POWERbreathe training for tri-forces expedition to Makalu

In September of this year, a tri-service team - Makalu 2014 - will attempt to place at least two of its eight members on the summit of Makalu via the most challenging route, the South East Ridge. If they are successful then this expedition will become the first British ascent via this notoriously difficult route.

Makalu is the fifth highest mountain in the world standing at 8,463 metres and is located in the Mahalangur Himalayas on the border between Nepal and China, southeast of Mount Everest.

Not only does scaling the mountain via this particular route present a challenge, but also the height of the mountain means that breathing at altitude will also be difficult.

With breathing an issue at high altitude, the expedition plan on introducing POWERbreathe Inspiratory Muscle Training to the team for their pre-expedition training “as a way of developing their respiratory function”, which is something they have done successfully for previous expeditions.

The Makalu 2014 team, led by Expedition Leader Wing Commander Colin Scott MBE (RAF), comprises members of the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force and they have already spent a day undergoing a series of physiological tests, including VO2 max, at the Carnegie Research Institute at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Arranged by Dr. John O’Hara, Reader in Sports and Exercise Physiology, the team was subjected to a range of tests designed to enable Expedition Performance Coach, Paul (Chip) Rafferty, to finely tune individual training plans for each member as part of their final preparation.

Included in their training plans for breathing at high altitude will be POWERbreathe Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT) which targets the breathing muscles, strengthening them by around 30-50%, helping to eliminate breathing fatigue.

As the team ascends Makalu, above 3000m the amount of oxygen in the air decreases by 30%. At around 1km they’ll begin to experience breathlessness and at 4km they’ll even feel breathless at rest. This is because at high altitude the body becomes limited by the ability to pump air in and out of the lungs. Just to put this into perspective whilst resting at sea level, you breathe about 12 litres of air in and out of your lungs every minute. At the summit of Mt. Everest (8848m) it requires almost maximal levels of breathing (in excess of 150 litres per minute) just to put one foot in front of the other. This level of breathing can be sustained for only a couple of minutes at a time. And if the respiratory muscles are working very hard at breathing, they can then also 'steal' blood from the legs to meet their own requirement for oxygen, thus impairing leg performance during climbing. Basically, all this respiratory work can lead to chronic fatigue of the breathing muscles, increasing breathlessness and impairing climbing performance.

Inspiratory Muscle Training:

  • Reduces oxygen requirement of exercise in simulated altitude by 8-12%*
  • Reduces cardiac output requirement of exercise in simulated altitude by 14%*
  • Reduces breathing requirement of exercise in simulated altitude by 25%*
  • Increases arterial oxygen saturation by 4%*
  • Increases lung diffusing capacity by 4%*
  • Reduces perceived exertion*
  • Reduces breathlessness*

*Effects of inspiratory muscle training on exercise responses in normoxia and hypoxia

So as part of their pre-expedition training, each team member will be given a POWERbreathe Plus to use as part of their daily training (POWERbreathe Plus Level 2 MR and POWERbreathe Plus Level 3 HR). They will also have the use of a POWERbreathe K5 with Breathe-Link Software for lab quality measurement of four main training indices: training load; inspiratory power; inspiratory flow; energy expenditure.

You can check on the team’s progress by visiting their website www.makalu2014.com but we’ll also be offering updates here on the POWERbreathe website, where you can also find research papers and review articles that look at Inspiratory Muscle Training for High Altitude Training.

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