Training: Get some air

Our POWERbreathe friends and distributor in the Netherlands, Trainjelongen, contacted us as they were delighted to see an article about how training your breathing muscles can improve cycling performance. It appeared in the Cycling magazine, ‘Fiets’, which has the largest circulation for cycling magazines in the Benelux.

The reason for their delight? Well the article, originally written by Nick Morgan from Bike Radar/Cycling Plus and translated into Dutch by Fiets magazine for their readership, discusses ‘evidence that improving breathing ability may be more important than previously thought, and that endurance athletes can improve simply by paying attention to their breathing off the bike.’

The article, ‘Training: Get some air’, firstly sets out the two parts of the breathing process:

  1. The role played by the lungs which expand to take in oxygen and contract to expel carbon dioxide.
  2. The role played by the blood which transports oxygen from the lungs to the muscles and then transports carbon dioxide back to be expired.

Nick discusses how exercise physiologists in the past completely discounted the lungs and placed importance on oxygen transportation instead, because they saw that lung size or capacity couldn’t be altered after exercise training and therefore concluded that the lungs placed no limitation on exercise performance. What they did do instead, was to concentrate on oxygen transportation which did benefit from training.

That was then however and this is now, as these theories have been challenged. A group of scientists ‘agreed that lung ventilation had no beneficial effect on endurance performance but realised that expanding and contracting the lungs required muscles. These muscles use energy, just like any other, so they reasoned that if these muscles could be trained to become more efficient then performance might improve.’

Professor Alison McConnell of Brunel University established that “When we exercise we work the inspiratory muscles pretty hard and this triggers a reflex causing blood vessels in our limbs to constrict,” she says. “We showed this using the calf muscle. Yet after breathing training, the same exercise did not trigger the reflex, meaning more blood flowed to the calf and performance improved.”

Large studies which featured cyclists, rowers and runners agree with the above conclusion that a small but significant improvement is possible.

You don’t need to take just Professor McConnell’s word for it… The State University of New York took 15 competitive athletes and tested the theory. They got the athletes to undertake 30 minutes of daily breathing exercises for 4-weeks to see if it boosted their endurance during time-trials. “It did, by an average of 4% compared to controls. This is reinforced by two earlier studies showing that breathing exercises improved 25km and 40km time-trial performance by 2.5 and 2 per cent respectively.”

The article refers to POWERbreathe as a method of training these important breathing muscles, but sadly is incorrect in its description which states POWERbreathe trains both inspiratory and expiratory muscles, which it doesn’t. There is currently no definitive, comprehensive study that shows any benefit to training the expiratory muscles.

For those cyclists wishing to utilise this breathing training to their advantage, McConnell recommends 30 breaths twice a day using the POWERbreathe for four to six weeks in a relaxed position, and then when this feels easy to do, continue the training in the aerobar position so that the breathing muscles get used to working in the same state they would be in when cycling.

The article continues on to discuss altitude training, yoga and Pilates, and you can read the full article online, ‘Training: Get some air’.

Read more about why you should include POWERbreathe IMT as part of your cycling training, or if you’re a cyclist and are already using POWERbreathe, then please leave a comment here or on the POWERbreathe Forum as we’d love to hear about how you’ve benefited from this breathing training. You can also read more about POWERbreathe and cycling training in the Blog's Cycling category.

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