Last updated on November 1st, 2022 at 11:20 am
We all want to know, “Why Do Olympic Lifters Open Their Mouths?”
You must have noticed it.
Every time the Olympics comes around we’re enthralled by the weightlifting competitions.
And literally every athlete, regardless of the lift, will perform the movement with their mouth wide open.
However, unlike the annoying beast in your gym, there is usually no noise coming out.
So, why exactly do Olympic lifters do this and is it something you should be doing too?
Allow me to reveal all.
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Why Do Olympic Lifters Open Their Mouths?
The main reason that Olympic Lifters open their mouths is to take a huge breath in before they lift. The aim is to fill the lungs, force the diaphragm down, and create internal abdominal pressure. This will provide a wider “base” of the torso and create more support for the spine. An Olympic lifter will also hold their breath in throughout the entire lift as a way to increase muscular force. This is a form of the Valsalva Manoeuvre, which is the body’s natural reaction to lifting or pushing something heavy.
1. The Best Explanation For Open Mouth OlympIc Lifts
I’m sure whenever you perform any of the “Big Lifts” you have learned to stabilize your core.
This is especially true when it comes to squats and deadlifts.
The main reason we do this is to keep the midsection strong in order to support the spine.
However, when we typically stabilize the core this will usually mean sucking in the stomach.
It’s as though we’re about to receive a punch to the midsection, so we pull the abdominal muscles in to absorb the impact.
But, this method of stabilizing the core, whether it’s to protect ourselves from a punch or to support a heavy load, is actually wrong.
Realistically, you want to make the base of your torso as wide as possible to provide this additional support.
Think about it in terms of how a pyramid is built.
Your body from shoulders to waist is (hopefully) like an inverted pyramid, but to make the “structure” more secure it should be thinner at the top and wider at the bottom.
And it is this structure that most Olympic lifters are trying to recreate throughout each lift.
The spine is the only structure that supports your torso from top to bottom.
When lifting heavy loads the muscles of the body on their own aren’t enough to support the spine.
And to make matters worse there is no solid structure at the front of the body from the ribcage to the pelvis.
This area of the body contains various organs.
So, in effect, this front area of the body could collapse forwards or to the sides when a heavy load is being lifted.
The best way to counteract this is to “fill out” this area of the body, thus creating the pyramid effect.
The Anatomy of an Olympic Lift
Therefore, prior to exerting full maximal effort into a lift, an athlete will draw in as much breath as possible (hence the open mouth).
The aim here is to fill the lungs with air, force the diaphragm down, and fill the abdominal and thoracic cavities with as much pressure as possible.
In other words, take in a massive breath and push your stomach out as far as possible.
This will help to create a more stable base for the torso.
An Olympic lifter is looking to hold their breath and create internal abdominal pressure throughout the entire lift.
It is only once they complete the rep that they will let their breath out.
However, every once in a while you may hear an athlete make a noise during the lift.
This is simply air escaping due to the intensity of the movement, i.e. it’s more likely to happen when the rep is more difficult/heavier.
2. The Other “Theories” For Open Mouth
As mentioned above, the actual “science” behind open mouth Olympic lifting makes a lot of sense.
The athlete is simply trying to make their lower torso as big as possible in order to provide additional support for their spine.
However, there are a few other theories around open mouth lifting.
Funnily enough, some Olympic athletes simply mimic their predecessors in “O” mouth without really understanding why.
There are a couple of explanations for this.
Firstly, having your mouth wide open helps to relax the facial muscles.
Now, this is actually true and having a relaxed face is a must whenever you perform heavy lifting.
This is especially true when a load is being lifted overhead.
In fact, the more relaxed the facial muscles, the more you should be able to lift.
Secondly, some lifters state that keeping their mouth open helps them to relax their shoulders before they pull the weight.
Once again, I can understand the theory behind this.
That being said, these are nothing more than theories.
Therefore, there is no actual scientific evidence to back these up.
3. It is a Form of the Valsalva Manoeuvre
Holding your breath and literally blowing yourself up is a legitimate form of weightlifting.
This is actually known as the valsalva manoeuvre.
In fact, it is a breathing technique often used in medical circles, e.g. to unclog the ears, restore heart rhythm, etc.
However, when performed for medical purposes, the valsalva manoeuvre is typically done with a closed mouth.
With that being said, the valsalva manoeuvre is naturally performed by the body whenever we lift or push something heavy.
A great example of this is given in the following article featured in The Art of Manliness.
Mark Rippetoe, strength coach and author, likens the valsalva manoeuvre to our instinctive response when we have to push a car.
Just before you push, you take in a huge breath and hold it while also tightening the muscles of the core.
In fact, we all do exactly the same thing when told to “brace yourself” prior to exerting a huge amount of effort.
So, holding your breath and stabilizing the core is a natural reaction prior to lifting something big.
How to Breathe While Lifting Heavy (Valsalva Manoeuvre)
4. Not Everyone Agrees With Open Mouth Lifting
Now, weirdly enough, not everyone is a proponent of keeping the mouth open when exerting huge effort, such as when you perform an Olympic lift.
In fact, one of the strongest men ever believes that this is one of the worst mistakes you can make as a lifter.
Brian Shaw, World’s Strongest Man in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, has a completely different view.
In the video below Brian was asked what his one biggest tip was for people who want to get stronger.
Brian replied, “Honestly, I would say to shut your mouth when lifting.”
Admittedly, the video is a subtle marketing tool for using a mouthguard when you lift (I’m sure we all grind our teeth on occasion when we lift).
However, when the World’s Strongest Man gives you strength tips, it makes sense to listen.
Strength Tip From the World’s Strongest Man
As you can see, the main reason that Olympic lifters open their mouths is to take the deepest, largest breath possible prior to their rep.
This helps to expand the base of the torso in order to provide a wider base and more support for the spine.
An athlete will also hold their breath throughout the entire movement.
This is a form of the valsalva manoeuvre, which is the body’s instinctive reaction when we’re about to push or lift something heavy.
There are other theories about “O” mouth, although there is no scientific evidence to back these up.
Sticking to the subject of why some people or do or do not do something, check out my article about why crossfitters don’t bench press
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.