Influence of IMT on Cycling Performance at altitude

This study, Influence of IMT on Ventilatory Efficiency & Cycling Performance in Normoxia and Hypoxia, is published in Frontiers in Physiology. The aim of the study is to analyse the influence of inspiratory muscle training (IMT) on ventilatory efficiency in normoxia and hypoxia. It also investigates the relationship between ventilatory efficiency and cycling performance.

The point of the study

The premise of the study is that IMT improves ventilatory efficiency in normoxia and hypoxia. It also reduces the metabolic demands of the respiratory muscles in both conditions. The study also hypothesizes that improvements in submaximal cycling performance can be linked to improvements in ventilatory efficiency in normoxia and hypoxia.

Study method

The study assigns participants, at random, to either a control group or an inspiratory muscle training (IMT) group. The IMT group were to complete 30 inhalations twice a day using the POWERbreathe K3. They were to do this 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Researchers set the POWERbreathe K3 to 50% of each participant’s Pimax (maximal inspiratory mouth pressure). By contrast, the control group did not perform any IMT.

To determine Pimax participants had to inspire through the K3 as quickly as possible. And in order to achieve a stable measurement they were perform this a few times.

Conclusions for training at altitude

The study suggests a possible positive effect of IMT on cycling time trial performance in both normoxic and hypoxic conditions. It also shows that hypoxia has a negative effect on ventilatory efficiency. It furthermore shows that IMT may reduce this effect.

Additionally the authors report that these findings may have relevance for athletes planning to train at a high altitude, or compete at high altitude.

Finally, the study suggests that Inspiratory Muscle Training before a competition at altitude might be a successful method to improve performance.

Train your diaphragm with POWERbreathe to perform your best at altitude

We’ve just come across this article online in Outside Magazine (February 2015), written by Alex Hutchinson in which it’s suggested that ‘by training your respiratory muscles, you can teach yourself to perform better with less oxygen.’

The article, ‘The Secret to Performing Your Best at Altitude? Train your Diaphragm’ begins by looking at a study conducted by exercise physiologist at the University of Portsmouth, Dr. Mitch Lomax. The study involved 14 members of a British military expedition who were trekking up the Barun Valley in Nepal toward 27,766-foot Makalu, the world’s fifth highest peak. Half of these 14 volunteers were randomly prescribed POWERbreathe inspiratory muscle training for 4-weeks prior to the expedition. After the expedition, results showed that when the IMT group arrived at Base Camp (18,000 feet), their arterial oxygen saturation was 14% lower than it had been at sea level, compared to the rest of group who’d desaturated by 20% – a not insignificant 6% advantage.

The article reveals even more interesting insights, facts and figures and is well worth a read, and here you can find out more about POWERbreathe for high-altitude training.

If you’ve used POWERbreathe prior to a high-altitude challenge of your own, then please leave a comment as we’d love to hear your experience.


Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi does altitude training

PHOTO: Gr5 Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi does altitude training before major marathons, it’s been revealed.

This year (2014) Keflezighi ran the Boston Marathon with a time of 2:08:37, beating many of his competitors who had been averaging faster times.

But for Keflezighi, altitude training means travelling to Mammoth Lakes, CA, where he sleeps at 9,000 feet after which he drives several miles down the mountain to run at 4,000 feet. He does this to boost the production of his red cells which then increases the supply of oxygen around his body while he’s running the marathon.

He also incorporates cardio training into his workout, and claims that riding an elliptical bike is similar to the motion of running but has less impact on his joints than running.

But whereas Keflezighi has to travel to train, with POWERbreathe Altitude Training Systems (PBAS), there is no need for a drive into the mountains to train, as PBAS brings the mountains to you! With the POWERbreathe Altitude Systems Inflatable Sleeping Modules, the benefits of sleeping at altitude can be achieved without the need to travel. Sleeping in a PBAS Inflatable Sleeping Module helps the body to achieve some of the positive adaptations to altitude while still enabling the athlete to perform at an oxygen-rich lower altitude where muscles perform at their normal working level.

The PBAS Inflatable Running Tunnel Modules also allows an athlete to benefit from altitude training at a local level, and just as Keflezighi chooses to incorporate cardio training into his workout with the use of an exercise bike, so too does the PBAS Inflatable Cycling Modules allow for this, again at a local level, with rooms available for one person, two people, and then up to four people and their Monark elliptical trainers.

POWERbreathe Inspiratory Muscle Training is also beneficial for altitude training because at high altitude air is “thinner” and contains less oxygen than that at sea level, so your lungs must work much harder as your breathing is pushed to its limits.

POWERbreathe for altitude training:

  • Attenuates the increase in effort associated with ascent to high altitude1
  • Attenuates the impairment of inspiratory muscle strength induced by ascent to high altitude2

1 Nickol A, Romer L, McConnell A, Jones D. The effects of specific inspiratory muscle training upon respiratory muscle function and dyspnoea at high altitude. High Alt Med Biol. 2001;2:116.

2 Romer L, McConnell A, Jones D. Changes in respiratory and forearm-flexor muscle strength during exposure to high altitude. J Sports Sci. 2000;19:63-4.

Congratulations to Sam Lipscombe on his summit success

You may remember from his previous blogs that Sam had set himself the challenge of climbing Mount Everest in aid of raising money for Cure Rett and how he’d been using his POWERbreathe to help strengthen his breathing muscles for the challenges that the altitude will place on his breathing.

Well we are delighted to announce Sam’s success! He actually reached the summit on the 22nd May, but he didn’t really have the opportunity to write about his experience until later after the expedition.

Sam stumbled into high camp (8,300m) at 2pm on the 21st May saying, “I was exhausted, the three days of climbing from ABC as well as the altitude had taken its toll. Despite this exhaustion I knew that I was in good shape. I had no hacking cough and no signs of altitude sickness. I just needed to be careful not to make any stupid mistakes.”

He goes on to say, “High camp is just that, high. It is higher than most places in the world, with only 5 peaks that stand at a higher altitude – and the top is still way in the distance. We were now well inside the infamous ‘death zone’ – a height above which your body can’t function properly and is slowly dying.

To me things seemed normal, when I took off my oxygen mask I could breathe ok, the wind was still blowing and the clouds were still floating by. It almost felt I could stay there for ever.”

Sam’s blog is hard-hitting and it sounds as though the challenge is not just a physical one, but a mental challenge too. He shares his experiences which certainly remind us of what a dangerous challenge he has set himself.

“At the top of the rocks I was now on the final snow slope that ran to the summit. I could just make out the prayer flags in the distance. I knew this was it. As the summit approached I felt a huge sense of relief. I dragged myself to the prayer flags at the top, sat down and cried. I just couldn’t believe it, I was on top of the world.

Looking back on the experience it still seems like a formality, like we were meant to summit. But then, thinking about all those that tried and failed, I know it just wasn’t that straight forward. I have some fantastic memories of not just the summit but the whole experience, I understand I am incredibly lucky to have been able to step on the top of the world, something I think will stay with me forever.”

We’d like to congratulate Sam on this incredible achievement and look forward to hearing more from him and his fundraising. If you’d like to send your congratulations to Sam too, then please feel free to leave a comment here.

Read more about how POWERbreathe Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT) could help prepare your breathing muscles for the rigours of breathing at altitude, however if you’re already using POWERbreathe for this reason, or have used it in the past to help cope with breathing at altitude then please leave a comment here on the POWERbreathe Forum, as we’d love to hear from you. You can also read more about POWERbreathe Inspiratory Muscle Training for breathing at altitude on our blog.

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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Andy and Lotte train in Lanzarote with POWERbreathe

After a week in the beautiful Lanzarote we finally came back down to earth when we arrived back to England and saw the rain. However, we had a great time out there and things couldn’t have gone better for us.  Speaking for myself I feel a lot fitter since leaving Lanzarote than I did when I arrived, the tan probably helps me feel better and motivated too.

I think it’s easy when you set aside a block of time for serious training to have unrealistic expectations of what you might achieve. Perhaps I would have trained longer and harder had I not had such debilitating gastric issues in the preceding days before flying out, but as a result I arrived only wanting to get back into training. Therefore, what I considered we achieved over the past week exceeded my expectations. Either way, the outcome has left me pondering this statement:

“Whatever happens is the only thing that could have”

Not wanting to get into a deep philosophical discussion of what that might entail just now, instead, I’ll talk through our week. We arrived on Thursday morning, and instead of renting the bikes from Friday-Monday leaving two days to relax after, we rented them from Saturday-Tuesday giving me and extra day to build my strength for the days ahead.

We started with a 4 mile run on Friday, even though I was not feeling 100% and boy the trails we took were not the best but just training again felt great.  More literally, Lotte and I also ensured we did our POWERbreathe training, choosing to do the 30 breaths after our run, to work the already part-fatigued inspiratory muscles. Not only does this add an aspect of specificity to the training, but it is also a good way to get it out of the way. I tend to do most of my training in one big block in each day, so putting at least part of the POWERbreathe practice actually into that training block seems to lessen the logistics of performing the twice daily regimen.

Saturday we went for a 50 mile ride followed by 30 minuted of running. Talk about punishing but it was worth it.  Sunday was the big Ironman course and I have to say I did find it a bit of a struggle thanks to the scorching heat.  After this gruelling course we decided to take Monday off, we needed that to recover.

Lotte and I managed our POWERbreathe training every morning and evening, and having performed the twice daily breaths before, and also having only ‘dabbled’ before, it is also clear that the rapid progression comes from the regularity of practice. No surprises there then. This time, I have opted to also perform half of my daily practice standing up, without the inspiratory muscles supported. Although these attempts seem significantly harder initially, and some adjustment of the level is required for the standing, I hope that the hard work will pay dividends. For now, I look forward to building on the both the momentum and hard work (21 hours of cycling in 4 days) established out here in Lanzarote.

To read a full account of Andy and Lotte’s Lanzarote experience go to my blog