Acclimatisation to High Altitude – POWERbreathe IMT is Beneficial

There is a new Review Article in Frontiers in Physiology (January 2019) that looks into using respiratory/inspiratory muscle training for acclimatisation to altitude.

Respiratory muscle training

Respiratory muscle training, or RMT, is a programme of exercises that aim to improve the function of the respiratory muscles. Otherwise known as the ‘breathing pump’ muscles, the expiratory muscles and the inspiratory muscles make up the respiratory muscles. It’s the inspiratory muscles that we use when we breathe in. The main inspiratory muscle is the diaphragm, but to a lesser extent, the intercostal muscles also help with inhalation. To help improve the strength and stamina of these inspiratory muscles, respiratory muscle training will include Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT).

Inspiratory Muscle Training

Inspiratory muscle training, such as with POWERbreathe, uses resistance to provide the training effect. When breathing in against the resistance, the breathing muscles have to work harder. As a result, they get stronger. Consequently, breathing stamina improves resulting in a reduction in breathing fatigue. There is numerous research validating this form of breathing training and, as a result, it is the most commonly used.

The review

For the review, researchers perform a comprehensive search, analysing seven appropriate studies. Three of these studies refer to using respiratory muscle endurance training (RME with isocapnic hyperpnea). However, the remaining four studies use respiratory muscle strength training (RMS with POWERbreathe IMT).

Acclimatisation to altitude

Studies suggest that respiratory muscle training with IMT is a useful preparatory method for enhancing respiratory muscle efficiency 4-6 weeks before being exposed to hypoxia/altitude.

It is evident that breathing during exercise in hypoxia is associated with increased energy costs (20–30%) when compared to normoxia. Therefore, it is more likely to cause respiratory muscle fatigue. However, inspiratory muscle training will help to combat this. This is because IMT trains the inspiratory muscles to become stronger, increasing stamina. Consequently, breathing muscle fatigue reduces.

It, therefore, seems apparent that breathing muscle training has the potential to minimise at least some of the limiting respiratory factors that occur during training and competition in hypoxia/at altitude.

Benefits of acclimatisation to altitude using IMT

The Review suggests that both elite athletes and non-elite individuals may benefit from RMT, including:

  1. A delay in the onset of premature fatigue.
  2. A delay in respiratory muscle metaboreflex onset/activation.
  3. An improvement in clearance and tolerance to anaerobic metabolite products.
  4. A decrease in the perception of dyspnea (‘air hunger’).
  5. An increase in oxygen saturation values.
  6. A more favourable blood redistribution to the locomotor muscles.

Finally, evidence from this review finds that respiratory muscle training is an effective stimulus for improving the strength and endurance of the respiratory muscles. In fact, it’s these adaptive responses that contribute to the improvement of ventilatory function and efficiency. In translation, this means that respiratory muscle training is very likely to improve exercise performance in normoxia and particularly in hypoxia/altitude.

Lower Blood Pressure with POWERbreathe IMT

The University of Colorado Boulder is using the POWERbreathe K-Series in their independent research. They are investigating the effects of just 30 breaths of inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST). Specifically, they are looking to see if it could lower blood pressure and reduce heart attack risk. They are also investigating whether it could help you think more clearly and boost sports performance.

Lower blood pressure

One of the key findings of the research so far is that 30 breaths of IMST (about five minutes) will lower blood pressure. Crucially, with about half the tests completed, researchers report significant drops in blood pressure and improvements in large-artery function. In fact, their findings show that about 5-minutes of IMST lowers blood pressure as much as aerobic exercise and more than some medications.

Other preliminary findings

The research findings also suggest that just 5-minutes of IMST may also boost cognitive function. Furthermore, their findings show that it may also improve fitness and increase sports performance. In fact, these improvements are already proven in previous research studies. However, this study reiterates such findings.

With the help of the university’s new National Institute on Ageing grant, researchers are launching a clinical trial.

The research

Research subjects will either be a part of a sham group (using low/no IMST) or the IMST group. The IMST group will perform 30 breaths of inspiratory muscle strength training (taking approximately 5-minutes). IMST is strength training for the muscles you use to inhale. Both groups will be performing their version of IMST over a period of 6 weeks. Researchers are hoping that by doing this for 5 minutes a day in the comfort of their own home, people will get health benefits they otherwise might not get.

The tests

Researchers will be performing tests to evaluate:

  • Vascular function – how healthy the blood vessels are
  • Cerebral vascular function – how healthy the blood vessels in the brain are
  • Cognitive function
  • Physical performance – VO2 max testing assesses this
  • Motor function

Results so far are showing that the IMST group, compared to sham subjects, are lowering their blood pressure and improving blood vessel health. Also, the IMST group is performing better on certain cognitive and memory tests. In addition, the IMST group are able to keep their heart rate and oxygen consumption lower during exercise. Consequently, subjects are also showing an increase in exercise tolerance time too.

Positive outcomes

With all this evidence, researchers hope that by using IMST, people may be able to get their blood pressure under control, decrease their risk of chronic conditions and live healthier lives.