Recently, one of my athletes told me that they were getting dizzy doing squat cleans. I watched them do another rep and noticed that they were holding their breath during the movement. The process of holding one’s breath while weightlifting is called the Valsalva Maneuver and it’s what most experts recommend that weightlifters do while performing near maximal lifts. The Valsalva Maneuver helps to increase intra-abdominal pressure which in turn helps to protect the spine from injury amongst other potential benefits. However, as with most good things there can be a potential downside and that is that performing this maneuver may cause you to get dizzy or in extreme cases even cause unconscious.
The dizziness may be due to improper barbell placement in the front rack position while performing cleans or front squats that results in compression of the carotid arteries and restricts blood flow to the brain. Couple this with holding your breath and exerting yourself simultaneously causes your blood pressure and heart rate to slow down. However, I’ve seen athletes get dizzy even doing deadlifts or back squats (me included) where the barbell could not possibly compress your carotid arteries. In these cases, the dizziness is most often caused by holding your breath because just holding your breath will raise your blood pressure which can also lead to dizziness.
If this is happening to you, you may want to try to leak a little air out of your lunges at the point of maximum exertion; such as the sticking point of a squat. Ultimately, leaking all the air out of your lungs as you complete the lift. I’ve personally seen this work for many of my athletes. Give it a try and let me know if it helped.