This is from the author of Breathe Strong, Perform Bette. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics
“For every sport and fitness category described in the following sections, inspiratory muscle training (IMT) will improve exercise tolerance or performance by delaying the onset of the inspiratory muscle metaboreflex and reducing the perception of breathing and whole-body effort. These sections summarize the additional benefits.
Exercise and Fitness
For those engaged in general fitness training, IMT will make exercise feel easier, which enables people to maintain higher exercise intensities for longer durations. This enhances the fitness gains and caloric expenditure of general fitness conditioning.
The rate of perceived recovery will also improve, which will enhance the ability to maintain the tempo of activity during exercise-to-music classes and the intensity of circuit training. The enhancement of core stability will reduce injury risk and improve weight training.
Weight trainers will benefit from improved core stability, which may produce an improvement in maximal lift performances for lifts where trunk stiffness and stability contribute to the ability to overcome a load (e.g., Olympic lifts).
A wide range of endurance sports are reviewed here, but the principles that have been applied can be adapted to suit any sport.
IMT will improve the runner’s ability to maintain a deeper, slower breathing pattern. It will also enhance the efficiency of respiratory and locomotor coupling (entrainment), enhance core stability (reducing spinal loading and improving leg drive efficiency), and improve postural control (balance). IMT may also reduce the risk of developing a side stitch.
IMT will improve the cyclist’s ability to maintain a deeper, slower breathing pattern. It will also enhance the efficiency of respiratory and locomotor coupling (entrainment) and enhance core stability (reducing spinal loading and knee stress and improving pedaling efficiency). IMT will also allow the inspiratory muscles to operate more comfortably in extreme cycling positions (e.g., when using aerobars).
The addition of IMT to swim and other aquatic training will improve the swimmer’s ability to maintain a deeper, slower breathing pattern and will enhance the efficiency of respiratory and locomotor coupling (entrainment). IMT can also enhance the swimmer’s ability to inhale rapidly and to achieve and sustain high lung volumes. As a result, the swimmer’s body position and stroke mechanics will be improved. A decrease in the number of breaths per stroke will also be possible. In addition, the muscles of the trunk will be better able to meet the dual demands for breathing and providing propulsive force.
Those using scuba will also benefit from a deeper, slower breathing pattern, which reduces air use and extends cylinder wear time. Furthermore, free divers and surfers may also experience an improvement in breath-holding time. Breathing restrictions imposed by wet suits will also be easier to overcome or tolerate after IMT.
The addition of IMT to multisport training will provide the benefits summarized for each component. Most triathlons involve a wet suit swim, and IMT will enhance the swimmer’s ability to breathe efficiently and comfortably. Furthermore, the unique breathing-related disruption that occurs during the transition from cycling to running will be alleviated.
The addition of IMT to rowing training will improve the rower’s ability to maintain a deeper, slower breathing pattern; enhance the efficiency of respiratory and locomotor coupling (entrainment); and enhance core stability and trunk stiffness (reducing spinal loading and improving force transmission to the blade). Furthermore, improvements in intercostal muscle function and the ability to generate and maintain high intrathoracic pressure may reduce the risk of rib stress fractures. IMT will also allow the inspiratory muscles to operate more comfortably at the catch and finish positions.
People taking part in sliding sports have a number of factors influencing their performance, including the effects of altitude and the challenges associated with maintaining balance. IMT will improve their ability to maintain a deeper, slower breathing pattern. It will also enhance the efficiency of respiratory and locomotor coupling (entrainment), enhance core stability (reducing spinal loading and improving leg drive efficiency), and improve postural control (balance) and trunk stiffness. The ability to maintain aerodynamic postures for longer periods without the associated breathing discomfort is another benefit of IMT.
Hiking and Mountaineering
Hikers and mountaineers have to contend with the effects of altitude, the impact of carrying heavy backpacks, and the challenges associated with maintaining balance on unpredictable terrain. IMT will improve their ability to maintain a deeper, slower breathing pattern; enhance the efficiency of respiratory and locomotor coupling (entrainment); and enhance core stability (reducing spinal loading). The challenges to postural control (balance) imposed by carrying a backpack and by traveling on uneven terrain will be minimized by IMT, and trunk stiffness will be improved. In addition, the ability to overcome the resistance to normal breathing movements of the trunk that are induced by backpacks will be improved.
Team and Sprint Sports
Team sports are diverse in their challenges, but they all have three important factors in common: They involve repeated high-intensity efforts that drive breathing to its limits; they require the contribution of the upper body and the core-stabilizing system (e.g., fending off opponents, changing direction quickly, or passing objects to teammates); and they require tactical decision making at a time when the distraction from breathing discomfort is high. IMT will improve the rate of perceived recovery between sprints, which will enhance repeated sprint performance and the quality of interval training. These improvements in perceived recovery should enable players to maintain the intensity of their involvement in the match or game, rather than back off for a period of “cruising” recovery. In addition, the damping down of breathlessness will lessen the distraction that this sensation imposes on tactical decision making.
Improvements to core stability will advance a player’s effectiveness during physical interactions with opponents (e.g., tackling, fending off) and in activities such as kicking and throwing.
For contact sports and those that involve activities requiring the application of whole-body isometric forces (such as a rugby scrum), players will benefit from the increased ability of the inspiratory muscles to function as breathing muscles. This is important in situations where the demand for breathing is high but the requirement for maximal core-stabilizing activity is also present.
Finally, in those contact team sports requiring the use of mouth guards and other protective equipment, IMT can improve breathing comfort and reduce the risk of inspiratory muscle fatigue that results from the restrictions imposed by the equipment.
Racket, Striking, and Throwing Sports
Sports falling under this heading most commonly require the participants to use an implement to strike a ball—such as a racket (e.g., tennis, squash, badminton), club (e.g., golf), or bat (e.g., baseball, softball, cricket)—or they may be sports that involve throwing a ball (pitching and bowling). In the case of racket sports, the player is required to direct the ball within the bounds of the court using a range of strokes. Matches are fast paced, requiring speed, agility, and skill. In contrast, in sports such as golf or baseball, the player is able to square up to the ball or pitcher and is stationary as the ball is struck. These two scenarios create very different demands on the breathing muscles, but there are two common denominators: the involvement of the trunk musculature in providing a stable platform and in protecting the spine; the contribution of the entire trunk musculature to the task of accelerating a racket, club, bat, or arm.
After using IMT, players in racket sports will be able to maintain a higher tempo of performance during rallies, and they will experience a reduction in unforced errors. Rate of perceived recovery between rallies will also improve, which will enhance the ability to maintain and dictate the pace and tempo of the game. In addition, the damping down of breathlessness will lessen the distraction that this sensation imposes on tactical decision making. The enhancement of core stability and improved contribution of the trunk musculature to racket head speed and precision will increase the likelihood of aces and shots that are “winners,” as well as reduce the risk of injury.
Many of these sports require high levels of core stability and a contribution from the trunk musculature to the swinging of implements (such as clubs and bats) or the launching of projectiles (such as in field sports). Players in these sports will benefit from the enhanced function of the diaphragm and the enhanced contribution of the inspiratory accessory muscles to these movements. This will result in an increase in striking and throwing velocities. In addition, there will be a reduction in injury risk because of the enhanced spinal stability and the improved resistance of rib cage muscles to tearing.”