The majority of clinical trials that have taken place have proven inspiratory muscle training offers benefits to sports performance including rowers, swimmers, runners and cyclists. Inspiratory muscle training provides the following benefits to sports performance:
- A reduction in dyspnoea during exercise in athletes.
- Increase in the force of inspiratory muscles during intensive exercise training for athletes.
- Increased endurance in runners
Breathing is a process that we often take for granted but as an athlete, a runner in particular, it can influence the way you run and when performed efficiently, it can improve your running ability. Our bodies use a process of aerobic respiration to generate energy during activities. This process involves using oxygen so it makes perfect sense to understand and be aware of the oxygen intake we use so we are able to make sure we intake the right amount of oxygen. Human beings are fascinated with exercise and as we continue to exercise more we are using our body more and this places an increased demand on our respiratory system to meet the metabolic needs of our muscles. This process is called hyperpnoea – gradually increasing the body to a comfortable rate and then maintaining a steady rate. When runners are exercising they rely on certain muscle groups to allow the expansion of the rib cage. The main muscle involved here is the diaphragm which is the muscle directly beneath the lungs, separating the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity, and the intercostals which are between the ribs. During periods of vigorous exercise more stress is placed on this muscle group to achieve thoracic volume. The particular muscles that are working harder are muscles in the neck, the pectorals in the chest and the postural muscles in the spine. Bearing this in mind, here are some breathing techniques to help you get the most from your run:
Focus on belly breathing. This is when you breathe by expanding your belly which allows the diaphragm to move down creating more room for the lungs to expand, rather than only through chest wall expansion/movement of the rib cage.
Relax your upper body and focus on your posture
Make sure your shoulders and neck muscles are relaxed. This allows optimal breathing of the muscles. By focusing on your posture your body will perform at its best. It is important your shoulders are back. This will aid your breathing and also help reduce muscle fatigue.
Monitor your breathing
This is not an easy task but once you are established in your run try and monitor the pattern of breathing – is it steady or is it rhythmic? Always breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. If you regularly run then it is important that you perform a warm up routine. Neglecting breathing exercises correctly can lead to breathlessness. Inspiratory Muscle Training can be used to specifically warm-up these muscles prior to exercise, using a reduced load setting. Image Source: Respiratory Physiology Research Group