Olympic track cycling involves intense acceleration and sprinting at high speeds. These sprint races require a combination of tactics and power for the six track Velodrome cycling events. Olympic road cycling however requires stamina to endure the long distances. This applies to both the road race and the individual time trials.

Cycling tips for training like an Olympian

The cycling disciplines of road cycling and track cycling demand a high level of stamina, power and strength. Obviously, a coach will provide athletes with a training programme designed to improve these areas. Such training includes overloading muscle fibres in order to obtain a training response. However, there is a group of muscles that, if also subjected to overloading, will also ultimately improve performance. In fact, it could provide you with the ‘edge’ over the competition. These are the breathing muscles; specifically the inspiratory muscles (mainly the diaphragm and intercostals).

Breathing muscle training is scientifically proven to improve breathing muscle strength, power and endurance. Additionally, it also reduces breathing muscle fatigue. Training the breathing muscles is achievable by using an inspiratory muscle training device, such as POWERbreathe IMT.

Inspiratory muscle training (IMT) uses resistance training to apply the ‘overload principle’. The process of IMT involves breathing-in against a resistance load. The scientifically proven training regimen for POWERbreathe IMT combines training duration, intensity and frequency in order to achieve overload.

This ‘resistance training’ strengthens your breathing muscles by making it harder to breathe in. It works in the same way as increasing dumbbell weight to improve the strength of your biceps or triceps. In fact, IMT is often referred to as ‘dumbbells for your diaphragm’.

Cycling specific breathing tips

Incorporating IMT into your track cycling or road cycling training promotes a fuller utilisation of your breathing muscles. IMT will also enhance core stability which helps to optimise pedal efficiency. Furthermore, by increasing the strength and stamina of your breathing muscles with IMT, the better you tolerate the crouched position on the bike.

Breathing exercise for road cycling

Scientific studies show inspiratory muscle training improves the strength (by 31.2%) and stamina (27.8%) of your breathing muscles. Furthermore, it shows cycling time trial performance improves by 4.6% – equivalent to slashing 3-minutes off a 40k time trial. Finally, a study shows that IMT enables participants to cycle for 33% longer and with a lower sense of effort.

Breathing exercise for track cycling

Sprint racing drives breathing to its limit because of the repeated high-intensity effort it requires. It also requires a stable core and strong upper body. Equally of importance is the ability to focus on the tactical elements of track cycling, even when breathing discomfort is high.

A study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine shows that IMT accelerates recovery during repeated sprints (by up to 7%). This will help you as a track cyclist to maintain your intensity during an event. Additionally, because you will recover more quickly from intense cycling sprints, the worry about breathing discomfort becomes less and you will be able to focus on tactics instead.

As a sprint athlete, you will also appreciate the realisation that IMT attenuates metaboreflex. The reason for this is because the body will restrict blood flow to the limbs when your breathing muscles fatigue. When this happens, your body goes into survival mode, shutting down blood flow to your limbs so that your diaphragm and breathing may recover. In fact, there is a thorough explanation for this “breathless legs” phenomenon in Triathlon Magazine (Canada) in the article, ‘Do your respiratory muscles ‘steal’ blood from your locomotor muscles?‘ Simply put, the stronger your diaphragm, the better blood supply to your limbs and the better you perform.

IMT specific cycling tips

  1. While turbo training and seated in the aero position, perform two or three sets of 30 breaths on your IMT device, such as POWERbreathe.
  2. Hold a basic plank for 30 to 60 seconds while using your IMT device. Perform 3 sets, inhaling forcefully and then exhaling for about 4 seconds. You can easily vary this by performing different plank variations, such as on a balance ball.
  3. Remember to perform a pre-race IMT warm-up because research shows that a standard pre-exercise warm-up routine fails to prepare your breathing muscles for the rigours of intense exercise.
  4. Research shows that completing an IMT cool-down will help to speed lactate clearance more effectively, helping you to recover more quickly.