I've been plateaued for months. I can't increase my reps even by one more (I do, among other things, pushups with weights in a backpack, ≈30kg). Currently, I train any particular group of muscles, e.g. arms, once in three days. I tried everything I could think of (follow the link for additional information), and I recently started to wonder, what if my struggles with the sport are due to poor air quality? I live in a city with "very dirty" air, officially – near a wastewater treatment facility and coal CHP plant, at that. I've been doing daily exercises at home for years – pretty intensively if you ask me – I've breathed a lot of this bad stuff in. Can air pollution negatively affect your physical performance? What do studies say on that?


2 Answers 2


It's never good to train on polluted places and there is a body of research showing that breathing in pollution hinders performance.

So the answer to the question based on the studies is yes, it will affect your performance.

Although to attribute your plateauing to just that, unless we are talking about incredible levels of pollution, seems unlikely.

Sometimes you need to change the exercises themselves and shake things up a little.

Also, it might be you are overtrained and need to stop for a while and deload - there are several deloading schools and you can ask about the best one for you on a different question - but how long it's been since you've lowered your intensity?

You might need to take it easy one or two weeks to come back to increases.

Oh, and are you eating enough and sleeping well enough? Those are another important variables...

And finally, as @alephzero pointed out in the comments, there is also a genetic physical limit that we can't overcome without drugs (This is not recommending you should do drugs, at all. Just stating a documented fact)

  • The second reference is not available (and it's not archived by Wayback Machine). The third one is about pulmonary short-term effects after acute exposure (rather than about strength performance under chronic exposure). Thanks anyway, though Jul 25, 2021 at 16:33
  • The second reference, apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA208423.pdf, I can download repeatedly. It's titled "Effects of Air Pollution on Human Exercise Performance" which is exactly what you're looking for - maybe you are on a country banned by the US military?
    – user35666
    Jul 25, 2021 at 17:00
  • Well, maybe not exactly what you want, but as close as you'll get. I think the exact study you want about strength performance under chronic exposure has not been done yet. Hopefully someone else proves me wrong. Finally, the question you posed twice is "can air pollution negatively affect your performance?" and studies prove that it does affect it, even if not in your specific scenario.
    – user35666
    Jul 25, 2021 at 17:06

Absolutely pollution can affect physical performance, particularly if one has an existing respiratory condition. It might be a bit anecdotal but I can vouch that this is the case from my own experience where I have seen a coorelation between higher level of air pollutants, which I monitored, and stanima as I would struggle to breathe sufficiently much sooner where pollution levels are higher. Over a longer time higher levels of air polution are thought to cause such respiratory problems, the effect gases like nitrogen oxides have on children linking to conditions like asthma has been the main reason to extend low emission zones to more residential areas of London.

More scientific studies are found at (for example) https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/full/10.1289/EHP2239 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22267572/ https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1757913917726567 which quite consistantly suggest a negative correlation between polution levels and performance.

  • Thanks, but the first one is about old folks, the second and third ones are paywalled (the last one is on how air pollution discourages exercise, not what I'm looking for) Jul 25, 2021 at 16:13

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