Understanding and Training Your Breathing with Dr. Stephen Cheung and Steve Neal

Heart rate, power, and now breathing: they all have their own languages and tools that are critical to endurance sports, but you might not have known that breathing is also trainable.

Photo taken by: Brock University

You probably have no problems understanding what we’re talking about when we throw around terms like: max heart rate, FTP, rate of perceived exertion, and anaerobic threshold. We have a lingo in endurance sports that you’re going to inevitably encounter and must learn if you want to talk with your training partners or read an article on how to better train in your sport. When it comes to heart rate and power terminology, we all have it covered.  

But how often have you used the breathing lingo – terms like respiratory dead space and forced expiratory volume? Breathing – how we bring oxygen into our bodies and get rid of waste like carbon dioxide – is critical to any endurance sport. There are those who believe that our bodies are remarkably effective at breathing, and we do not need to train it – such as our guest on Episode 130, Dr James Hull. 

Our two guests today, exercise physiologist Dr. Stephen Cheung, and coach Steve Neal both believe that breathing is something that we can train and benefit from as athletes. Today we’ll talk with them about the science of breathing. It’s a complex field and there’s so much to know. However, we’re not going to try to cover it all in this episode, because that would take several hours. Today, we’re going to set the stage and start by simply defining a few key terms you will need to know.  

Next, we’ll talk about what this actually means when you’re out training or racing. Most importantly, what, if anything, you can do to train your respiration to be more efficient. Our guests will focus heavily on three things that you can do to make your breathing more productive: strengthening your respiration muscles, slowing your breathing down, and improving your ability to forcefully breathe out to better eliminate waste products.  

Joining our main guests will be two cyclists who have raced at the highest levels, Alex Howes with EF Education, and Keil Reijnen. We talked briefly with Alex and Keil to see how much of a focus they’ve put on their breathing techniques.  

Finally, we will be talking with coach and physiologist Jared Berg about the roll that breathing has when an athlete is training. 

So, take a deep breath – from the diaphragm – and let’s make you fast! 

REFRENCES

Illi, S. K., Held, U., Frank, I., & Spengler, C. M. (2012). Effect of Respiratory Muscle Training on Exercise Performance in Healthy Individuals. Sports Medicine, 42(8), 707–724. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/bf03262290

Kapus, J., Ušaj, A., & Lomax, M. (2013). Adaptation of endurance training with a reduced breathing frequency. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 12(4), 744–52. 

Nalbandian, M., Radak, Z., Taniguchi, J., & Masaki, T. (2017). How Different Respiratory Rate Patterns affect Cardiorespiratory Variables and Performance. International Journal of Exercise Science, 10(3), 322–329. 

Nicolò, A., Girardi, M., Bazzucchi, I., Felici, F., & Sacchetti, M. (2018). Respiratory frequency and tidal volume during exercise: differential control and unbalanced interdependence. Physiological Reports, 6(21), e13908. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.14814/phy2.13908  

Nicolò, A., Marcora, S. M., Bazzucchi, I., & Sacchetti, M. (2017). Differential control of respiratory frequency and tidal volume during high‐intensity interval training. Experimental Physiology, 102(8), 934–949. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1113/ep086352 

Paulus, M. P., Flagan, T., Simmons, A. N., Gillis, K., Kotturi, S., Thom, N., … Swain, J. L. (2012). Subjecting Elite Athletes to Inspiratory Breathing Load Reveals Behavioral and Neural Signatures of Optimal Performers in Extreme Environments. PLoS ONE, 7(1), e29394. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0029394

SCHERER, T. A., SPENGLER, C. M., OWASSAPIAN, D., IMHOF, E., & BOUTELLIER, U. (2000). Respiratory Muscle Endurance Training in Chronic  Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 162(5), 1709–1714. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1164/ajrccm.162.5.9912026

Verges, S., Lenherr, O., Haner, A. C., Schulz, C., & Spengler, C. M. (2007). Increased fatigue resistance of respiratory muscles during exercise after respiratory muscle endurance training. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 292(3), R1246–R1253. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpregu.00409.2006 

Episode Transcript

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