By Duncan Kerr
If it weren't for the fact that breathing is automatic and taken for granted then we would not be asking this question.
Sports people train all their other muscle groups yet ignore the most fundamental system necessary to improve sports performance - the muscles used for breathing.
If ever there was a weak link in the chain, this is it!
The faster you move the greater demand there is for oxygen delivery to your working muscles, and carbon dioxide removal. This in turn increases your heart rate and subsequently your inspiratory breathing muscles have to work very hard to keep up. Eventually, as we’ve all experienced, they fail, but the point at which they fail can be extended by training the breathing muscles separately with POWERbreathe inspiratory muscle training.
Most people assume that if you train hard, perhaps with interval training or running up hill, you will develop strong breathing muscles. This is not necessarily the case because there is a limiting factor called the metaboreflex- the body’s built in brake.
This interaction was examined in the 2001, Nov 15th issue of The Journal of Physiology (Dempsey and colleagues), article “Robin Hood for the lungs? A respiratory metaboreflex that ‘steals’ blood flow from locomotor muscles.”
They demonstrated that manipulation of breathing work during maximal performance results in a marked change in the blood flow of the working muscles, as well as a change in cardiac output and the uptake of oxygen in the whole body, as well as in the active muscles. In addition, they established the remarkable metabolic cost of supporting the respiratory system (muscles) during high performance, which may be as high as 14 - 18 % of the cardiac output (Harms et al 1998).
To break through this barrier you must train your breathing system separately.
So what is the metaboreflex?
When you hit that point on the hill where you struggle to breathe your brain puts the brakes on i.e. reducing blood flow to your legs and redirecting it to support a poorly conditioned breathing system. Hence every time you reach your limit, the brakes come on and you can’t train past it. BUT if you train your breathing muscles independently to a higher level, when you hit the point where you previously “blew up” you can carry on, as your brain now continues to allow the blood flow to the working muscles. Stronger muscles equal more power, less fatigue and greater endurance.
There is also a big psychological benefit. When breathing feels easy you are able to push yourself harder. Go further – faster.
Your breathing muscles are also used for stability and propulsion in many sports, swimming and rowing in particular, but in almost all sports: footballers jumping for a header; boxers and rugby players taking an impact on the chest; walking at altitude- the list is endless.
How do you train your breathing muscles?
POWERbreathe works in exactly the same way as any other form of resistance/weight training, such as dumbbell curls for your arms - for instance, doing 30 reps a day over a period of a month will result in you gradually increasing the size of the dumbbell. At the end of the month you’ll have stronger arms which will be able to lift more with less effort. Using POWERbreathe you’re doing exactly the same thing for your breathing muscles – training against a resistance that you increase with the more training you do, and as your breathing muscles become stronger. The difficult bit was developing a device that could train your internal breathing muscles (which are primarily the intercostals between the ribs and the diaphragm).
POWERbreathe training benefits are twofold
- It delays the onset of the metaboreflex.
- It trains you to breathe more efficiently and deeply using your diaphragm and intercostals to expand your ribcage and maximise the full potential of your lung capacity, which you’re probably not fully utilising. The lungs can then inflate quickly to their maximum potential allowing more efficient use of alveoli for greater gas exchange.
Many athletes report being able to inhale over one litre of air more after inspiratory muscle training with POWERbreathe, than before POWERbreathe training, and due to the increased strength of the diaphragm, they can inhale at a much higher speed, for example improving from inhaling 4 litres to 5 litres of air and inhaling at 9 litres per second from 6 litres per second.
Luca Piancastelli, one of Italy’s top fitness instructors, said of POWERbreathe,
“I've often wondered how to structure the ideal workout for those who practice sport with a high aerobic effort. I looked for empirical systems that help me promote improved aerobic capacity of athletes. I recently tested - first on myself and then on other people that I coach – POWERbreathe, and without a doubt I can say that it is an essential complement to improve anyone’s performance. With the K5 I can monitor breathing qualities and follow step by step improvements. When you believe in a product, it's easy to recommend!”
You can read more about the benefits of breathing training for sports and exercise, performing arts, health and medical, and the uniformed services in POWERbreathe Benefits.
How does POWERbreathe Work?
POWERbreathe uses a variable, calibrated, spring loaded valve to adjust the “weight” your breathing muscles will be “lifting”. You start off with a ‘light resistance’ and gradually increase the resistance over time, just as you would when training any other muscle group. This breathing training can be done anywhere in around 5 minutes, even if you are injured or it’s too cold to train outside. Training is just 30 breaths twice a day for the first month, then once a day to maintain your improved strength and endurance.
POWERbreathe breathing training is “The easiest gain you will ever get” said Eddie Fletcher, top rowing and cycling coach.
Types of POWERbreathe
There are currently two types of POWERbreathe: mechanical and electronic. The mechanical models (Classic and Plus) have hand adjustable valves for changing the resistance load, and the electronic (K-Series), as you would expect, feature a unique electronically controlled valve. The electronic units use a very sophisticated computer controlled valve that adjusts the loading automatically based on the current muscle strength of the user. The top end K5 unit connects to a laptop and gives instant visual feedback on load, volume, speed and energy used, via the Breathe-Link software. All sessions are saved for progress monitoring.
POWERbreathe has been available for over 15 years following its early development at Loughborough and Birmingham Universities. There have been numerous studies proving the effectiveness of inspiratory muscle training in many sports disciplines, as well as in medical applications, such as helping people with COPD and Asthma.
POWERbreathe is used around the world by top athletes in all sports, including World record holders and Olympic champions in numerous disciplines, but it can be used by everybody who breathes, even if only to get to the top of the stairs without getting out of breath.
A brief selection of current POWERbreathe users from different sports disciplines
If you're a POWERbreathe user then please leave a comment here as we'd love to hear your experience of breathing training using your POWERbreathe.