Bicyclists racing in a criterium

by Lars Hundley

Training your breathing muscles may provide longer-lasting benefits than previously believed, according to new research published in Experimental Physiology. The study revealed that the strength gains from five weeks of inspiratory muscle training, a specialized form of weight training focusing on the muscles used for breathing, persisted for an additional five weeks after the training had ceased.

These stronger breathing muscles can improve blood flow distribution during exercise, allowing cyclists to ride for more extended periods before fatigue and breathlessness set in. Improved breathing muscle function could potentially help individuals manage and slow down the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of lung conditions including emphysema and bronchitis.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo, Canada, discovered that breathing muscles remained stronger after an equal amount of time without training. This finding indicates that respiratory muscles can be trained similarly to other skeletal muscles.

Paolo Dominelli, a researcher on the study, explained, “Inspiratory muscle training can be beneficial to people with breathing difficulties and can be part of pulmonary rehabilitation. Knowing the time frame before muscle function loss occurs could help inform treatment programs, determining how frequently an individual would need to train and the length of the program.”

The research also demonstrated positive changes to the respiratory muscle metaboreflex, a process that restricts blood flow to the limbs when breathing muscles tire. Inspiratory muscle training reduces the metaboreflex, lowering heart rate and blood pressure, thus improving a person’s endurance during exercise.

Dominelli added, “By showing that the strength of the breathing muscles persisted, along with the retained reductions in the respiratory metaboreflex after five weeks without training, suggests that the training itself may not need to be continuous. We would need to carry out subsequent clinical trials to test the appropriate frequency and length of training required to evaluate how long the health benefits persist.”

For cyclists interested in training and fitness, this research highlights the potential advantages of incorporating inspiratory muscle training into their exercise routine to improve overall endurance and performance. Believe it or not, there are actually many manufacturers making devices to strength train your breathing muscles!

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