Common causes of dyspnoea in athletes

This article published in the European Respiratory Society’s June issue of Breathe explains how dyspnoea, (shortness of breath or breathlessness), during exercise is a common complaint in seemingly otherwise healthy athletes, and which may be associated with fatigue and underperformance. As dyspnoea may be caused by numerous factors, from poor aerobic fitness to serious, potentially fatal respiratory and nonrespiratory pathologies, the article explains why it is important for clinicians to obtain an appropriate case history and ask relevant exercise-specific questions to fully characterise the nature of the complaint so that a targeted diagnostic plan can be developed for the athlete. The article looks into asthma and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, and exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction and vocal cord dysfunction, the most common treatments for which have included diaphragmatic breathing control. Even for those athletes experiencing expiratory flow limitation it is suggested that this could be overcome through controlled breathing methods or respiratory muscle training.

POWERbreathe respiratory muscle training (RMT) strengthens the breathing muscles, improving their stamina and reducing fatigue. POWERbreathe RMT has been clinically proven to reduce dyspnoea during exercise and daily activities, as well as improving exercise tolerance and quality of life particularly in patients with COPD (see References below.).

Read the full, free article in Breathe: Common causes of dyspnoea in athletes: a practical approach for diagnosis and management References:

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Respiratory Muscle Training in Athletes with Spinal Cord Injury

“The effect of respiratory muscle endurance training (RMET) on respiratory muscle (RM) function, dyspnoea and exercise performance was evaluated in spinal cord injury athletes.”


“Respiratory muscle endurance training (RMET) can improve respiratory muscle function, reduce the perception of dyspnoea but modifies only slightly exercise performance in spinal cord injury athletes.”

Read Respiratory Muscle Training in Athletes with Spinal Cord Injury >

Changes In Respiratory Muscle And Lung Function Following Marathon Running In Man

“Respiratory muscle fatigue has been reported following short bouts of high-intensity exercise, and prolonged, moderate-intensity exercise… However, links to functionally relevant outcomes such as breathing effort have been lacking. This study examined dyspnoea and leg fatigue during a treadmill marathon in nine experienced runners.”


“Results confirm that prolonged moderate-intensity exercise induces inspiratory muscle fatigue. Furthermore, they suggest that the relative intensity of inspiratory muscle work during exercise makes some contribution to leg fatigue.”

Read Changes in respiratory muscle and lung function following marathon running in man >

Effects Of Inspiratory Muscle Training On Time-Trial Performance In Trained Cyclists

“We evaluated the effects of specific inspiratory muscle training on simulated time-trial performance in trained cyclists.”


“Results support evidence that specific inspiratory muscle training attenuates the perceptual response to maximal incremental exercise. Furthermore, they provide evidence of performance enhancements in competitive cyclists after inspiratory muscle training.”

Read Effects Of Inspiratory Muscle Training On Time-Trial Performance In Trained Cyclists >

IMT Enhances Pulmonary O2 Uptake Kinetics And High-Intensity Exercise Tolerance In Humans

Fatigue of the respiratory muscles during intense exercise might compromise leg blood flow, thereby constraining oxygen uptake ( O2) and limiting exercise tolerance. This study tested the hypothesis that inspiratory muscle training (IMT) would reduce inspiratory muscle fatigue, speed O2 kinetics and enhance exercise tolerance.


“Specific training of the inspiratory muscles increased baseline MIP, reduced estimated inspiratory muscle fatigue during severe and maximal-intensity exercise, and enhanced O2 dynamics and exercise tolerance…

“Pressure-threshold IMT appears to present a practical and efficacious means for modulating the O2 response to high-intensity exercise in healthy young people…”

“IMT therefore appears to have considerable potential as an adjunct to physical training for the enhancement of exercise performance.”

Read IMT enhances pulmonary O2 uptake kinetics and high-intensity exercise tolerance in humans >

Exercise benefits to overcome Dyspnoea for COPD sufferers

Dyspnoea is the term used to describe a shortness of breath. The medical term is shortness of breath derived from a particular medical condition including asthma, bronchitis or pneumonia. Anyone who suffers from these conditions will be prone to severe dyspnoea and will require the need of some form of respiratory support to help them breathe with ease and more comfortably.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) causes the breath to shorten causing you to struggle with your breathing. Symptoms will be rapid up and down movement of the chest as the person will be struggling to take breath. Suggested treatment for COPD includes medication that will reduce any swelling in the airways as well as pulmonary rehabilitation. However, exercise is also a good remedy as part of your rehabilitation. Adopting some breathing techniques will enable you to breathe more comfortably, with ease and also benefit you in other ways.

Improves your circulation

Participating in some sort of aerobic exercise can aid your breathing. Aerobics is a fast paced workout which elevates your heart rate while you are exercising thus improving your circulation. Better circulation in your body will deliver more oxygen efficiently to your muscles and tissues in your body. COPD sufferers will tend to have oxygen levels below maximum capacity which can lead to oxygen deprivation and serious problems. Regular aerobic exercise under medical supervision can regulate a fast heartbeat associated with COPD.

Strengthen your muscles

Muscles can be strengthened by undertaking weight bearing exercise. This is particularly useful if you are a swimmer or walker. Working out with hand weights is great for strengthening muscles throughout your body. Not only do you strengthen your muscles but you also strengthen your heart, your lungs and your diaphragm and help them become stronger day by day. If these organs are not functioning properly then this form of workout is extremely important.  By remaining strong and active you will be more independent for longer periods of time. However, remaining inactive your muscles will weaken putting you at risk of accident and injury.

Management of weight

If you are overweight this can lead to severe problems with your breathing particularly if you suffer from COPD or chronic lung disease. Excess fat tends to appear mid body as people put on weight. Carrying this extra weight around causes problems for the diaphragm as more pressure is exerted on the diaphragm, which is the muscle that controls your breathing.  Regular exercise can help you shed the excess weight, which in turn will lead to breathing more comfortably and with ease.

Will I see a reduction in my symptoms

Anyone with a lung disorder such as asthma or COPD will know how difficult it is to breathe properly. It is imperative that you exercise as much as your condition allows, to see a significant reduction in the symptoms of your lung disorder. Exercise will improve your blood pressure, regulate your sugar levels and overcome the shortness of breath you experience.

Regular exercise is also a morale booster and confidence lifter if you suffer from COPD or a breathing difficulty due to being overweight.  Regular exercise will make you feel better within yourself and lift your mood and help you focus on positive emotions rather than negative ones such as depression, stress and anxiety. Exercising is an effective COPD treatment and is also effective for the treatment of Dyspnoea as well as any other medically related breathing condition.