Weight Lifting and High Blood Pressure

Doctor taking blood pressure of smiling patient
Doctor checking man's blood pressure (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

Lifting weights can raise or lower your blood pressure. There are differences between how weightlifting effects your blood pressure during rest and exercise. Knowing how weight training might lower blood pressure can lead to improved cardiovascular health.

Blood Pressure Types

The two types of blood pressure readings are systolic and diastolic. Systolic is named after the phase when the heart beats, called systole. Diastolic is named for the the diastole phase, when the heart is in a relaxed state. Both types are measured in millimeters of mercury, abbreviated mmHg. Systolic blood pressure is almost always higher than diastolic blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthy systolic to diastolic pressures, respectively, are 120 and 80 mmHg or less. Pre-hypertensive values are between these and 140/90 mmHg. Values over this are considered high.

How To Measure

Measuring blood pressure, especially during exercise, can be a difficult task. There are commercially available heart rate monitors that take your blood pressure for you at the push of a button. These are usually accurate and reliable in resting conditions. Automated blood pressure monitors are not well suited to measure blood pressure during exercise. Korotkoff sounds can be heard using a stethoscope and are made by turbulence in the bloodstream. The beginning of these sounds is the systolic blood pressure, and the silencing of these sounds is the diastolic blood pressure. Any blood pressure measurements during exercise should be done manually because it is the most accurate method.

Blood Pressure During Exercise

Blood pressure can be dramatically increased during resistance exercise by doing the Valslava maneuver. This maneuver involves holding your breath during lifting. It is used to help increase the amount of weight that can be lifted. Blood pressures of 320 mmHg systolic and 250 mmHg diastolic have been reported during heavy lower-body lifts. Higher blood pressures during lifting are seen with very heavy weights for a low number of repetitions versus lifting lighter weights for more repetitions. People who have heart conditions should avoid lifting very heavy weights.

Blood Pressure At Rest

Exercise can lower resting blood pressure, but studies measuring resting blood pressure as a result of weight training are mixed. In "Strength and Power In Sport," Dr. Steven Fleck says that body composition changes are mostly responsible for either increased or decreased blood pressure. In other words, lifting tends to reduce body fat, and reduced body fat often leads to reduced blood pressure. Most lifters should not expect resting blood pressure to be dramatically changed by weight training.

Long-term Lifting Helps Blood Pressure

Long-term weightlifting can lower blood pressure during subsequent weight-training sessions. Systolic and diastolic blood pressures have been shown to be lower in bodybuilders than in novice lifters at all common relative training intensities. At least several weeks of training need to be completed to observe these benefits. Long-term weight training also reduces blood pressure versus what it would be otherwise during other non-lifting physical activities, such as running. This is a sign of a stronger cardiovascular system because less pressure is needed to move enough oxygenated blood through the body.

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