Why Heavy Lifting and Heavy Breathing Should Be Avoided

An American with type-1 diabetes told me this story: He had been at the gym many years ago. After doing some heavy weight lifting he began to feel ill. An ambulance was called. Upon arriving at the ER they determined he had a brain hemorrhage. He lived – after having a hole drilled into his skull to drain the blood.

We’ve all heard these types of stories associated with weight lifting. I know one man who went blind. Another who developed sleep apnea. Another who burst a blood vessel in his leg.

Is lifting weights so risky? I don’t think so. Instead, I think these side-effects are a result of over-breathing while lifting weights (or doing push-ups… whatever you’re into). It’s typical to see someone at the gym lifting a very heavy weight while grunting and growling – inhaling and exhaling deeply through the mouth.

All this deep breathing lowers carbon dioxide levels in the lungs. This then lowers CO2 levels in the blood causing a condition known as hypocapnia (“low smoke”). CO2 relaxes blood vessels. A lack of CO2 causes blood vessels to constrict. At the same time, the heart rate is probably pounding twice as hard, forcing more blood through those tight blood vessels.

For people with type-1 diabetes, who already have poor blood circulation, chronically low CO2 levels and serious issues with blood vessel constriction… heavy lifting with heavy breathing could be deadly. It’s not just what happens when you’re lifting the weights. The entire exercise may be contributing to chronic blood vessel constriction 24/7. This could easily lead to things like blindness, kidney failure and gangrene… not to mention a really bad ueadache.

Instead of giving up heavy lifting, I recommend giving up heavy breathing. Over the last year I’ve been experimenting with different approaches to breathing while doing intense calisthenics (e.g. handstand push-ups, bridging, pull-ups). I use the following with good results (and no bursting blood vessels). Since the New Year usually involves resolutions to hit the gym, I thought I’d share this possibly life-saving approach to strength training.

  1. Inhale through the nose while lifting a weight for two or more seconds. Inhale as little air as you can as slowly as you can. Maintain a slight feeling of “air hunger.”
  2. Pause for one second (no movement, no breathing).
  3. Slowly exhale through the nose as you lower the weight for three or more seconds. Let the air ecape naturally without forcing the air out of your lungs.
  4. Pause again for one second.
  5. Repeat until proper breathing cannot be maintained or your set is complete.

If you can’t complete the set then take a mini-break: Put down the weight. Inhale and exhale calmly through the nose once or twice. Then stop breathing for three seconds by pinching the nose and keeping the mouth closed. And then repeat from step 1 through 5 until the set is done.

The idea is to breathe so little that you experience a slight feeling of suffocation while you are strength training (similar to how we feel when we jog). You want to feel like you are inhaling 10-20% less air than you’d prefer.

When I do this, I immediately feel blood circulation increase. Body temperature goes up. And I start to sweat intensely. Afterwards, I feel more clarity and energy.

But it will cause blood sugar to drop. Which is good. It means the exercise is now increasing your insulin sensitivity. Most people on a basal insulin need to take 4-8g of sugar every 15-30 minutes while they strength train.

Not only does this approach appear to improve blood circulation and increase insulin sensitivity but it also minimizes the release of stress hormones. And, as I spoke about last time, stress hormones raise blood sugar.

Thinking outside the type-1 matrix,
–John C. A. Manley

P.S. I actually use this breathing routine for three sets of calisthenics, three times a day, six days a week. E.g. today I did 150 single leg squats (in sets of 10-20-20, before breakfast, lunch and dinner). All with reduced nasal breathing. I follow the calisthenic routine in the book  available form Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Amazon.co.uk.

P.P.S. You may also like to read: Does Exercise Really Help People with Type-1 Diabetes?

About the Author: John C. A. Manley researches and writes about alternative treatments for type-1 diabetes and its many complications. His wife, Nicole, of 15 years has had type-1 diabetes for four decades. Together they have lowered her HgbA1c below 5.5%, regained thyroid function, increased kidney function and reversed gastroparesis. Read more about their journey out of the T1D matrix or subscribe to their Diabetic Dharma blog..