How to “Choke” Yourself for Greater Gains

Autoerotic Asphyxiation = I like to be choked during sex.
Why do people enjoy this?
Well, when you have trouble breathing, it induces the panicked fight or flight response in the body.


There is an increase of adrenaline and cortisol, and neurological arousal (a real term) is very heightened. Essentially you FEEL everything more.

Which in a sexual context, it might be the that you get your kicks off.

In a lifting context, being able to “choke yourself” is in fact highly relevant. This has to do with how you breathe while you lift weights.

Have you ever wondered how you are able to hold your breath? Hold your breath right now.

choke yourself

How does this work, what is closed off that you can somehow stop yourself from breathing?

The answer is that you have conscious control over your airway. Your breathing is tied both to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. What that means is that while you normally breathe on autopilot (you don’t have to think about breathing to breathe) you also can actively control your breath.

So when you hold your breath, you are stopping air from escaping by closing down your respiratory tract in your throat and nose. You are physically holding your breath in. Your airway is a muscle that can clamp itself shut. The air cannot escape your body.

What happens when you do this, is that air goes into your lungs, exits, but then gets stopped by your closed airway.

Your are basically trapping air in your chest.

Fun fact for you, your breathing is tied to your heart. Thats why its called cardiovascular. You have veins in your lungs that lead back to the heart. You lungs are filled with blood all the time, picking up oxygen from the air you breath in.

So you are holding your breath now, that blood cannot circulate in the heart normally. It goes back into a chamber of your heart (the left atrium) and it fills up.

This is probably hard to imagine if you know nothing about the heart, but simply imagine trying to inflate a balloon. If you fill it up with air, it gets bigger. If you let go of it while filling it up, the air forcefully is expelled out. Right? Right.

Your heart and lungs are similar. Your lungs fill with air, the air releases. Your heart fills with blood, the blood releases. You breathe in and hold the air, the air cannot release, neither can the blood flow, the pressure builds up.

Okay, so the pressure builds up, blood flow is restricted, what good does that do you?

Well, your body will try to compensate. Suddenly it’s not getting enough blood. So it increases your pulse. The increase in pulse rate plus holding your breath makes your blood pressure rise.

This blood pressure increase plus the holding your breath makes your body stiff.

That stiffness from the increase in pressure actually makes you more STABLE. You can create very high levels of force and your muscles can contract harder.

After a few seconds, you blow the air out, your breathing resumes to normal, your blood pressure goes down. That is what the Valsalva maneuver is.

What I just explained equates to:

“Breathe in lowering the weight, breathe out partially raising the weight.”

That’s why it works. By increasing the internal pressure inside your body, you can create more stability, you can create more force, and you can lift more weight.

choke yourself

You definitely can’t squat for sets of 20+ reps if you don’t know how to breath properly.

This is why you never want to “relax” while lifting a heavy weight. That pressurized breathing aligns your whole skeleton and all of your tissues to resist gravity. If you lift relaxed, your can seriously injure yourself.

You might ask “but what about sports? You don’t hold your breath when you play sports”

And this true, you don’t. But lifting weights is comparatively simple to actually MOVING. When you move, your body needs a balance of laxity and rigidity to create force.

When you are standing in place, leveraging your body to lift a load, that is a different situation.

When do you use pressurized breathing? Depends on how heavy you are lifting.

1-5 reps (heavy weight)

Use the valsalva maneuver, create as much internal pressure as possible in order to create total body stability. You will need to reset your breathing on each rep, or every other rep

6-10 reps (moderate weight)

Use the Valsalva maneuver, but not as intense as you would with heavy weight. Because you are performing multiple reps, you need to more laxity in your breathing, otherwise you hyperventilate from lack of oxygen

10-20+ reps (light weight)

This is the most mild form of the Valsalva maneuver, if you do use it at all. This is “athletic breathing”, where you breathe in and out, and you create pressure by controlling the PACING of your breathing, versus holding your breath in. In athlete talk this is called “learning how to breath”, and “you need to RELAX”. If you attempt to perform continuous movement while holding your breath, you will quite literally asphyxiate yourself. This is what people mean when they say “I forgot to breath”

Hopefully this was insightful.

When I train clients, I run them through these different forms of breathing and the effects on physical performance.

That said, as with all things health, you have to experience it to truly understand it.

About the Author

Alexander is an outlier in the fitness world, coming from an artistic background as a trained dancer with degree in performance choreography. After injuries took him away from his dream of being a principal ballet dancer, he heavily investigated training, rehab, and what it meant to become stronger and achieve better health. In 2009, he began personal training part time, and he realized he had a passion for teaching. Since that time, he relentlessly focused all his efforts on improving his professional skillset and becoming the best asset he can be to his clients. His content can be found on EliteFts, in his bimonthly column, as well numerous fitness websites, in mainstream magazines, and his own website. Having worked under John Meadows as a coach, and maintained a constant high volume training clientele for almost 8 years, his maverick perspectives and practices distinguish his place in the industry.