Journal of Exercise Physiologyonline
Volume 17 Number 2
Tommy Boone, PhD, MBA
Todd Astorino, PhD
Julien Baker, PhD
Steve Brock, PhD
Lance Dalleck, PhD
Eric Goulet, PhD
Robert Gotshall, PhD
Alexander Hutchison, PhD
M. Knight-Maloney, PhD
Len Kravitz, PhD
James Laskin, PhD
Yit Aun Lim, PhD
Lonnie Lowery, PhD
Derek Marks, PhD
Cristine Mermier, PhD
Robert Robergs, PhD
Chantal Vella, PhD
Dale Wagner, PhD
Frank Wyatt, PhD
Ben Zhou, PhD
Official Research Journal
of the American Society of
Official Research Journal of
the American Society of
The impact of ammonia inhalants on strength
performance in resistance trained males
Scott R. Richmond1, Adam C. Potts2, Joseph R. Sherman1
1 Department of Kinesiology, Missouri State University, Springfield,
2 Lamar University Strength & Conditioning Department, Lamar
University, Beaumont, TX, USA
Richmond SR, Potts AC, Sherman JR. The impact of ammonia
inhalants on strength performance in resistance trained males.
JEPonline 2014;17(2):1-7. Ammonia Inhalants (AIs) have been
suspected to enhance performance through an increased awareness
and subsequent increase in physical strength. The purpose of this
study was to examine the impact of AIs on strength performance.
Twenty-five college-aged males with at least three years resistance
training experience performed as many repetitions as possible with
the back squat and bench press at 85% 1RM after inhaling either AIs
or placebo (Vick’s® VapoRub®, VVR). There was no significant
difference between the amount of repetitions performed in the back
squat (p = 0.403) or the bench press (p = 0.422) after inhaling the AIs
compared to the VVR. While no differences in performance were
observed, many individuals may still continue to use AIs. Therefore, if
an individual has no pre-existing medical conditions and feels that AIs
improve their performance then there are no contraindications to use
in low doses. Key Words: Smelling Salts, Resistance Training
Pre-workout supplements are very popular in today’s fitness realm. Many athletes,
bodybuilders, power-lifters and recreational lifters use pre-workout supplements prior to training to
increase motivation and muscular strength. Previous studies have shown that significant benefits in
muscular strength and power can be acquired from using pre-workout ‘energy’ supplements within an
hour prior to the resistance training session (2, 9). Ammonia Inhalants (AIs), or smelling salts, are
often used to enhance performance in sports competitions and prior to heavy resistance training
bouts. AIs are becoming more widespread among athletes and lifters attempting to gain an edge or
increase strength or performance (3, 4).
AIs are typically found in the form of capsules containing ammonium carbonate combined with
scents or perfumes. AIs are categorized as a respiratory stimulants and when AIs are inhaled, the
nose, lungs, and mucus membranes rapidly become irritated causing involuntary inhalation (4). This
involuntary inhalation is reported to accelerate respiration and stimulate a “higher degree of
consciousness” (4). A “higher degree of consciousness” may be responsible for increasing primary
attentional focus which allows the weight lifter to block out unnecessary distractions and primarily
focus on the task of executing the exercise, a psychological trait that many expert athletes utilize to
perform successfully under pressure (7).
The use of AIs are approved through the United States Food and Drug Administration for the
treatment of fainting and may be purchased over the counter. Ammonia is toxic in large amounts and
should only be administered in small doses to users with no pre-existing medical conditions (10).
Complications caused by AIs in athletes have been reported, but are extremely rare, and include lung
irritation/damage, loss of consciousness and anaphylaxis (3). People with respiratory issues such as
asthma should avoid using AIs due to the potential of the lungs becoming irritated. It is also
recommended that AIs not be used to aid head and neck injuries because of the risk of a sudden,
unexpected reflex (10).
Athletes commonly use AIs immediately before or during competition, such as prior to
attempting a 1RM in the bench press, back squat, deadlift or power clean. AIs have also been used
before the opening kickoff of a football game, between rounds of a boxing match or in locker rooms
during breaks or intermissions of games (10). Although AIs have been used for many years, little is
known about their effects on athletic performance. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to
examine the impact of AIs on strength performance.
Twenty-eight males were recruited from university physical conditioning courses and local
fitness establishments (age: 21.5 ± 2.2y, height: 181.1 ± 4.6 cm, weight: 93.4 ± 14.2 kg). A training
history questionnaire was required to ensure that all subjects were indeed ‘experienced’; defined by
at least 3yrs of resistance training experience (Resistance Training Experience: 7.3 ± 2.6y) and could
back squat 1.5 times their body weight and bench press 1.0 times their body weight (1). Individuals
who did not meet these criteria were excluded from participation in the study. Prior to participating in
the investigation, subjects were informed of all potential risks and procedures involved with the study
and completed an informed consent in accordance with the Human Subjects Committee Review
Board (Study #: 13-0316) and the World Medical Association 1964 Declaration of Helsinki. Each
participant in the study completed a medical history form to assist in screening out individuals that
have any cardio, respiratory or muscular conditions that would affect the study. Vick’s ® VapoRub®
(VVR) was chosen as a placebo in this study because of its strong menthol scent that is comparable
to an AI. The back squat and bench press exercises were used in this study due to the fact they are
measures of upper and lower body strength, are highly utilized in training and correlate to athletic
The initial session consisted of completing pre-participation paperwork and estimating their
one-repetition max (1RM) on the back squat and the bench press. Participants were instructed not to
engage in any demanding physical activity at least 48-h prior to any of the testing sessions so that the
central nervous system and muscular system would be fully recovered (6). Participants were also
instructed to follow the same dietary regime throughout the trial and eat a meal at least 3-h prior to
each testing session. After the completion of all pre-screening paperwork participants began a
general warm up on an Aerodyne Ergometer for 5-min followed by the back squat warm up (8).
Participants performed the back squat testing prior to the bench press in this study because the squat
exercise involves larger muscle groups which should be trained prior to smaller muscle groups (1). A
standard squat rack with a 20kg barbell was used for the all of the testing. Participants were already
familiar with proper back squat technique from previous training experience, but proper technique
was re-emphasized prior to and during all lifting. Technique consisted of the feet being parallel to
each other and also shoulder width apart with the barbell resting on the shoulders. For the repetition
to be deemed successful the participant needed to descend with the hips and knees until the thighs
were parallel to the floor and then return to a standing position from the squat (1). Following at least
3 warm-up sets consisting 2-6 repetitions; the resistance was increased in 5-20kg increments until the
participants could only perform 2-5 repetitions with maximal exertion and proper technique. The 1RM
was estimated using the number of squat repetitions performed with that weight (1). After the back
squat RM, participants rested for 5-min before starting the bench press warm up. The bench press
technique consisted of the head, back, hips, feet and legs contacting the bench or floor at all times.
The participants were instructed to lower the barbell to touch the chest and then raise the barbell by
fully extending the elbows. The repetition was not deemed successful if the participant failed to utilize
the demonstrated technique. Next, the participant completed at least 3 warm up sets before
attempting the RM set. The 1RM was estimated using the number of bench press repetitions
performed with that weight (1). See Figure 1 for detail of overall timeline of testing session
throughout the study.
Approximately 2 to 4 days (at least 48-h and no more than 96-h) after the initial testing, the
second testing session took place. During the second testing session participants started with a 5-
min warm up on the Aerodyne Ergometer and then began the squat warm up. The participant
completed at least 4 back squat warm up sets with approximately 1-min between sets. During these
warm up sets a marked coin was flipped to randomly assign which substance the participant would
inhale first. Two minutes rest was given prior to completing the maximal exertion set (ME) set which
consisted of performing as many reps as possible with 85% of their predicted 1RM. Three seconds
before initiating the ME set the participant inhaled either the AI or VVR (placebo). The AI was in
liquid form and VVR in gel form, both were contained within a micro-centrifuge tube. During testing
the substance inhaled was unknown to the participant and to the researcher who administered it.
After the ME set was completed there was a 5-min break prior to beginning the bench press warm up.
After 4 sets of bench press warm up the participant also completed their ME set at 85% 1RM. Three
seconds prior to the ME set the participant will once again inhaled either the AI or VVR. The same
substance was inhaled for both the bench press and back squat. The third testing session was 2 to 4
days (at least 48-h and no more than 96-h) after the second session. The third session was identical
to the second testing session except the participant inhaled the substance that they did not inhale
during the second session.
Using SPSS (v19.0) a Paired Samples t-test was utilized to measure differences in the number
of repetitions completed after inhaling the AI or the VVR. A One-Way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA)
was used to measure any differences in the calculated 1RM’s of all three sessions (pre-test, AI, and
The results were based on 25 male participants who completed all 3 testing sessions. Three
participants did not finish the study due to scheduling issues. Participants who completed the study
reported no physical injuries due to the testing protocol. There was no significant difference between
the amount of repetitions performed in the back squat (AI = 6.7 ± 2.3 vs. VVR = 6.4 ± 1.8; p = 0.403)
or the bench press (AI = 5.4 ± 1.2 vs. VVR = 5.2 ± 1.6; p = 0.422) after inhaling the AI compared to
the VVR. There was also no significant difference between the calculated 1RM for both back squat
and bench press when using AI, VVR or initial testing session (no substance inhaled).
The results of this study have revealed no significant differences in the AI testing sessions
compared to the VVR sessions in the back squat and bench press. People with respiratory issues like
asthma should avoid using AIs due to the potential for the lungs to become irritated. It is also
recommended that AIs not be used to aid head and neck injuries due to the risk of a sudden,
unexpected reflex (10).
Potential limitations to this study include the amount of Ammonia that was inhaled by each
participant. Although each participant inhaled the ammonia from the same size capsule, the amount
of inhalation by each participant may have been much different. Another issue that will have to be
answered in future research is how the AI would affect back squat and bench press performance at a
higher percentage of a 1RM, greater than 85% of 1RM. It is understood that anecdotal reports
suggest that AIs are used for short anaerobic bursts of strength. It may be possible that with when
using AIs the amount of weight someone can perform after two or three reps decreases significantly
Utilizing a weight closer to predicted maximum could potentially create a more realistic picture of a
powerlifting or sport-specific activity. Further research must be done to examine this issue.
Although more research is needed on the effects of AIs relating to exercise performance, our
data suggests that there may be no significant link between the two. A placebo effect interaction due
to participants not inhaling substances before lifting on a regular basis could somewhat explain the
results. While there were no differences in performance, this study does not account for any potential
psychological impact of AIs. Subjects reported anecdotally that the substances “made them feel like
they were more aroused and awake.” Therefore, if an individual has no pre-existing medical
conditions and feels that AIs do improve their performance then there are no known contraindications
to use in low doses.
The practical significance due to a psychological impact of the AIs is an area that should be
explored by subsequent research. Determining if AIs impact the nervous system in a way that
improves motor unit firing, biomechanics or muscle fiber activity could help explain the anecdotal
accounts of the participants. Further research is needed to determine if this effect is repeatable with
other substances used as a control.
While there were no differences in performance, this study did not account for any potential
psychological impact of AIs. Therefore, if an individual feels that AIs do improve their performance,
and has no pre-existing medical conditions that would present harm with AI use, then there are no
contraindications for use in low doses. However, given the lack of a significant impact of AIs on back
squat and bench press performance, AIs should not be prescribed universally by trainers and
Address for correspondence: Richmond SR, PhD, Department of Kinesiology, Missouri State
University, Springfield, MO USA, 65897. Phone: (417) 836-8481, Email:
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The opinions expressed in JEPonline are those of the authors and are not attributable to JEPonline,
the editorial staff or the ASEP organization.
Table 1. Repetitions performed with 85% of 1RM.
Back Squat Bench Press
VVR 6.4 1.8 5.2 1.6
AI 6.7 2.3 5.4 1.2
Mean SD Abbreviations: VVR; Vick’s® VapoRub®, AI; Ammonia Inhalant
Table 2. Predicted 1RM.
Conditions Back Squat Bench Press
Pre-test (kg) 170.7 33.1 129.2 20.4
VVR (kg) 176.4 35.5 128.9 21.4
AI (kg) 177.4 33.9 129.7 21.2
Mean SD Abbreviations: VVR; Vick’s® VapoRub®, AI; Ammonia Inhalant
Figure 1. Overall timeline of events
Figure 2. Sample timeline of 85% of 1RM trial