Can I Apply Any of This to My Training?
So, if you made it to the end of this novel, you may be disappointed to learn that there are no secret breathing tricks that will push you over the top. In general the lungs are wonderfully equipped for doing their job. Training does improve the ventilatory system in some ways, but it is not the weak link in healthy athletes. In recent years, there have been a handful of studies published where the impact of inspiratory muscle training on various aspects of pulmonary and endurance performance have been investigated. This involves essentially weight training for the breathing muscles, where resistance is generated by using some kind of device that reduces airflow during inspiration and forces the inspiratory muscles to work harder against greater resistance. Neither peak pulmonary function nor maximal oxygen consumption have been shown to change with this form of training. However, a couple of studies have shown modest increases in either time to exhaustion or time trial performance during cycling, using placebo controlled designs. How does this work? Perhaps stronger inspiratory muscles allow high ventilation to be achieved at lower breathing frequencies. This would decrease the oxygen cost of breathing and free up some blood flow for the working muscles. Perhaps.
If there is another area where we can benefit from attention to breathing, it would be the issue of entrainment. Good athletes develop breathing “rhythms” that tune in to the rhythms of their movements. This probably promotes efficiency. When you feel yourself performing at your physiological redline, your breathing may be a place to turn your attention. If you are a runner or cyclist, focus on the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles for moving the air in and out, instead of the intercostals attached to the chest. Heaving the chest more than necessary costs extra energy. “Belly breathing” makes sense. If you are a rower “belly breathing” doesn’t work too well. We just have to learn how to breathe between the strokes.