Your breathing can often be a limiting factor as you exercise, reducing your sports performance. It can let you down, preventing you from performing at your best as you stop to ‘catch your breath’. Consequently, breathing muscle training is a discipline elite coaches include to improve athletes’ breathing muscle strength and stamina. In fact, by performing breathing muscle training, an athlete’s breathing muscles will fatigue far less. As a result, athletes are able to continue with their training for longer before breathing exhaustion strikes. Consequently, the athlete’s sports performance improves.
How to Improve Your Sports Performance
Breathing muscles, the inspiratory muscles, play a vital role in the efficiency of breathing during exercise. Additionally, as you age the strength of your inspiratory muscles starts to reduce, even if you’re fit.
It is when you move out of your ‘comfort zone’ and you’re working above your lactate threshold that your breathing starts to increase steeply. You will perceive this as breathlessness, as your inspiratory muscle work increases.
To help prevent this from limiting your training sessions and ultimately your performance, it is beneficial to strengthen your inspiratory muscles. In order to do this, you must subject your breathing to a training stimulus.
Aerobic exercise can help to provide a training benefit to your inspiratory muscles, but it is not targeted and therefore sufficient enough.
Research shows that specific inspiratory muscle training:
Therefore, by training your inspiratory muscles daily with an inspiratory muscle training (IMT) device such as POWERbreathe:
- You’ll experience an increase in resistance to fatigue – this will become apparent as you find yourself exercising for longer with less effort
- Your breathing efficiency will improve – this is because your lungs will require less oxygen for the purpose of breathing, allowing more delivery to your other working muscles, such as your arms and legs
The result of these adaptations is an increase in sports performance.
Published in Experimental Physiology this research sought to simultaneously assess leg and respiratory muscle blood flow during intense exercise while manipulating the work of breathing (WOB).
Researchers from Canada & Brazil hypothesised:
- Increasing the work of breathing would increase respiratory muscle blood flow and decrease leg blood flow.
- Decreasing the work of breathing would decrease respiratory muscle blood flow and increase leg blood flow.
The work of breathing (WOB)
Changes in work of breathing are significantly and positively related to changes in respiratory muscle blood flow. By which it shows that increasing the work of breathing increases blood flow.
On the other hand, changes in work of breathing are inversely related to changes in locomotor blood flow. So decreasing the work of breathing increases locomotor blood flow.
Therefore findings from the study support the concept that respiratory muscle work significantly influences the distribution of blood flow to both respiratory and locomotor muscles.
Effects of respiratory muscle work on respiratory and locomotor blood flow during exercise >
Marc Marquez is a Grand Prix motorcycle road racer and three-time motorsport world champion. He rides as part of the Repsol Honda Team. And MotoGP recently asked him some questions about the physical complexities of riding a MotoGP™ machine over 300km/h.
Breathing in motorsport
In his question and answer session Marc is asked about his breathing. Apparently some motorsport riders only breathe between corners. Marc however says that he does breathe during cornering. He says that it helps him stay calm and focused.
Why other riders may hold their breath when cornering
The end of an inhaled breath and the end of an exhaled breath is a critical moment in breathing. If the inhale and exhale are not performed smoothly it can feel disjointed, rather than ‘circular’. Good breathing should flow without a pause. A ‘wobble’ in that flow might cause a de-stabilisation of the upper body. Not something a rider would wish to happen just as they enter a bend on two wheels. So by holding their breath they feel they are reducing the risk of destabilisation.
The role of the inspiratory muscles
The inspiratory muscles (the muscles used to inhale, including the diaphragm) are not just important for breathing. The diaphragm and trunk muscles are also a vital component of the core stabilising muscles of the abdominal compartment. Furthermore they give postural stability to the upper body. This is an important feature when cornering on a bike at speed.
Training the inspiratory muscles in addition to core stabilising exercises will increase the ability of these breathing muscles to meet the dual demands of breathing and postural control.
Training the inspiratory muscles with POWERbreathe IMT
POWERbreathe Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT) targets the breathing muscles, mainly the diaphragm and intercostals. It exercises them to make them stronger, improve stamina and reduce fatigue. It’s the diaphragm that plays a big role in stabilising the core. In fact good diaphragmatic activation is absolutely necessary for good trunk control.
By using POWERbreathe IMT you are activating the diaphragm and making it work correctly and effectively. And a stronger diaphragm will help stabilise the upper body when riders are racing around corners at speed.
Effects of High-Intensity Inspiratory Muscle Training Following a Near-Fatal Gunshot Wound
A man who sustained a gunshot wound (via the left axilla which exited from the right side of the abdomen) during armed combat left him with severe thoracic and abdominal injuries. After five months he still reported severe dyspnoea on exertion and so a program of high-intensity, interval-based threshold inspiratory muscle training (IMT) was undertaken.
Discussion points and observations:
The subject tolerated well the high-intensity IMT. “It was associated with improvements in maximum forced inspiratory flow and changed the locus of symptom limitation during high-intensity exercise from dyspnea to leg fatigue.”
The purpose of this case study was to ensure every effort is made to optimise physical function following such injuries, so that individuals may continue in active service.
This BASES Expert Statement looks into exercise respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing, tight chest, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and coughing which are commonly reported by athletes.
These non-specific symptoms need to be assessed in order to confirm or eliminate the presence of cardio-pulmonary causes.
There is a high prevalence – 70% – of asthma and exercise induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) in sports with high breathing requirements, and it has been assumed that exercise-induced respiratory symptoms in these athletes is due to asthma or exercise-induced-asthma (EIA).
Symptoms however are misleading and this Expert Statement looks at these differential causes of exercise respiratory symptoms: Exercise-Induced Laryngeal Obstruction (EILO) and Dysfunctional Breathing.
Interventions are then discussed which include breathing pattern retraining and inspiratory muscle training and finally conclusions are made.
You can read the full Expert Statement here, Assessment and Management of Non-asthma Related Breathing Problems in Athletes.
Your primary breathing muscle is your diaphragm; a dome shaped thin sheet of muscle separating your rib cage from your abdomen.
When you inhale this dome shape flattens out as your diaphragm contracts, pushing down on the contents of your abdomen (your gut) and increasing the space in your chest cavity.
Because your gut has to go somewhere as your diaphragm descends, it forces it down and out and your tummy expands. Because of this, this natural, healthy and proper way of breathing is often referred to as abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing.
If you do already have a good breathing technique it can often go awry when you start exercising as you demand more air and your breathing increases to compensate. This is when your breathing technique can change from good diaphragmatic breathing to reverse breathing i.e. pulling in your tummy as you breathe in and letting your tummy go as you breathe out.
Because your diaphragm is a muscle, you can train it like any other muscle to become stronger and helping you retain that good diaphragmatic breathing even when pushed to your limit. POWERbreathe targets your inspiratory muscles – not only your diaphragm but also your intercostal muscles, the tiny muscles in between your ribs, which are recruited during a slightly forced respiration.
You’ll notice when training with POWERbreathe that you have to work harder to breathe in. This is the effect of resistance training acting on your inspiratory muscles. When breathing out, POWERbreathe offers no resistance because when you exhale normally, your diaphragm and intercostals naturally relax and move back up, pushing the air from your lungs.
EliteVelo Kalas Sportswear Cycling Race Team using POWERbreathe Plus IMT (above)
PHOTO: Richard Fox Photography
Effects of Inspiratory Muscle Training on Resistance to Fatigue of Respiratory Muscles During Exhaustive Exercise
M. O. Segizbaeva, N. N. Timofeev, Zh. A. Donina, E. N. Kur’yanovich, N. P. Aleksandrova
This study, published in Body Metabolism and Exercise – Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology (Volume 840, 2015, pp 35-43) concluded that IMT elicits resistance to the development of inspiratory muscles fatigue during high-intensity exercise.
To assess the effect of inspiratory muscle training (IMT) on resistance to fatigue of the diaphragm, parasternal, sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles in healthy humans during exhaustive exercise.
The sternocleidomastoid muscle flexes the neck and helps with the oblique rotation of the head. Also, the muscle helps in forced inspiration while breathing, and it raises the sternum. As for forced inspiration, the muscle also works in concert with the scalene muscles in the neck. The scalene muscles are lateral vertebral muscles that begin at the first and second ribs and pass up into the sides of the neck. There are three of these muscles. (SOURCE: Healthline.com)
“The study found that in healthy subjects, IMT results in significant increase in MIP (+18 %), a delay of inspiratory muscle fatigue during exhaustive exercise, and a significant improvement in maximal work performance. We conclude that the IMT elicits resistance to the development of inspiratory muscles fatigue during high-intensity exercise.”
Read Effects of Inspiratory Muscle Training on Resistance to Fatigue of Respiratory Muscles During Exhaustive Exercise
Check out more Inspiratory Muscle Training Research here >
Discover POWERbreathe used in Research here >
The reason why asthma symptoms may be brought on during exercise has not been completely established but it is thought that because breathing becomes heavy and we breathe faster when we exercise, the linings of our airways narrow and dry out. Also weather conditions and allergies, such as an allergy to pollen, can also trigger asthma-like symptoms when exercising.
Recognising exericse-induced asthma (EIA)
Diagnosis is often made after symptoms, such as wheezing and a tight chest, are experienced during exercise, but this can result in either over-diagnosis, where athletes report symptoms but DO NOT have narrowing of the airways, or under-diagnosis where athletes who’re asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) DO have narrowing of the airways which affects their performance.
The scenarios above are supported in studies where elite athletes have been screened and shown to have EIA, such as reported by British Olympic Teams in the 2012 Olympics where it found that 25% of Team GB suffers from exercise-induced asthma. And at the 1996 Olympic games 20% of athletes reported asthma upon exercising.
Why screen for EIA?
The main reason is because exercise-induced asthma may be detrimental to an athlete’s performance, as it’s already been shown to reduce exercise capacity and running speed in colder environments which will not only affect an athlete during training but also during competition.
Treatment of EIA
Both pharmacological and non pharmacological therapies are currently successfully used to treat EIA, and studies have also highlighted the benefits of adjunctive intervention. POWERbreathe Inspiratory Muscle Training can be used as an adjunctive intervention, not only for daily training, but also as a respiratory warm-up prior to exercise.
Read more about Respiratory Disorders in endurance athletes in our blog.
And here’s an interesting article that looks at Pollen and Exercise Induced Asthma >
Deep breathing reaches the deepest depths of your lungs, and by practicing POWERbreathe inspiratory muscle training you’ll be training your respiratory muscles to breathe deeply into your diaphragm, taking in as much air as possible, breathing more in per breath.
As you’re breathing in more air per breath, you’re receiving more oxygen into your body, giving you more energy.
Senior consultant at the National heart Institute, India, and Founder, SAANS Foundation in India, Partha Pratim Bose offers a good example of this,
“By deep breathing exercises you breathe more per breath. If you breathe more per breath you expand your lungs more, you receive more oxygen. You will feel more energetic and also save your breaths. For example, if you breathe 250 ml per breath and your requirement is 5 litres then you need 20 breaths per minute. If you breathe more breath say double i.e. 500ml then you will require only ten breaths. So by breathing deep you breathe less and you feel better and conserve energy.”
Thankfully you can train your breathing muscles to breathe deep, as your respiratory muscles respond in the same way as skeletal muscles do to a training stimuli as they undergo adaptations to their structure and function. POWERbreathe is one such training stimuli, using the principles of resistance training to strengthen the inspiratory muscles. Its pressure loaded inspiratory valve offers the resistance on the inhale, while an unloaded expiratory valve allows for normal, passive exhalation.
How POWERbreathe Works >
You can read about other benefits of deep conscious breathing in Bose’s article ‘Wellness: Breathe like a tortoise, live like a king’ and here in POWERbreathe Benefits.
Breathing properly could just be your magic bullet to improved sports performance and sporting achievements.
In an article about The Dangers of Dysfunctional Breathing, international performance consultant Brandon Marcello, Ph.D., MS, CSCS says, “Having improper breathing form is no different from having improper squat form.”
The article goes on to say that ‘when it comes to physical activity, breathing ineffectively can alter your performance’. Therefore breathing effectively will also alter your performance, but for the better!
POWERbreathe inspiratory muscle training (IMT) exercises your breathing muscles, improving their strength and stamina, reducing fatigue which in turn enables you to train harder, for longer and with less effort which ultimately translates into improved performance.
POWERbreathe IMT has been scientifically proven to: