Skiing longer without losing your breath

This article in Ski Magazine suggests that breathing exercises can improve your skiing performance.

Skiing for longer by breathing better

The type of breathing exercises the article refers to is POWERbreathe Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT). It also refers to a study by Louise Turner from Indiana University. And findings from the study suggest performing daily breathing exercises to reduce the amount of oxygen your inspiratory muscles require during exercise.

Ski resorts with the longest season are at high-altitude

The resorts that have the longest season for skiing are found at high-altitude. And their winter season can stretch from November to May in Europe. Most noteworthy for skiers is that at this high elevation your body will try to compensate for the reduced oxygen. It will do this by making you breathe twice as fast. Most of all resorts that are above 2500 meters will pose the highest risk to skiers. And at 2500 meters, oxygen is reduced by 25% from sea level.

Breathing effort at high altitude

Due to this thinner air at altitude, enormous demands will be placed on your breathing muscles. And to compensate, your lungs will be working much harder. Consequently any exercise at altitude will push your breathing to its limits. Even if you’re fit.

At 3000 meters the amount of oxygen in the air decreases by 30%, and at 5km it’s half that at sea-level. Furthermore at around 1km you will begin to experience breathlessness during moderate exercise. And then at 4km you will feel breathless just at rest.

Breathing training for high-altitude skiing

At sea level, your ability to exercise is limited by the capacity of your heart to pump blood to your exercising muscles. But at high altitude, you become limited by the ability to pump air in and out of your lungs.

In addtion, if your respiratory muscles are working very hard, they can 'steal' blood from the legs to meet their own requirement for oxygen. Consequently this will impair your leg performance and therefore skiing performance.

POWERbreathe IMT

POWERbreathe IMT is used by athletes, healthy individuals and patients with breathing problems. However most importantly to athletes, including skiers, is that it targets the breathing muscles. POWERbreathe IMT will strengthen your breathing muscles by around 30-50%.  As a result, performance significantly improves and breathing fatigue reduces. In fact POWERbreathe IMT:

  • Attenuates the increase in effort associated with ascent to high altitude (1)
  • Reduces the impairment of inspiratory muscle strength induced by ascent to high altitude (2)

In other research IMT:

  • Reduces oxygen requirement of exercise in simulated altitude by 8-12% (3)
  • Lessens cardiac output requirement of exercise in simulated altitude by 14% (3)
  • Decreases breathing requirement of exercise in simulated altitude by 25% (3)
  • Increases arterial oxygen saturation by 4% (3)
  • Enlarges lung diffusing capacity by 4% (3)
  • Lowers perceived exertion (3)
  • Reduces breathlessness (3)

Research

1. Nickol A, Romer L, McConnell A, Jones D. The effects of specific inspiratory muscle training upon respiratory muscle function and dyspnoea at high altitude. High Alt Med Biol. 2001;2:116.

2. Romer L, McConnell A, Jones D. Changes in respiratory and forearm-flexor muscle strength during exposure to high altitude. J Sports Sci. 2000;19:63-4.

3. Downey AE, Chenoweth LM, Townsend DK, Ranum JD, Ferguson CS, Harms CA. Effects of inspiratory muscle training on exercise responses in normoxia and hypoxia. Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2006 Sep 20.

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