Airofit PRO Review: Modern cycling and bike racing is all about watts. It’s what we obsess about. But before watts there was VO2 max or maximal aerobic capacity, which is a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen your body can effectively use during exercise. As such, it’s a good benchmark for measuring your aerobic fitness level. For endurance athletes (like cyclists), it’s another way to assess fitness and measure progress/improvement over time. Cyclists with high VO2 max include Greg LeMond (92-94 mL/kg/min), Miguel Indurain (88 mL/kg/min), and Chris Froome (84.6 mL/kg/min). By comparison, most mere mortals (in this case, trained men so not couch potatoes) are more like 50-70 mL/kg/min. You can increase your VO2 max via high intensity intervals and/or sweet spot training (both pegged to your FTP so training to power). But what if you could achieve the same benefits in 5-10 minutes a day in the comfort of your home without breaking a sweat? That’s what the Airofit PRO promises.

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We take breathing pretty much for granted. As Menachem Brodie previously pointed out:

  • Breathing is so overlooked in the recovery process, in favor of the fancy shmancy gadgets that we can show off to our friends. But it is one of, if not THE, most powerful recovery tool available to us if we know how to use it.
  • When done with the right intent and focus, breathing can drive home a number of positive, stress relieving processes, including aiding to:
    • Lower blood pressure
    • Lower cortisol levels
    • Lower HR
    • Return blood flow to the organs of the digestive system

Menachem’s article focused on breathing as part of recovery and he recommended 3 minutes of focused, purposeful breathing after workouts.

But if breathing as part of recovery is important, what about actually training your breathing?

Stephen Cheung’s take:

Can training your respiratory system actually help you ride faster? We know that damage to your respiratory system can certainly reduce your exercise capacity – think emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or COPD. In contrast, the research on respiratory training as an ergogenic aid for exercise performance is relatively limited.

The pro-training argument include:

  • The respiratory muscles (diaphragm, intercostals, etc.) may use up to 10% of actual oxygen uptake during intense exercise. If you reduce their oxygen demands, that’s extra oxygen available to your legs for pushing the pedals.
  • Breathing is such a primal urge that it causes intense discomfort and distress if it’s restricted. In turn, this discomfort is a strong feedback to your brain to reduce effort.

In contrast, the anti-training argument largely sums up to:

  • The respiratory system is massively overbuilt and evolved over million of years to do what it needs to do. Don’t mess with what ain’t broke. This applies to both specific respiratory training and also concepts like entraining your breathing (e.g., one breath on every 3rd pedal stroke).

My scientific and practical take on this argument is decidedly down the middle. While the physiological benefits are not clear in the literature, it is absolutely the case that breathing is such a primal urge that any respiratory discomfort can greatly increase the perception of effort.

Conscious awareness and control of breathing has also been used forever for controlling anxiety and emotions. One of my favourite studies in this area compared a group of typical university control with a group of elite ultra-endurance adventure racers to a sudden “aversive respiratory stimulus” – i.e., restricted breathing (Paulus et al. 2012). While both groups perceived similar levels of discomfort, the racer group maintained their cognitive capacity versus a large drop in the control group. As applied to respiratory training, studies like this suggest that there’s a further potential for maintaining awareness and decision making during hard efforts.

From a practical perspective, apart from a minor time investment, there are no known downsides to respiratory training, so there’s very little to no risk of any decrement in performance. That alone makes exploring respiratory training a no-brainer.

Basic Respiratory Terminology

Before we see how Chuck used and found his experience with Airofit, here’s some basic terminology to understand as you use Airofit or start learning about respiration:

Tidal Volume (VT). How much air you take in per breath, in millilitres (mL).

Respiratory Frequency (RF). How many times you breathe, per minute (bpm).

Forced Vital Capacity (FVC). The maximum usable volume of your lungs, in litres (L).

Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV1). How much air you can exhale in one second, in litres (L).

Minute Ventilation (VE). How much air you breathe in per minute, in litres (L).

For a more detailed discussion into respiratory physiology and training, check out this Fast Talk Labs podcast episode that I was part of along with coach Steve Neal.

Airofit Pro$299

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Airofit is a training system that consists of the Airofit Pro training device and associated free (iOS or Android) training app (the Airofit Active is a simplified version of the AiroFit PRO and sells for $129, but the Active does not have Bluetooth connectivity so you don’t get progression tracking or live feedback on how you are performing the training sessions).

According to Airofit:

  • The Airofit Breathing Trainer provides adjustable airflow resistance to your respiratory muscles. It measures your breathing volumes and strength and sends data to your Virtual Breathing Coach on your smartphone.
  • Airofit mobile app acts as a virtual breathing coach, giving you personalized training program based on your selected focus area, as well as your baseline lung function measurement.
  • It then considers your data, your age, size and gender to tailor each training session. The app gives you live feedback and ensuring all exercises are performed correctly.
  • Your training data is stored in your account which gives you an overview of your training progress over time.
  • Airofit is designed to be used separately from training and other physical activity. This means that you can use Airofit in any free moment – before bed, at work, after a gym session or whatever suits you best.

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The device itself controls and measures your breathing. There are two dials on each side that control airflow resistance: one when you inhale and the other when you exhale. According to Airofit: This resistance causes fatigue in your breathing muscles which is then compensated by muscle tissue growth, making your respiratory muscles stronger, faster and more efficient.”  The device measures your breathing and relays that information to the app.

Using the Airofit PRO

Before you can use the AiroFIT PRO you’ll need to charge what Airofit calls the E-Unit, which is the black piece with the Airofit logo and the on/off button. Remove the E-Unit by gently squeezing the top and bottom to pull it off. The charging port (micro USB) is on the inside of the E-Unit. If the light is blinking green, that means the cable is attached correctly and the E-Unit is charging. When the light turns solid green, the E-Unit is fully charged.

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Micro USB port for charging

You’ll also need to download the app, register the Airofit PRO, fill out your profile, and connect the Airofit PRO with the app. NOTE: The Airofit PRO comes with a one-month free Premium Membership, which costs $7 per month or $40 per year. You don’t need it to use the Airofit PRO and without the Premium Membership will have access to:

  • Breathing training device
  • Simple breathing exercises
  • Basic training guidance
  • General training history overview
  • 17 advanced breathing exercises
  • Live guidance and feedback
  • Measure lung capacity and function
  • Data-driven, personalized training
  • Track last 30 days of training progress

But you’ll have to decide if you want to spend money for these added premium features after a month:

  • Unlimited tracking of training progress
  • Detailed lung test and training history
  • Focus area-specific training programs
  • Peer data comparison
  • Advanced Statistics
  • Training tips

Finally, you’ll need to decide which of the two mouthpieces to use. There’s no right or wrong choice. It’s personal preference. Some prefer the Simple version, while others like to hold the trainer tighter between their teeth with the Advanced version. I opted for the Advanced.

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Not quite a scuba mouthpiece, but you can choose between Simple (left) and Advanced (right)

At this point, you’re pretty much go-to-go to start training with the Airofit PRO.

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airofitBased on your profile and your focus area, the app will pick breathing exercises for you

I won’t cover everything about the Airofit app and training with it, but hopefully enough to give you an idea of what’s involved.  Put simply:  Just follow the instructions for each breathing exercise as they appear on the app (you can also set the app to hear the instructions and have background music).

The first thing you do before every training session is take a lung test that measures air volume, inspiratory power, and expiratory power. I’ll let screen shots do the talking.

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airofit

The app then walks you through a series of breathing exercises. Again, just follow the instructions as they appear on the app, i.e., set the IN and OUT valves to the appropriate resistance, inhale, exhale, hold your breath, etc.

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All you have to do is breathe and follow simple directions to train with the Airofit PRO

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Different types of breathing exercises to train different parts of your breathing

Two things:

  • Have a towel handy when you use the Airofit PRO because saliva inevitably drips off the mouthpiece when you take it out of your mouth.
  • Remember to remove and wash the mouthpiece after each training session.

Does it really work?

Airofit recommends daily training.  5-10 minutes is all you need. Amongst the benefits that Airofit claims:

  • Improved respiratory strength
  • Increased accessible lung capacity
  • Boosted anaerobic threshold
  • Decreased stress levels, improved mindfulness, and relaxation

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If you can breathe, you can train with the Airofit PRO

According to one study where 68 people were divided into 3 groups and spent 8 weeks training with different resistance levels:

Group 1 was a control group and trained with virtually no resistance -0.5%. Group 2 trained with 33% resistance, while Group 3 had the difficult task of 50% resistance training. The results show that those in Group 1 (control group) increased their performance by 0.5%, Group 2 improved by 8% and Group 3 improved athletic performance by 15%.

I’ve been using the Airofit for 2+ months. But haven’t been as good as I should be about consistency, i.e., using it every day. I tend to be better using it during the week incorporating into my morning routine of stretching and measuring my heart rate variability. I’m kind of “lazy” about my whole morning routine on weekends — even though I’m not necessarily sleeping in. And I had ~3 weeks where I didn’t use the Airofit PRO at all because I was too busy with packing up our old house and moving to our new house (some 600 miles away).

Nonetheless, per the stats that Airofit tracks, I’ve shown improvement:

  • Vital lung capacity – 5.12 liters up from 4.19 liters
  • Inspiratory strength – 100.43 cmH2O up from 52.38 cmH2O
  • Expiratory strength – 89.36 cmH2O up from 52.59 cmH2O

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airofit

Anecdotally, I can say that my breathing seems easier during harder efforts.

And I’ll throw this out there as other pieces of anecdotal evidence. I mentioned that I was off the bike for 3+ weeks because of moving. As such, I fully expected to be way, way behind the power curve when I came back. But …

  • One of my first rides back was my infamous Wednesday Night Hill Ride that is a fairly relentless succession of climbs — many of them with double-digit grade. Since it’s my ride, I could’ve made it “easier” than usual but I didn’t (I know … I’m an idiot). As such, I figured I would be shelled and spending all of my time bringing up the back. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. I even found myself on the front of some of the climbs!
  • What I would call my first “serious” ride back was only 40-something miles but with a pretty jagged profile (again, I could only blame myself for designing the route) on a 90-something degree (F) day. Let’s just say that there was a lot of grumbling (OK … it was out and out f-bomb swearing) behind me about the number of climbs and severity of grade. Especially since (as I tend to do on a lot of my rides) I backloaded the ride with climbs.
  • A couple days after that I went on a 50-something mile ride that was more rolling/flowing. At one point on a fast section, my friend and former teammate Seth “broke away” after squeezing past a stopped car. Seth has a diesel engine and I knew he was just going to motor it because he was in his element (and I wasn’t) on this particular stretch of road. It took me the entire length (~1.5 miles until we turned) to bridge the gap and one thing I noticed during the effort was that for such a sustained hard effort (for me) my breathing wasn’t that labored.

So I know all of the above is anecdotal. And I’m certainly not going to claim cause-and-effect. But I’m willing to believe that there’s a correlation of sorts between the benefits of training with the Airofit PRO and being able to ride as well as I did after a 3+ week layoff. As Menachem Brodie pointed out, a lot of us are willing to spend $$$ on all sorts of fancy gadgets for our training. If you fall into that category, you should put the Airofit PRO on your gadget list.

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I’m a piker, but these guys are the real deal

Reference

Paulus, MP, et al. Subjecting Elite Athletes to Inspiratory Breathing Load Reveals Behavioral and Neural Signatures of Optimal Performers in Extreme Environments. PLoS ONE, 7(1).0029394, 2012. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029394.


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