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by POWERbreathe Fitness Articles

fitness & training articles

Breathing & Performance
Breathing & Performance
  • Expiration is normally passive (only during heavy exercise workloads does it become forced)
  • Inspiratory muscles play a vital role in the efficiency of breathing at rest and also during exercise
  • The strength of the inspiratory muscles reduce with age (men 25+, women 35+), although fitter individuals may not notice until approximately 45-years of age
  • Weaker inspiratory muscles are usually highlighted with breathlessness, especially in the elderly
  • At rest we use as little as 8-12 litres of air per minute
  • During exercise this can raise to as much as 150 litres per minute and for elite male athletes even up to 240 litres per minute
How the inspiratory muscles contribute to the breathing process

The diaphragm and chest wall muscles act together like a bellows to pump air in and out of the chest. To breathe in these muscles contract to expand the chest cavity, causing a pressure drop into which the air flows.

To breathe out, you simply relax these \\\'inspiratory\\\' muscles and the chest springs back forcing the air out of your lungs. During exercise the exhalation is assisted by contraction of the abdominal muscles. Thus, the inspiratory muscles undertake most of the work of breathing. In contrast to our frequent observations of inspiratory muscle fatigue, our research has never identified exercise-induced expiratory muscle fatigue. For this reason we\\\'ve found it unnecessary to train anything other than the inspiratory muscles. At rest you breathe around 12 litres of air per minute, but during heavy exercise this can rise to over 150 litres per minute, and in elite athletes, this can be as high as 220 litres.

Benefits of inspiratory only vs. inspiratory & expiratory muscle training

It’s logical to think that if training your inspiratory muscles is good, then training your expiratory muscles too must be even better. Unfortunately, research has shown this not to be the case. In a carefully conducted study on rowers, the independent and combined effects of inspiratory and expiratory muscle training were compared (Griffiths & McConnell, 2007). These authors found no effect of expiratory muscle training upon performance whatsoever. In addition, when inspiratory and expiratory muscle training were combined (inhale/exhale training), the addition of the expiratory training impaired the effects of inspiratory training. In addition, a study of inhale/exhale training in swimmers found no change in swim performance after this type of training (Wells et al., 2005). These studies indicate that, far from being better than inspiratory training, inhale/exhale training is LESS effective than inspiratory training. So why jeopardise the proven benefits of inspiratory training by adding something that is ineffective, and more expensive?

Causes of inspiratory muscle weakness

Weakness of the inspiratory muscles can result from a number of causes, including disease, but a potent influence upon their condition is the amount of exercise they receive. The phrase \\\'use it or lose it\\\' applies equally well to the inspiratory muscles as it does to your leg muscles. If you get out of breath on the stairs, then you\\\'ll take the lift, with the consequence that your inspiratory muscles get less exercise.

As they become weaker, the level of physical activity that brings on the breathlessness gets lower, so you avoid the stairs even more…it\\\'s a vicious cycle of breathlessness, lack of exercise and inspiratory muscle weakness. In addition, the use of oral steroid medication (not inhaled steroids) to control lung inflammation in conditions such as asthma and emphysema has been shown to cause weakness of the inspiratory muscles. This weakness can impair lung function and can be counteracted by inspiratory muscle training. N.B. inhaled steroids do not cause inspiratory muscle weakness.

Simple Exercise Principle: USE IT or LOSE IT!
By training the inspiratory muscles the following will be achieved:

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