?
Well, yes, it can occur in response to extreme anxiety, but specifically, hyperventilation refers to a situation where rapid, deep breathing causes an imbalance in the ratio of carbon dioxide (CO2) to oxygen (O2) in your blood.
When you “overbreathe” (as some people refer to hyperventilation), you exhale CO2 much faster than you inhale O2.
This causes the level of CO2 in your blood to plummet, which can lead to a variety of unpleasant side effects like lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, and intense tingling in your fingers and face, with the effects becoming more intense the longer you hyperventilate . . .
. . . which sounds like the last thing you’d want to experience while lifting heavy weights.
According to a new study conducted by scientists at Juntendo University, though, hyperventilating briefly—enough to slightly decrease your blood levels of CO2, but not so much that you experience negative effects—may temporarily make you stronger.
Keep listening to learn why and how hyperventilating can boost your strength.
5:34 – What is one of the primarily physiological factors that limits our performance in workouts?
14:14 – How do you hyperventilate?
Mentioned on the show:
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Hey, and welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today. Now, if you are a regular around these parts, you know my position on workout tips and tricks and hacks, you know that I. Think most of these things are bogus and either have no effect or no meaningful effect, meaning they either don’t work at all or they don’t work enough to really make a difference.
That said, every good rule has its exceptions, of course, and. This one does as well. Weightlifting cues are a good example. Very simple little tips for improving your form or improving your posture during exercises, particularly the big lifts that can help you improve your performance and reduce the risk of injury.
And I recorded a podcast where I gave I think nine or 10 of my favorite cues, and I posted it a couple of months ago. So you can go back and find that. Just search cues in the. Feed or if you’re on YouTube, and if you wanna read about it, you can just head over to legion athletics.com, search for cues, and you’ll find an article on the subject.
Another good example is the mind muscle connection, where you just focus on the muscle groups that you’re training while you are training them. And some research suggests that it can enhance muscle growth over time, and particularly with isolation exercises. That said the effect. Appears to be small and the evidence is currently weak because there’s just not much research on this.
But a clear benefit that you can immediately experience of using the Mind Muscle Connection principle by just focusing on the muscle groups that you’re training when you’re training them, is you can enhance the quality of your reps. Because by really paying attention to what you’re doing, you’re gonna make sure that your rep tempo is where it should be.
You’re gonna make sure that you are using a full range of motion. You are going to make sure that you’re. Form stays tight and you are going to better estimate how many reps you still have left in the tank, which will ensure that you are working hard enough in each hard set, that you are not ending your hard sets too soon, that you’re not ending with, let’s say three or four reps still left in the tank instead of one or two.
Yet another example of a weightlifting trick that is very easy to do and immediately makes a difference in your performance and in the safety of the exercise in some cases, is the Valsalva maneuver, where you take a deep breath and into your stomach in particular, and then you brace your core, your entire trunk, really like you’re about to get punched in the gut and then you.
Perform the movement. And this is particularly useful with the big compound lifts with the squat, and that can be a back squat or front’s. Got really any squat variation, any deadlift variation, any overhead press type of exercise, and the bench press as well. And so in this episode, I’m going to add another approved hack to the list, and that is, Hyperventilation.
Now I understand that sounds bad, that sounds dangerous, but if it is done correctly, it is not dangerous and it can immediately improve your performance and particularly on your big lifts, which of course are the most important exercises to progress on over time if you want to keep on getting bigger and stronger.
Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my v i p one-on-one coaching service because my team and I have helped people of all ages and all circumstances lose fat, build muscle, and get into the best shape of their life faster than they ever thought possible.
And we can do the same for you. We make getting fitter, leaner, and stronger. Paint by numbers simple by carefully managing every aspect of your training and your diet for you. Basically, we take out all of the guesswork, so all you have to do is follow the plan and watch your body change day after day, week after week and month after month.
What’s more we’ve found. That people are often missing just one or two crucial pieces of the puzzle, and I’d bet a shiny shackle, it’s the same with you. You’re probably doing a lot of things right, but dollars to donuts, there’s something you’re not doing correctly or at all that’s giving you the most grief.
Maybe it’s your calories or your macros. Maybe it’s your exercise selection. Maybe it’s your food choices, maybe. You’re not progressively overloading your muscles, or maybe it’s something else, and whatever it is, here’s what’s important. Once you identify those one or two things you’re missing, once you figure it out, that’s when everything finally clicks.
That’s when you start making serious progress, and that’s exactly what we do for our clients. To learn more, head over to www.buy legion.com. That’s b y legion.com/. V I p and schedule your free consultation call, which by the way is not a high pressure sales call. It’s really just a discovery call where we get to know you better and see if you’re a good fit for the service.
And if you’re not for any reason, we will be able to share resources that’ll point you in the right direction. So again, if you appreciate my work and if you want to see more of it, If you also want to finally stop spinning your wheels and make more progress in the next few months than you did in the last few years, check out my v i p coaching [email protected] legion.com/vip.
Okay, so let’s start this discussion with one of the primary physiological factors that limits our performance in our workouts. And we experience this as the burning sensation that we feel in our muscles as we get. Toward the end of a hard set. Now, the reason our muscles feel like they are burning is there are acidic compounds that are building up in the blood, including lactate, hydrogen ions, and carbon dioxide, and the harder.
And faster we contract our muscles. The more of this stuff there is in our blood, the more acidic our blood becomes, and that acidity impairs our muscle’s ability to continue contracting. And that is one of the many reasons, but one of the main reasons as well that our muscles fatigue during a workout.
Now we can mitigate this factor by improving our muscle’s ability to remove these waste products before they can hinder performance. And there are several ways of doing this. We can train more. That’s one very simple, straightforward way of doing it is just building our muscles capacity. For working hard and we can take supplements.
Beta A is an example of a supplement that directly affects this physiological factor. Sodium bicarbonate is another example of a supplement that may be able to help. The evidence is weak and also. A caveat if you are thinking about using it, is the dosing usually has to be high enough to cause gastrointestinal issues.
For some people, you might shit yourself during your squat session, so you’ve been warned. And yet another way to improve our muscles buffering capacity. That’s the technical term for what we’re talking about, reducing the acidity of the muscles, reducing the amount of acidic components that are building up in the muscles appears to be hyperventilation.
Now, what do I mean by that? Well, hyperventilation is rapid deep breathing that causes you to exhale CO2 much faster than you inhale oh two. And what that does is reduce the amount of CO2 in your blood, and in theory, lowering the level of CO2 in your blood. Should. Lower the level of acidity in your muscles, and if you were to be able to do that during a workout, then theoretically you should be able to train a bit harder.
You should be able to get more reps in each set, for example. And that is what a team of scientists from Juntendo University, and yes, that is the name of the university, not Nintendo. Juntendo University set out to explore in a study that involved 11 male strength and power athletes between the ages of 19 and 31, who had an average of seven years training experience.
So these were veteran lifters. And the researchers had the men do a workout of six sets of bench press, followed by six sets of leg press with 80% of their one rep max. And they were taking each set to absolute failure and resting five minutes between each set. So a pretty strenuous workout and in line with, uh, power lifting style of training.
The rest periods maybe a little bit longer than they need it to be, but for the purpose of this study, I’d rather see. Five minutes rest in between each set than one minute, for example. And the scientists had the participants intentionally breathe deeply and quickly for 30 seconds. So that’s the hyperventilating after about half of their set, and here’s how it went.
So they had the participants rest and breath normally for four minutes and 30 seconds, and then hyperventilate for. 30 seconds and then performed set one, and then they rested and they breathed normally for the full five minutes. And then they did their second set. And then they went back to the hyperventilation condition.
So rest and breathe normally for four minutes and 30 seconds, and then hyperventilate for 30 seconds. And then the third set, and then following that, they went back to the resting and breathing normally, and they repeated this process until all six sets were done. Then the participants returned to the lab a few days later.
And they completed the same workout. However, in this case, instead of hyperventilating before their first, third and fifth sets, and after their sixth set, they hyperventilated before their second, fourth and sixth sets. And while these guys were working out, the researchers measured several respiratory parameters, such as the amount of.
Air that they breathed per minute, the number of breaths that they took per minute, the amount of air in each breath and the amount of CO2 or oh two exhaled with each breath. They also measured the participant’s joint angles and the speed at which they completed their reps and the number of reps that the men completed in each set.
Researchers also took blood samples. From these guys before and after their workouts to measure their blood acidity and blood lactate levels, which typically rise as the blood becomes more acidic. And what the results showed is that when the participants breathed normally before their sets, the speed at which they completed each rep, so the bar speed and the number of reps they could perform in each set decreased as their.
Workouts dragged on when they hyperventilated after a set though, they were able to perform significantly more reps in the next set, and they didn’t experience the normal drop in reps throughout their workout. That was occurring when fatigue really started to set in. So for example, after four sets of leg press and then breathing normally for five minutes, most participants got about two fewer reps.
On their fifth set after four sets of leg press and hyperventilating, though most participants got about two more reps on their fifth set. Now, hyperventilating also helped the participants maintain the speed at which they completed their reps, which is what you’d expect in the case of getting more reps, right?
Because as the bar slows down, you approach failure. In fact, if you have the right equipment monitoring you and monitoring the bar speed while you are lifting, you can accurately predict, well, the equipment can accurately predict how many reps you still have left just based on the bar speed. So regardless of what.
You think you can still do the bar speed will be a more accurate indicator of how much you can actually do before you fail. Now, if you are an experienced weightlifter, chances are your intuition about how many reps you still have in reserve. Will be highly accurate, but sometimes when the weight is heavy and you’re on your third or fourth set of a big compound lift and your legs are on fire, let’s say you’re squatting and you’re struggling to remain upright, you’re struggling to maintain your posture.
You can think that you only have one or two reps left when you actually could get, let’s say three or maybe even four. Four. Not in the case of you think you have one and you’re an experienced weightlifter, you probably don’t have four, but you can think you have two at most. Three and actually have four.
And again, bar speed would accurately predict that you indeed could get three or four reps when again, you may think you could only get one or two. Anyway, getting back to this study, what the scientists found is hyperventilating helped the participants maintain bar speed, which then translated into more reps, and it also made their blood pH return to normal much quicker than when they didn’t hyperventilate, and that meant then less muscle fatigue, which again produced more.
Reps per set. Now, as interesting as this study is, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. The first is it involved a small number of people, just 11, which raises the possibility that the results might be exaggerated due to that small sample size. So we’ll have to see if this study gets replicated in the future and what the outcome is.
Something else to keep in mind is the workouts did involve taking every set to absolute failure when muscle acidity and fatigue tend to be highest. So it is possible that you wouldn’t notice the same benefits when you are ending your hard sets. A wrapper two shy of this point that said you can give it a try and see what happens if you keep good training logs and you should be, you’ll quickly know if it’s making a difference or not.
If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my v i p one-on-one coaching service because my team and I have helped people of all ages and circumstances lose fat, build muscle, and get into the best shape of their life faster than they ever thought possible. And we can do the same for you.
And here’s how to do it. So the first rule is you hyperventilate for 30 seconds and not more than that. Not less than that. This same group of researchers conducted a previous study on hyperventilation and exercise, and in this case it was cycling sprints. And what they found is that, 15 seconds of hyperventilation before a cycling sprint was not enough to produce any benefits.
30 seconds did and didn’t cause any negative side effects, but 45 seconds was enough to cause some mild discomfort, which then wiped out the performance benefits. So 30 seconds really does seem to be a sweet spot. And before you go and do this in the gym, Do it at home. So lie down on your couch and take a deep breath every two seconds for at least 15 seconds.
So it’s about seven deep breaths. And then breathe normally for a few minutes and see how you feel. If you don’t experience any discomfort or lightheadedness, then repeat the same protocol for 30 seconds and again, then rest. Breathe normally for a few minutes, and if you feel fine, Try it for 45 seconds.
And the reason you wanna do that is just to ensure that you’re not gonna have any issues with 30 seconds when you’re in the gym. So once you are sure that you are okay, doing 32nd hyperventilation sets on the couch, get in the gym and try it before a warmup set when the weight is light again, just to ensure that it’s going to work the way we want during your hard sets and do it for each of your warmup sets.
So, I rest about a minute to a minute and a half in between my warmup sets. So in this case, let’s just say it was a minute. Let’s say it was 60 seconds of rest. I would breathe normally for 30 seconds, and then I would do 30 seconds of hyperventilating and then do my next warmup set. And if that goes well, then you can give it a go with your.
Hard sets with your heavy sets, and I would recommend that you start with exercises that have the least potential to get you hurt, like the leg press, deadlift, barbell row, or chin up or pull up. Because during any of those exercises, if you do start to feel negative effects, you can quickly just rewr the weight in the case of the leg press, or you can just drop.
The weight in the case of the deadlift barbell row, or you can just drop down from the chin, upper pull up bar safely. However, if you are squatting, it is gonna be harder to bail on the set safely unless you have practiced it, unless you know what you’re doing, especially when the weight is heavy and you’re deep.
Or into a set, and then for example, you start to feel lightheaded. Now, that is not to say you can’t use this technique with the squad, of course, I’m just recommending that you get used to it with exercises that will allow you to safely apply it and see how your body responds. And if your body does not respond well, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then don’t bother with it.
The risk is not worth the reward. It is at best a technique for getting a couple of more reps in your hard sets, which of course, over time can translate into faster muscle and strength gain. But you can do justifying without it as well. So don’t try to force it if it just doesn’t work for you for whatever reason.
Oh, and one other thing worth mentioning is research shows that this method is more likely to work with compound exercises than isolation exercises, and that is, Simply because it works by reducing blood acidity levels. But if your blood acidity levels are already fairly low as they are when you’re doing isolation exercises, or at least many isolation exercises, because you’re usually training smaller muscles that don’t result in as many of these acidic compounds being created, then of course further lowering your acidity levels is not likely to offer much benefit.
All right. Well, that is it for the Hyperventilation hack. I hope you have found it interesting, and I hope it helps you get jacked a little bit faster. I have a lot more coming to help with that as well. Of course, I have an interview I did with my mom who used my thinner, leaner, stronger program to lose 11 pounds and double her whole body’s strength as well as.
The next installment of Says You, which is a series of episodes where I address challenges. I ask people over on Instagram to let me know what they disagree with me on, and then I pick the ones that either stand out to me as particularly interesting or topical, or just commonly talked about or asked about, and I address them here on the podcast.
And in the next says you, I’m gonna be talking about the four to six rep range, and I’m gonna be addressing the claim that it doesn’t suit everyone, that some people should not be training in that rep range. I’m gonna talk about mobility work because somebody disagrees with the lack of mobility work in my routines.
And I’m gonna be talking about targeting individual quad muscles with different exercises. For example, it is commonly claimed that if you elevate your heels when you squat by putting a plate underneath them, for example, then you can emphasize the vast media outlet also referred to as the V M O or the teardrop muscle on the front of your leg.
All right. Well, that’s it for today’s episode. I hope you found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, could you please leave a quick review for the podcast on iTunes or wherever you are listening from? Because those reviews not only convince people that they should check out the show, they also increase the search visibility.
And help more people find their way to me and to the podcast and learn how to build their best body ever as well. And of course, if you wanna be notified when the next episode goes live, then simply subscribe to the podcast and whatever app you’re using to listen and you will not miss out on any of the.
New stuff that I have coming and last, if you didn’t like something about the show, then definitely shoot me an email at mike muscle for life.com and share your thoughts. Let me know how you think I could do this better. I read every email myself and I’m always looking for constructive feedback. All right, thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.
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