What happens when you breathe and when you POWERbreathe?

Following on from our previous blog, POWERbreathe and Your Respiratory System, it seems natural to look next at what physically happens when you breathe, so in this blog we’ll be looking at inhalation (breathing in) and exhalation (breathing out). We’ll then look at how POWERbreathe helps you strengthen the muscles you use to breathe in, and why it’s beneficial to do so.

What happens when you breathe?

Inhalation – Breathing In

Try and focus on your breathing as you read this as it will help you connect to your breathing muscles and ‘feel’ your breathing muscles working.

As you breathe in your diaphragm tightens, contracting and moving downward. This allows the space in your chest cavity to increase providing the extra space needed for your lungs to expand. You can feel this as you take a deep breath in. The muscles between your ribs, your intercostal muscles, also play a role here as they too help enlarge your chest cavity. They do this by contracting as you inhale, pulling your rib cage upward and outward.

At this point when your lungs are expanding, they’re sucking air in through your nose or mouth, down into your windpipe and into your lungs. It then passes through your bronchial tubes until it finally reaches and enters the alveoli, or air sacs.

The walls of these air sacs are very thin, and oxygen from the air passes through them to the surrounding blood vessels, or capillaries. Here haemoglobin, a red blood cell protein, helps to move the oxygen from the air sacs to your blood. As this happens, the carbon dioxide waste gas moves from the capillaries into the air sacs. This waste gas has travelled from the right-side of the heart through the pulmonary artery in the bloodstream.

Through a network of capillaries the now oxygen-rich blood from your lungs is carried to your pulmonary vein which delivers blood to the left-side of your heart which then pumps it to the rest of your body. Now the oxygen in your blood moves from blood vessels into surrounding tissues.

Exhalation – Breathing Out

As you breathe out your diaphragm does the opposite of what it does when you breathe in, and relaxes, moving upward into your chest cavity. The same applies to your intercostal muscles, the muscles between your ribs, which also relax, reducing the space in your chest cavity. You can feel this now if you take a breath in, and then out.

As you breathe out and the space in your chest cavity reduces, the carbon dioxide rich air is forced out of your lungs, windpipe and finally out of your nose or mouth. This requires no effort at all from your body unless you suffer from a lung disease or breathing problems, or you’re in the middle of doing something very physical, such as working-out. When you’re working-out your abdominal muscles contract. This tightens and pushes your diaphragm against your lungs more than usual, quickly pushing air out of your lungs.

How POWERbreathe breathing training benefits you

Now we have a more complete understanding of what physically happens when you breathe, it’s clear that your inspiratory muscles, the muscles you use to breathe in, undertake most of the work of breathing. So it makes sense that improving the strength, power and endurance of your inspiratory muscles could only be beneficial.

If you were a bodybuilder, then you’d strengthen all your muscle groups so that you could increase your lifting weight, and improve your performance in competition. So why not train your breathing muscles to increase their strength, power and stamina? Finding a training stimulus of sufficient duration and frequency to elicit an improvement in strength, power and endurance of your breathing muscles is a challenge in itself, but even if you could, it’s doubtful whether this type of unloaded breathing would provide enough of a training overload to elicit maximal training benefits; as Professor McConnell says, “it’s akin to a bicep curl without a dumbbell.”

This is where POWERbreathe comes into its own, as it specifically targets your breathing muscles and provides more than enough stimulus to elicit improvements in strength, power and endurance. POWERbreathe offers various levels of resistance to train against (see Comparing models in the POWERbreathe Mechanical Series and Comparing POWERbreathe Mechanical Series with Electronic Series) and is quick and easy to use. And because it’s a training tool it can be used by those with breathing problems because it is drug-free and has no drug interactions; just speak to your GP or asthma nurse about POWERbreathe.


Training your breathing muscles to improve their strength, power and endurance has benefits for everyone. You can find out how it may benefit you by visiting POWERbreathe Benefits, but here are just a few ways you could benefit from stronger breathing muscles:

In sport and exercise:

• Improves fitness and sports performance
• Reduces whole body effort, so exercise feels easier
• Speeds up lactate clearance

In performing arts:

• Enhances the ability to inflate the lungs (breathe deeper)
• Enhances the ability to control your breath (how you inhale governs how you exhale)
• Warms-up breathing muscles prior to performance

In health and medical:

• Reduces breathlessness and restores breathing power
• Improves quality of life in people with debilitating breathing conditions
• Reduced consumption of medication of up to 79% in asthma patients

In the uniformed services:

• Increased time to exhaustion during a standard laboratory treadmill test
• Reduced the rate of air use from the breathing cylinder used by firefighters (increasing wear time by around 1.5 min from a 15 min cylinder)
• Reduced heart rate

In our next blog we’ll be looking at what controls your breathing.

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