Can POWERbreathe improve breathing at high altitude?

altitude-trainingAt high altitude the air is 'thinner', containing less oxygen than at sea level. The higher we go, the thinner it gets. Climbing or skiing at high altitude places enormous demands upon the breathing muscles. In order to compensate for the thinner air, the lungs must work much harder, and exercise, which at sea level brings on nothing more than a slight increase in breathing, can push your breathing to its limits at high altitude. At 3km (3000m) the amount of oxygen in the air decreases by 30%, and at 5km its half that at sea-level. This means that at around 1km you begin to experience breathlessness during moderate exercise, and at 4km you feel breathless at rest.

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

Just to put things into perspective: whilst resting at sea level, you breathe about 12 litres of air in and out of your lungs each 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 before the other. This level of breathing can be sustained for only a couple of minutes at a time.

Human beings tend to 'learn' from experience what is an appropriate level of breathing for a given exercise task. When there is a mis-match between your previous experience and your current experience (as occurs at high altitude), you get a heightened sensation of breathlessness. Also, if your respiratory muscles are working very hard, they can 'steal' blood from the legs to meet their own requirement for oxygen, thus impairing leg performance. Finally, all that respiratory work can lead to chronic fatigue of your breathing muscles, which also increases breathlessness and impairs performance.

By training with POWERbreathe prior to trekking / climbing at high altitude, or a skiing trip, you can prepare your breathing for the rigours of the increased work of breathing, minimise fatigue and breathlessness, and improve performance and enjoyment. Short of spending a few weeks doing lots of aerobic exercise at 3000m, there's not much else to rival POWERbreathe's ability to get your breathing prepared for the mountains!

We would like to hear from you if you climb or ski at high altitudes.  Please leave a comment below. Why not join in the conversation with us on Twitter, Like us on Facebook too.

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  • Here's a comment from one of our POWERbreathe Facebook friends, Shane Skinman Hanson, who's an altitude training coach in Perth. He posted that he was up to Level 9 on his POWERbreathe Ironman (no mean feat!) and we asked if he felt POWERbreathe has helped him with the demands that altitude places on his breathing, and this is his reply…

    "Sure, when you have a strong and flexible diaphragm you're going to be able to take in bigger breaths. With the high intensity training you will be gasping for air so proper use of the diaphragm is vital. I really notice it in the pool as I take a breath every 3rd stroke alternating sides. But most importantly in my case as a marathon runner; it helps me conserve energy by being able to focus on slowing my breathing down through deep breaths that are more effective than fast shallow ones.
    One of my athletes Marco Tentori who holds several Muay thai titles has been using one for years and loves it too. They're an essential piece of gear for any serious athlete."

    Thanks Shane for getting in touch and sharing your experience.

    If any of you are using POWERbreathe for altitude training, then please leave a comment here as we’d love to hear from you too.

  • Great stuff, we've been looking for something like this (we're mountaineers). Also, experimenting with different forms of yoga breathing proved benefitial to our high altitude ventures... I'm curious to try powerbreathe and see whether it'll help me get up big mountains faster :) Best of luck to you.


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