What Are Smelling Salts And How Do They Skyrocket Gym Performance?

If you’ve ever hit the gym early in the morning or after a long day of work, you know that sometimes, summoning the energy to give it your all can be a real struggle. That’s where I stumbled upon something intriguing – smelling salts.

Yes, those tiny, potent bottles that seem to have a magical effect on boosting gym performance. Curious like me? Join me as I share my own experiences and discoveries with these aromatic energizers.

What Exactly Do We Mean by “Smelling Salts”?

Smelling Salts Gym

Smelling salts are powerful, pungent substances that have been used for centuries to revive consciousness, increase alertness, and provide a quick burst of energy. They typically come in small, portable containers and consist of a mixture of ammonium carbonate and aromatic compounds.

When the container is opened, the release of these compounds creates a strong, sharp odor that can instantly jolt the senses and stimulate the respiratory system.

The Science Behind The Salts

Smelling salts release ammonia gas when exposed to air. This ammonia gas, pungent and sharp, is what’s responsible for the sudden inhalation and alertness experienced. Ammonium carbonate itself is a white, crystalline salt produced by combining ammonia and carbon dioxide.

Its usage is not limited to just reviving salts but also spans the baking and textiles industries.

Physiological Response

When ammonia gas is inhaled, it irritates the mucous membranes of the nose and lungs. This irritation leads to an involuntary reflex, causing the individual to inhale deeply. The sudden rush of oxygen and the jolt from the irritation serves to increase alertness and arousal.

Simultaneously, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, resulting in dilated pupils and an elevated heart rate, preparing the body for immediate action or “fight or flight”.

How do They Affect Gym Performance?

How do Smelling Salts Affect Gym Performance

The Boosting Effect

As we’ve understood, smelling salts cause a rapid and intense activation of the body’s sympathetic nervous system. For gym-goers, especially powerlifters and weightlifters, this heightened state can translate to improved focus and alertness right before a big lift.

This boost is momentary, but it might be just enough to give them the edge they need to push through a challenging set or achieve a njew personal record.

Controversies and Concerns

While many swear by the efficacy of smelling salts in the gym, there are controversies surrounding their use. Some believe that the jolt provided by the salts could lead to uncontrolled movements or even strain, especially when lifting heavy weights.

Moreover, frequent usage can desensitize an individual to the effects of the salts, leading to dependency and increased doses. It’s crucial to use them with caution and awareness.

Possible Side Effects

It’s important to note that while these can offer a quick boost of alertness and energy, their use should be approached with caution. It’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional before using this product, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns about potential side effects.

  • Irritation: Inhaling strong-smelling salts can lead to irritation of the nasal passages and respiratory tract, causing discomfort and potential breathing difficulties.
  • Allergic Reactions: Some individuals might be allergic to certain compounds present in the product, leading to allergic reactions such as skin rashes, hives, or even respiratory distress.
  • Headache: The strong and abrupt inhalation of ammonia fumes from smelling salts can trigger headaches in some individuals due to their potent nature.
  • Nausea and Dizziness: Inhaling smelling salts too deeply or for an extended period can result in feelings of nausea and dizziness due to the strong and overpowering smell.
  • Elevated Heart Rate: The stimulating effect of the product can lead to a temporary increase in heart rate, which might be uncomfortable for individuals with heart conditions.
  • Eye Irritation: Direct exposure to ammonia fumes can cause eye irritation, redness, and watering, especially if the fumes come in contact with the eyes.
  • Skin Sensitivity: Handling smelling salts directly can cause skin irritation or chemical burns, particularly if the skin is sensitive or if there’s prolonged contact.
  • Anxiety and Agitation: The intense inhalation of ammonia fumes might lead to a temporary increase in anxiety levels or feelings of agitation.
  • Respiratory Distress: Overusing smelling salts or inhaling them too forcefully can lead to temporary respiratory distress, especially in individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
  • Dependency: Regular reliance on smelling salts to enhance performance or alertness might lead to psychological dependency, where individuals believe they can’t perform without them.

Safety Precautions

Like any performance enhancer or stimulant, smelling salts come with a set of precautions. Before diving nose-first into their usage, understanding these safety measures is paramount.

Correct Usage and Dosage

Smelling salts are powerful, and a little goes a long way. They should be held a few inches away from the nose to prevent direct contact, which can lead to burns or extreme irritation. It’s crucial to allow the ammonia gas to dissipate slightly before inhaling.

Overusing or becoming too dependent on them can lead to reduced effectiveness over time, making it important to use them sparingly and only when necessary.

Are There Any Alternatives?

Smelling Salts Alternatives

For those wary of the potent kick of ammonia or concerned about the potential side effects, there are alternatives available that can offer similar boosts in focus and alertness.

Natural Arousal Techniques

Breathing exercises, like deep diaphragmatic breathing or the Wim Hof Method, can enhance oxygen intake and induce a state of heightened alertness. Moreover, techniques such as visualization or listening to motivating music can also provide a mental boost, prepping athletes for their workouts.

Caffeine and Supplements

Many athletes turn to caffeine, a well-researched ergogenic aid, to enhance their performance.

Pre-workout supplements, which often combine caffeine with other ingredients like beta-alanine and L-citrulline, can offer sustained energy and improved focus during workouts without the abrupt jolt of smelling salts.

Ethical Considerations and Sport Regulations

Smelling Ammonia Salts
Source: youtube.com

As with many performance enhancers, the ethical use of smelling salts and their regulation in professional sports deserves attention.

Sports Regulations

Smelling salts are not classified as a performance-enhancing drug, so they’re not banned in most sporting leagues. However, certain organizations and teams might discourage or regulate their use, primarily due to concerns about potential health risks.

Athletes are advised to stay informed about their sport’s specific regulations and guidelines.

Ethical Dilemma

Is the use of smelling salts, especially to achieve record-breaking performances, fair? Some argue that since it provides an “artificial” boost, relying on it goes against the spirit of pure athletic competition.

Conversely, others argue that since it’s available and legal for everyone, it simply levels the playing field.

Storage and Procurement

Smelling Ammonia Salts Storage and Procurement

For those considering incorporating this product into their routine, understanding proper storage and how to procure quality products is essential.

Safe Storage Practices

Smelling salts should be stored in airtight containers, away from direct sunlight or extreme temperatures. This not only preserves their potency but also ensures safety, preventing unintentional inhalation or exposure.

Choosing Quality Products

While there are numerous salts available on the market, not all are created equal. It’s crucial to choose reputable brands, read product reviews, and perhaps even seek recommendations from seasoned users.

Ensuring product quality can mitigate potential risks and offer a more consistent experience.


Can smelling salts worsen head and neck injuries?

Yes, the inhalation reflex typically causes your head to jerk, which could worsen such injuries.

What is the recommendation for athletes using these after injuries?

Athletes should avoid using smelling salts to get back in the game quickly after injuries, especially concussions.

How close should they be held to the nose?

They should be kept between 10 and 15 centimeters from the nose.

What happens if you black out and use this product?

The increased respiration caused by smelling salts can help you quickly regain consciousness.

Is ammonia toxic?

Yes, ammonia is a toxic substance. While it’s diluted in smelling salts, excessive use or holding them too close to the nose can be harmful.

The Bottom Line

Smelling salts, like many tools in the athletic world, come with their benefits and drawbacks. Their resurgence in modern gyms highlights their potential, but it’s crucial to approach their use with knowledge and caution.

Ultimately, the decision to use them should be based on individual preferences, needs, and a deep understanding of their effects.