Breathing efficiently can be considered underrated. During and immediately after tough intervals in the chamber, very rarely does one think “I should really improve my breathing patterns to improve my performance” – rather, our thoughts are “this hurts, I need more oxygen!”. Would it be beneficial to train our inspiratory muscles independently, the ones that contract and relax to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, for improved performance? Some recently published research has found so!

A group of healthy males undertook four weeks of inspiratory muscle training, and a secondary group acted as a control (no inspiratory muscle training). Before and after the four-week period, all males completed a 10-min bout of cycling at 100 W in hypoxia (14.6 % O2) and nomroxia (20.9 % O2). During all bouts, arterial oxygen saturation (SpO2), minute ventilation and carbon dioxide output were assessed, as well as a maximal inhalation breath test.

The results showed that those in the inspiratory muscle training group reported an increased (+21 cmH20) maximal inhalation breath, with no change seen in the control group. Further, SpO2 (+3 %) and minute ventilation (+21 %) increased and carbon dioxide output reduced (-13 %), during the hypoxic bout of exercise following inspiratory muscle training. No changes were reported for these measures during the bouts of exercise completed in normoxic conditions.

The findings of this piece of research show that a) inspiratory muscle training strengthens the maximal amount of air inhaled in a single breath, and b) the amount of oxygen in our blood and the amount of air inhaled and exhaled in a minute is increased, even when exercising in a hypoxic environment. Therefore, the take home message of this post is that we should consider training our inspiratory muscles to help with the demands of training at altitude, which will subsequently improve our performance when training in the chamber!

Study details:

Lomax et al. (2017). Inspiratory muscle training effects on cycling during acute hypoxic exposure. Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance, In press.