What are smelling salts used for in the gym?


Smelling salts, also known as ammonia inhalants, have been a subject of curiosity and discussion within the fitness community for their reputed ability to provide a sudden boost of alertness and energy during workouts. This article delves into the scientific basis, benefits, and safe usage of smelling salts in the gym.

Understanding Smelling Salts

Smelling salts are a combination of ammonium carbonate and perfume, most commonly found in a sealed ampoule or capsule. When the ampoule is crushed or broken, the ammonia gas is released, producing a pungent odor.

The Science Behind Smelling Salts

  1. Stimulant Effect: Smelling salts work by triggering an inhalation reflex, causing a sudden intake of breath. This reflex is a response to the pungent ammonia odor, which stimulates the nasal membranes.
  2. Respiratory Response: Ammonia inhalation prompts an increase in respiratory rate and depth. This results in a higher intake of oxygen, potentially leading to increased alertness and energy.
  3. Sympathetic Nervous System Activation: The sudden intake of breath and increased respiratory rate activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response. This can lead to heightened alertness and a surge in adrenaline.

Benefits of Using Smelling Salts in the Gym

  1. Immediate Energy Boost: Athletes and lifters often use smelling salts to get an immediate jolt of energy, especially beneficial for intense, heavy lifts.
  2. Enhanced Focus and Alertness: The stimulating effect of ammonia can enhance mental clarity, focus, and alertness, which can be particularly useful during demanding workouts.
  3. Improved Respiratory Function: The inhalation reflex induced by smelling salts can lead to increased oxygen intake, potentially improving respiratory function temporarily.
  4. Overcoming Fatigue: Smelling salts may help temporarily override feelings of fatigue, allowing for a few extra reps or additional exertion.
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Safe Usage Guidelines

While smelling salts can offer benefits, it’s crucial to use them judiciously and with caution:

  1. Moderation is Key: Reserve their use for occasional, high-intensity workouts or moments when an extra push is needed.
  2. Proper Storage: Ensure that smelling salts are stored in a sealed container and kept away from direct sunlight or extreme temperatures.
  3. Avoid Direct Contact: Do not allow the salts to come into direct contact with the skin or eyes, as they can cause irritation.
  4. Consider Individual Sensitivity: Some individuals may be more sensitive to the effects of smelling salts. Start with a small amount and assess the response.
  5. Consult a Professional: If you have underlying health conditions or concerns, consult a healthcare professional before using smelling salts.
  6. Stay Hydrated: Ensure proper hydration before and after using smelling salts to counteract potential dehydration effects.


Smelling salts can provide a quick, albeit temporary, boost in alertness and energy during intense workouts. However, they should be used judiciously and with caution. It’s important to remember that they are not a substitute for proper warm-up, technique, and overall conditioning. Consulting a healthcare professional or fitness expert can provide further guidance on their safe and effective usage. Always prioritize safety and listen to your body during any workout routine.

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