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

Rob Pickels  00:04

Hello and Welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Rob Pickles, here as always, with Trevor Connor.  You probably have no problem understanding what we’re talking about when we throw around terms like max heart rate FTP, rating of perceived exertion and anaerobic threshold. We have a lingo in endurance sports that you’re going to inevitably encounter and have to learn if you want to talk with training partners or read articles about how to train better. And when it comes to heart rate and power terminology. We all have it covered. But how often have you used the lingo of breathing terms like respiratory dead space and forced expire oratory volume breathing, which is 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 efficient at breathing, and that we don’t need to train it, such as our guest on episode 130. Dr. James Hall, our two guests today, exercise physiologist Dr. Steven Chung and Coach Steve Neal A 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 a lot to know, we’re not going to try to cover it all in this episode. 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 and racing. And most importantly, what if anything you can do to train your respiration to be more efficient. Our guests will focus heavily on three things you can do, which include strengthening your respiration muscles, slowing your breathing down, and improving your ability to forcefully breathe out to eliminate waste products. Joining our main guests, we’ll also talk with two cyclists who have raised at the highest levels, Alex house with EF education and kill reinen with trek Segafredo to see how they focus on their breathing technique. Additionally, we’re talking with coach and physiologist Jared Berg, about the role that breath training can have from the research side, and how that can benefit performance. So take a deep breath from the diaphragm, and let’s make you fast. Listeners since you listen to fast talk every week, you know that knowledge is power and power is B, there is no better way to get faster or to achieve your goals, then by training smarter, not harder.

 

Trevor Connor  02:38

We know that more is not better. So check this out, we have reduced the price to join fast talk labs. So you’re saying less is more, something like that. Now listeners can join fast talk labs for just $5 per month, that’s 75% Less, get full access to all our guides to training science intervals, sports nutrition pathways, and data analysis

 

Rob Pickels  02:59

all from world class experts for just $5 a month. There’s never been a better time to join fast doc labs Join now at fast talk labs.com.

 

Trevor Connor  03:19

Well, this is an episode that we have actually been excited to cover or to do for a long time, because we have both of the Stephens here with us. So we have Dr. Steven Chung and Steve Neil, who have been with us for a long time. And we’ve been having a lot of conversations about breathing and whether it is something that you can train, whether it’s something that you can improve. And we certainly did an episode not all that long ago with a doctor Hall who basically said, your body’s got to figure it out, just let your body breathe, and you’re done. Obviously, Steve, you have a very different opinion about that. And I’ve been working on this for a long time and have convinced a lot of well respected people that this is something really worth looking into. So I’m very excited to have this conversation with the two of you and to see where we go.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  04:11

Yeah, looking forward to this talk. Yeah,

 

Steve Neal  04:13

I’m excited. I’ve been doing this a long time. And I think it’s fun to chat about and, and helpful.

 

Rob Pickels  04:17

Well, I think you got your work cut out for you. Because, you know, I might be one of those skeptics guys that you need to convince, but I’m definitely open to learning. I hopefully have some hard questions for you today. Yeah, let’s get me on board too, with everyone else.

 

Trevor Connor  04:31

So we are going to dive fairly deep into the whole concept of breathing and some of the science behind this. So it actually gets really complicated and we may very well in the future have a couple more episodes where we dive into particular aspects. This is going to be more teaching the basics episode but I think we need to start by just giving some of the lingo that anybody who works in breathing is very familiar with but all A lot of our listeners might be hearing for the first time. So let’s go through a few of these terms define what they mean, because we’re gonna be using them throughout the episode. And I will start with breathing frequency.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  05:12

So breathing frequency is simply how many times you breathe during the course of a minute. So it’s typically, just like with heart rate we have whatever our resting heart rate being 50 beats per minute, we also have a breathing frequency, how many times we breathe, so that can be at rest, that can be about roughly 10 times a minute or so. And then as we start exercising, it can go higher, and just like our heart rate gets higher. So that’s really the basics of it is just how many times we breathe. And as Steve will talk about, the real question is whether we want to, in a sense, control our breathing frequency, whether we want to entrain our breathing frequency to be at certain every few pedal strokes, etc, stuff like that. I found

 

Trevor Connor  06:03

it very interesting. The lot of the research I read leading up to this episode on breathing frequency really focused on swimmers, because if you think about it, swimmers have their frequency kind of artificially controlled.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  06:16

Yeah, absolutely. And some swimmers breathe every single time they raise their left arm, others breathe every one and a half strokes. So they’ll breathe out of their left side once time and then they’ll breathe out the write in kind of one and a half strokes later. So there’s definitely been some work. And it’s kind of comes in fits and start whether we really want to entrain our frequency of breathing, as cyclists or as runners. So there’s some ideas that you want to breathe every again three pedal strokes and control it that way and really in train that kind of the science goes back and forth. And we’ll talk about that possibly later on.

 

Rob Pickels  07:01

Well, as a swimmer, I’ve actually mastered this technique that really lets me get around this. I am very good at not putting my face in the water when I swim. And so therefore my breathing is not unencumbered by any sort of stroke rate or anything else. The classic Tarzan’s swimmer. Yeah, I think everybody really needs to learn this technique. It allows me to breathe much better.

 

Trevor Connor  07:20

I discovered even better technique in my last triathlon. What don’t

 

Rob Pickels  07:24

swim walk on the bottom of the pool, holding weights.

 

Trevor Connor  07:27

All right, let’s jump to the next term, which is ventilation, or VI. All right?

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  07:33

Well, ventilation is really just how much air you suck into your body every minute. So it is typically in liters per minute. So at rest, we might be breathing in roughly 10 liters per minute or so. But at very high exercise rates, and it depends on fitness and the type of exercise but you can be breathing up to 150 liters per minute, or even higher for very, very highly aerobic ly fit individual exercising at threshold. So that’s one of the amazing things with the human body, it has such an amazing reserve capacity. And again, we may be at rest, if we’re lying down or sitting, we may only be breathing 10 liters per minute into our body. But again, it can go up 15 times, which to me is really astounding. And and one of the fun things about exercise science is really pushing the body to its limits.

 

Rob Pickels  08:32

And for clarity here, what we’re talking about with ventilation or minute ventilation is not the oxygen that the body is using. We’re talking about, yeah, purely the air that is moving in and out of your lungs. Right. So we have oxygen, carbon dioxide, we have some nitrogen so on and so forth. We’re just talking about that volume, not what we’re actually metabolically using, when we talk about oxygen, say for vo two, Max, so on and so forth.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  08:58

Yeah, that’s a very important point. glad you raised that, Rob, this is really about just the total amount of air that you suck in. And again, typically in normal air, we are breathing around 21% Oxygen 20.93%. So whether and that’s true, whether you’re up at altitude, or at sea level, the fraction of air that is oxygen remains the same. So that part doesn’t change. But again, ventilation is the total amount of air. And then typically 21% Of that total amount of air is oxygen that’s going into your body. We’ll talk a bit later about whether you know actually, it gets into your lungs, but that’s the total amount of air that you breathe in.

 

Rob Pickels  09:48

But I feel bad for Canada because we typically say It’s 20.94 down here in the States. So you guys are missing out on a 100th of a percent.

 

Trevor Connor  09:56

You got to be really much richer money. Canadians hear,

 

Rob Pickels  10:01

but I have more oxygen than the rest of you. So I’m going to come out on top. That’s fair.

 

Trevor Connor  10:07

But I am glad you brought that up. Because that’s a really important thing in breathing science that you can’t use air and oxygen and carbon dioxide interchangeably. They’re actually measures for each, when you’re talking about breathing in, there is a measure for how much air you breathe in. And there’s also a measure for how much oxygen you’re breathing in, there’s even a measure for how much carbon dioxide you’re breathing in, and breathing out. So it’s important to make those distinctions. So Dr. Chung, the next one I know is gonna be really important to our conversation is tidal volume.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  10:37

Yeah, and tidal volume is the equivalent in our heart is stroke volume, we’ve heard about that stroke volume is how much blood is pumped out by the heart with each contraction. While that’s the same with tidal volume, tidal volume is really just how much air Do you breathe in with each breath. And at rest, it is about half a liter of air that we breathe in with each breath. So that’s our tidal volume, our body can get up to many of us have total capacity, if we’re really taking a big, big, deep, deep breath as deep as we can to get up to about five liters, five and a half liters. So that’s, again, tidal volume is just simply how much air you breathe in with each breath. So now let’s take all three of these terms that we’ve talked about together, we’ve talked about breathing frequency, we’ve talked about tidal volume, and we talked about ventilation. So ventilation is really just breathing frequency multiplied by tidal volume. So if again, our breathing frequency is 10 breaths per minute, our tidal volume is half a liter, then you multiply the two and you get if my math is correct, you get five liters of ventilation a minute. And the equivalent again, in cardiovascular physiology is the Cardiac output is the equivalent of your ventilation, that’s how much blood you are pumping out of your heart every minute. And then your breathing frequency is your heart rate, and your tidal volume is your stroke volume. So it’s completely equivalent to what we talked about in cardiovascular physiology.

 

Trevor Connor  12:24

Great, good way to think about it. Thank you. So next on our list, we have respiration Deadspace, which is probably going to be a completely new term to a lot of our listeners.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  12:35

Yeah, and this one kind of goes back to what Rob was saying earlier, where just because you breathe in 100 liters per minute, that doesn’t mean that you get, for example, 100 liters of oxygen, it doesn’t even mean that the 100 liters get into your lungs. So remember that if you look at the anatomy of our entire respiratory system, so we have the lungs themselves, we also have the trachea or the windpipe, we have our mouths or nasal passages. So every breath that we take, let’s say that breath is one liter for our tidal volume, not all of that one liter is actually going into the lungs, about 150 milliliters, so 15% of that one liter, is just going into that respiratory dead space. And that refers to the part of the body or the lungs that does not exchange air with blood. So again, that’s your trachea, your windpipe, your nasal passage, your mouth, all of that. So again, if we’re breathing in one liter of air as our tidal volume, about 150 milliliters of it is just going into that dead space, and it’s never actually reading, reaching the lungs. So the analogy that I often like to use is that’s kind of like your bank transaction fee. Right? If every time you take money out of the bank machine, it costs you 15 cents on the dollar. That’s kind of like your respiratory Deadspace, you are only getting 85 cents back in terms of useful money because you’re paying 15% to the bank for that transaction fee. So that’s again, the idea of this respiratory Deadspace, the part of your respiratory system that isn’t actually exchanging air with the blood.

 

Trevor Connor  14:38

So now we’re gonna get into we got two more terms here, and we’re starting to get into some of our heavier terms. So next one is forced expiratory volume and in particular, FP V one,

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  14:51

yeah, Fe V stands for again forced expiratory volume and one means per one second, so when you do a A test for your lung function. And some of our listeners may have done this before you were asked to breathe out, take a big deep breath and breathe out as forcefully and as rapidly as possible. And what the respiratory technologists are looking for is how much air you can breathe out in one second. And that really gives you an idea of kind of the resistance of your lungs. If you have, for example, asthma, and you can’t really breathe in, well, you also can’t really breathe out. And so you’re forced expiratory volume. Out of that I said earlier, your total kind of lung capacity, your your, the amount of useful air that is in your lungs, when you they’re fully expanded is let’s say it’s five liters. Now, if you can breathe out three liters in one second, then that is your forced expiratory volume. And that’s typically a very good value. Again, if you have asthma, if you have restriction in your lungs, if you are kind of just have challenges breathing, your airways may be really closed, and you may only be able to get out one liter in one second. So the higher your forced expiratory volume, the stronger kind of you’re able to breathe out, and the less resistance there is to airflow. So that’s what it really comes down to, we’re interested in FEV, one as the measure of the resistance to airflow, and the higher the FEV. One, the less resistance and the more you can breathe out.

 

Trevor Connor  16:39

So we got one more term and then something that you want to clarify after that. So the the other term is ventilatory threshold.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  16:47

Sure. And this is kind of in a sense where the rubber hits the road in terms of our exercise performance. So the vintage Kotori threshold, we’ve heard of many kind of thresholds, whether it’s lactate threshold, there was the idea of anaerobic threshold, even functional threshold power and stuff is another kind of threshold. Well, then Tila Tory threshold is the work intensity at which your breathing really starts to change your breathing pattern. Now, in general, if we’re trying to get in one liter of oxygen a minute, it usually takes us about 25 litres of ventilation per minute to achieve that. And that’s a pretty steady, steady relationship at light exercise. But then as you get higher and exercise intensity, that threshold kind of is passed. And instead of requiring 25 liters of air to bring in one liter of oxygen, it suddenly increases, it might take 2627 28 liters per minute so that you can think of that as the point at which you start having trouble controlling your breathing, you start having to kind of breathe more rapidly in order to get in the amount of air that you need. And that’s often that exercise intensity of that talk test where you can keep a comfortable conversation. And you know, obviously, when you talk, you need to be able to control your breathing. And above that exercise intensity where you can’t really hold a conversation anymore. That’s kind of your event dilatory threshold. And again, Steve will talk a lot more about why this is important. Because that is the point where you start having to really in a sense, think about your breathing, you have to alter your breathing. And what Steve is going to be talking about is whether you can control your breathing, and train your breathing so that it is not that heavy panting type of breathing as you as you maintain a workload.

 

Trevor Connor  19:04

And then the last thing we want to cover I mean, this is a term that everybody knows, but it does get confused, as you pointed out Dr. Cheung, so let’s just quickly make sure everybody’s clear on what we mean by hyperventilation.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  19:14

Yeah, and this is one of the challenges in kind of this field is hyperventilation can often be used to talk about two different concepts and often interchangeably, it can be referring to just an increase in your overall ventilation. So again, I said at rest is that about 10 liters or so a minute, and it can get up to 150 liters per minute. So some people refer to that as hyperventilation, but I usually try to avoid that use and just call that an increase in ventilation. What we generally mean or think about when we talk about hyperventilation is that shallow breathing, is instead of taking nice deep breaths, we start panting kind of doing that Some kind of heavier breathing, and what that changes is your breathing frequency goes up, but your tidal volume goes down. And now put that all together. When you do that shallow type of hyperventilate, Natori breathing, we may still get the same ventilation, we may still get, say 50 liters per minute of ventilation. But now it is with more breaths and shallower breaths. So higher breathing frequency and lower tidal volume. Now, why is that a problem, it is a problem because of the respiratory Dead Space. Remember I said every single breath you take 150 mils of it is in essence wasted, because that is only not getting into your lungs. So, if we are breathing, instead of 10 breaths a minute, we’re now breathing 30 breaths a minute, every breath we are wasting 150 milliliters. So the ventilation, overall ventilation may remain the same, but the amount of air getting into our lungs is less. So that is what is the problem when we talk about hyperventilation. That’s why we may want to prevent it by changing or training our breathing so that it is better able to control our breathing even despite hard exercise. So again, hyperventilation, I generally try to use it in terms of that shallow panting type of breathing, as opposed to just increasing our ventilation in terms of liters per minute overall. So hopefully that clears it up in terms of the difference between the two. And hopefully we can move on from there.

 

Rob Pickels  21:54

Before we talk about the ins and outs of training your breathing. Let’s hear from two riders, Alex Howes and Kiel Reinen, who have both raced at the top level and whether they’ve put any focus on their breathing.

 

Kiel Riejnen  22:06

I’m a huge fan of breathing techniques, but definitely not something I played around with in regards to racing other than hyperventilating, try and stay in the group.

 

Alex Howes   22:14

So I was an early adopter of playing with breath, in hopes of you know, improving performance in 2007. I think it was, it doesn’t six, many years ago, I screwed up my knee, I crashed a scooter on it long story. But anyways, I couldn’t pedal over 200 Watts like period. So I just decided that holding my breath was like a good alternative. So do these efforts at 200 Watts while I held my breath, and it did not help at all, it was terrible. I did not get any faster. So I don’t know what to tell you. As far as breathing techniques go not an expert over here, other than the fact that I live at 8500 feet. That’s a breathing technique in itself.

 

Trevor Connor  22:56

Okay, so Rob even raised this at the beginning that there are people who do believe and I was more in this camp, I’m getting convinced. But there are people who believe that really breathing training doesn’t help performance at all. So we’re gonna dive into each of these things. But why don’t we ask you Steve to give us a brief summary of the issues that athletes might encounter if they don’t work on their breathing? Sure, I think

 

Steve Neal  23:23

one of the persons be metaball reflex when the respiratory muscles aren’t maybe as highly trained as they could be. And so what happens is the body will kind of conserve and bring the energy to the respiration muscles, therefore kind of pulling away from our working limbs. So for cycling, that’s not so great for our legs. Loss of efficiency from fast breathing, as Dr. Cheung mentioned, which I was super happy about was that we are also losing tidal volume. And that’s really the big issue is you can fast breathe and continue to breathe deep. And that would be awesome. But oftentimes, without some training or awareness, we’re going to lose title, volume, anatomical Dead Space months. Again, awesome coverage before, just the simplest way I like to think about this, if you lower that breathing rate, then you are at least giving your body an opportunity to utilize more oxygen, because at least it’s getting extracted. But if we breathe fast, the math just goes up. Dr. Chung mentioned 150 milliliters and we’ll cover it a bit later. But you’re gonna have a lot of pretty quickly accelerating oxygen you you’re not able to use in the body, or FEV one it’s really I love the swimmer example before because there is really only a certain period of time the swimmer can exhale as they roll, but they work on that just naturally because they can’t keep inhaling when they turn over into the waters. The exhale, inhale becomes very important. And someone I just talked to you last week that we all know actually said you know what I think about my breathing when I swim all of the time, but then I get on my bike, and I kind of don’t think about it. So that was an interesting statement, but the poor FEV really just doesn’t allow us to breathe out strong enough. Breathe out more air. quickly so that we can breathe back in as much as possible. And this really starts to, you know, affect us when we get up 2224 26, you know, where we’re racing our respiration rates pretty high. So that becomes really important.

 

Trevor Connor  25:13

And, Rob, I’m interested in your response you have to this,

 

Rob Pickels  25:15

for me, a lot of this has to come down to write because my, I have a background in pulmonary diagnostics. And so I’m familiar with working with patients who are otherwise compromised, right. And so that does sort of, you know, set maybe a little bit of a bias or an agenda, because I’m used to comparing compromised individuals to quote unquote, normal individuals, you know, and you certainly see a difference there. For me, though, what’s going to be really interesting is talking about are these issues, Steve, that you just mentioned, you know, how much are they affecting the normal person that’s out there, who is able to do activities, who’s able to ride and run and swim and compete at an otherwise sort of high level? How much are they limited? You know, by these factors? And I don’t think that we talked about that right. Now, maybe we talk about that as we go through each one. But yeah, that’s kind of where I’m interested in seeing how much improvement do we actually make when we’re otherwise not compromised? Well, I

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  26:07

guess if I can jump into Rob, in terms of the scientific reason why we may want to train our respiratory muscles is that to make them more efficient, just like we want our leg muscles to be more efficient. And the idea really is that when we talk, we talk a lot in fast talk and other things, both vo two Max and oxygen usage, and about 10% of the oxygen that our body requires during exercise is really going to power our respiratory muscles. So our diaphragm, our intercostal muscles that surround the ribs, etc. And if we can train those muscles specifically to become stronger and more efficient in your oxygen use, then that is less oxygen that they are requiring, and possibly more oxygen that can be going to your legs to power you on the bike. So that’s really the reason. And reason why we may want to focus specifically on breathing is that it’s very hard to kind of do normally, right, you’re really trying to target the respiratory muscles by themselves and have them kind of train them separately, without kind of forcing the legs and arms and other parts of your body do a lot of work. So that’s really this idea of whether it’s different respiratory kind of training systems that we may see, is really to focus on the actual respiratory muscles. And again, the reason why that is is to make them stronger, make them be more efficient in their oxygen use and maybe then have less oxygen they are needing and more going to your legs to power the pedals.

 

Trevor Connor  27:56

So why don’t we jump there, we’re actually jumping a little ahead in our outline here, but you really just covered what the the issue is and what the goals are with training the respiratory muscles. So Steve, maybe this question goes to you, how do you train them as a good question? How do you isolate them and make them stronger?

 

Steve Neal  28:13

So the training is really in, I guess, we think of it to the if you picture a test, a step test, you’ve got to the left of threshold, you’ve got a threshold, and then you’ve got two to the right of threshold lower towards like vo two max and the harder intensities the respiration rate decrease. So if we try to lower breathing frequency for a period of time, we’ll naturally breathe deeper. So with some concentration, just lowering the rate will automatically get us to read deeper. Now that becomes a bit of a problem, maybe depending on what Why did your writing at or what speed you’re running at. But the natural lowering of the breath, it will deepen. But then the question is how long can we handle that situation because some people will say geez, and I tried to do that I can only do it for five or six minutes and I kind of get tired or my I can start to feel my abdominal. So when they really do focus on it, they’re now working those muscles may be a little different than than they have before. So at the endurance tempo level, it’s really a lowering of the breathing frequency is going to really, I think get a person heading in the right direction. I like to actually get someone to use a metronome because there’s usually a free app so they can sort of stay on track or at least try that every five or 10 minutes during the ride. And the other way is just Dr. Chung referred to this earlier with the breathing for so many pedal strokes and I’ll just kind of make a relationship that to running but the one place cyclists do get into problems when we think about breathing by pedal stroke or RPM is that we we have a very broad range of RPM and cycling we might be training at 45 or 50 and doing some at 90 and other 130. So these are rates or RPMs, are probably not going to be very efficient breathing. And it’s interesting when some people’s respiration curve almost follows their cadence. And so in cycling, actually, it’s one thing I tried to separate. So instead of worrying about cadence, I’m like, okay, when you start, if you can naturally breathe in for two seconds and out for two seconds, and that’s easy and natural, if you take that to three seconds in, three seconds out, kind of brings focus, and you can breathe deeper. When that becomes natural. Let’s breathe in for four seconds and breathe out for four seconds. All of this, obviously, while we’re writing these endurance tempo zones, does that makes sense? That piece? Yep, I do have some target respiration rates for people say recovery might be sort of 18 to 22, endurance, 22, to 28, tempo 26 to 32, threshold 32 to 40. And then kind of harder chain is going to be above that, I really do strive to get people, at least to the bottom of that going lower is possible. But those are just good goals that I see when I test people that they’re often above those ranges. Usually, what I see is a person’s in, say, my zone three rate when they’re actually doing endurance. So they’re almost like eight to 10, maybe 12 beats too high on the respiration rate, which means, as we’ve talked about, the tidal volume is dropping.

 

Trevor Connor  31:18

And so you when you’re saying respiration rate of 22 to 28, you’re saying 22 to 28? breaths per minute? Yes, yeah. All right. So you’ve kind of shifted here from talking about training the respiratory muscles to getting into that next thing we want to talk about, which is tidal volume and improving the efficiencies. So Steve, I guess I’ll start by asking you, what is the goal here? And why do we want to improve tidal volume,

 

Steve Neal  31:46

when we start talking about tide by a minimum or deepening the breath, then we’re going to be providing more available oxygen, that usually the same rate or possibly a slightly lower respiration rate, so then we get back into this anatomical dead space equation. So when we’re going harder, especially to really breathe fast, and loose tidal volume is something that can be changed, dropping the respiration rate down so low that it becomes stressful in the sport isn’t really the goal, it’s to try to improve the ability to breathe, continue to breathe deep while you breathe fast. And that is, you know, that is something we can train off the bike.

 

Rob Pickels  32:27

Yeah, Steve, I want to dig into that a little bit more previously, you had mentioned, you know, in Zone One, kind of a lower limit of 1822 breaths per minute for zone two, so on and so forth. You know, and I do have to ask, is there a point? And maybe we don’t answer this today? I don’t know. But is there a point at which focusing on breathing deeply ultimately becomes inefficient, or maybe detrimental to performance, whether its efficiency or not? And I bring that up, say, in the context of something like cadence, we know that a cadence that’s too high is not necessarily efficient, we know that a cadence is too low isn’t necessarily efficient, either. When original research was done, right, looking at, say, untrained college students than a cadence of, you know, 60 RPM was deemed the best and the most efficient, but we know that we’re willing to give up a little bit of inefficiencies at a faster cadence because it has other, you know, downstream improvements for performance. And so I bring that question sort of back to this respiratory rate situation, if we’re focused on slowing our breathing down and breathing deeper, at some point in time, does that actually become detrimental to our performance, maybe we’re breathing closer to the end range that we’re able to with our tidal volume. And now the inspiratory muscles are working very hard against sort of mechanical structures, right, we have skin, we have fat, we have ribs, we have connective tissue, we have all of these things we have to move with, the deeper that we breathe, is there a point at which we’re breathing too deep and too slowly. And maybe that’s bad for performance?

 

Steve Neal  33:55

It’s highly possible. I think, what I, what I see though, is when a person just past threshold, they do read faster. So they might go from 34 to 38, or 40. But they don’t maintain depth. So it’s not so much that that rate is wrong, it’s that they don’t have a coordination, or the ability to maintain depth at the rate. So that’s where this over a pass threshold piece, that tidal volume usually takes a hit because the person can’t forcefully breathe out enough. They don’t have trouble breathing in, but they can’t breathe out forcefully enough. And that’s where we get back to that FEV one string so that when we are breathing faster, we can forcefully expire more air to give us an opportunity to breathe in and maintain tidal volume, which is usually lost after threshold.

 

Rob Pickels  34:46

And have you noticed the like a change in ability for somebody should breathe deeply kind of through this training or is that not how is that altered kind of based on the stuff that you’re doing?

 

Steve Neal  34:57

Yeah, might be hard to relate just talking but I think it’s probably worth giving a go here. So if I relate, say me on a bicycle at 200 Watts, I use 100. And I can use 100 202% of my FEV. One, someone else might be using 50% of their FEV. One. So if I relate those two individuals, that means we’re both moving four liters, but I’m doing it much more relaxed, lots less energy going to my respiration muscles, I’m in total control of that. And it becomes a, you know, an issue over time, especially when you’re looking at 234 hour events, that ability to move the volume easily is going to pay off, I think.

 

Trevor Connor  35:37

So I want to throw out a thought here. And again, this is not my area of expertise. But please correct me on this and Dr. Cheung in particular, I’m interested in your response in this. But I do see another potential issue with the breathing rate, that’s, again, I loved your analogy of stroke volume, it’s a similar sort of thing, when your heart starts beating really fast, it gets to a point where even though you have say, a very well trained heart, the heart isn’t able to fill up in between beats, and actually your stroke volumes going to go down. So you can have a less efficient heart. Same sort of thing, when you breathe in the air, that air has to make contact with the inside of the lungs. And then there’s what’s called the gas exchange where the oxygen is taken out of that air and pulled into the inside your body and pulled into the blood. That’s not instantaneous. It’s not like you breathe in, and all of a sudden, all the oxygen is instantly taken out, it takes a little bit of time. And I have to believe, if your breathing rate gets too high, you’re not going to sufficiently fully take the oxygen out of that air before you’re trying to force that air back out. Do I have this completely wrong?

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  36:44

No, I think you’re really right on the spot. So let’s actually look at what’s actually happening in the lungs itself. Remember, our whole goal was to get as much oxygen into our lungs, and have it transfer from the alveoli, which are the tiny little air sacs to the blood in the pulmonary circulation in the blood that is going to the lungs, right, that is ultimately what we are striving for, we need oxygen to get from the air around us into our lungs into the alveoli and then into the bloodstream. So it can go to the muscles in the other way around, we need to get rid of the carbon dioxide that we’re producing. So they go from the blood going to our lungs, into our alveoli, and then into our breath that we breathe out. So we want to maximize the time, like you say that the oxygen is in the air, there’s air sacs in the alveoli, because we want more time for the exchange into the blood. So you’re absolutely right there. So the more we can slow down kind of in a sense our breathing, the more we can increase this time for the gas exchange to occur. And then go back to a little bit earlier what Rob was saying about, you know, tidal volume, why we may want to maximize it is, when we breathe in, let’s say two liters of air into our lungs, it’s not as if it’s kind of going evenly to throughout the entire lungs, it is going to particular parts. And for example, the upper part of our lungs may not really kind of get much fresh air at all, yet, there’s still blood going there. So you’re not maximizing the gas exchange, when there is blood going into the upper part of your lungs. But there’s not really fresh air and oxygen going there. So by increasing the tidal volume, increasing the amount of air that is actually in our lungs, we are maximizing not just the time for the oxygen to cross to the blood, but we are also maximizing the surface area within our lungs. So to get really granular about why improving tidal volume may be a good thing. Overall, it increases the amount and capacity for gas exchange, from our lungs, into our bloodstream and ultimately to our muscles.

 

Trevor Connor  39:20

So Rob, when I was proposing this that you gave me some looks so I need to throw this back. Yeah,

 

Rob Pickels  39:26

and I don’t I just gave you the finger because we’re glaring at each other behind our microphones right now.

 

Trevor Connor  39:33

So please know, I want to hear your thoughts on this. Yeah, definitely.

 

Rob Pickels  39:37

You know, Dr. Chung, I thought I think you actually just brought up a really great point, right, and that the depth of breathing you know, definitely is going to inflate sort of from the top down and maximizing that surface area. The one point I want to bring up kind of, you know, in contrary to this, I’d love to hear your thoughts is, you know, we very, very, very rarely ever see any arterial desaturation forever Everyone listening essentially, if we look at the amount of oxygen in the blood, it’s relatively constant throughout all ranges of exercise. And only in the highest level athletes, some of the highest level athletes working at a maximal maximal workload, do we ever really see that oxygen drops significantly. So you know, Dr. Cheung, I take that as a point that we’re not necessarily limited, you know, by the ability to transfer oxygen across our lung membrane into our blood. The other thing I’ll bring up in support of that, too, is that, you know, we, for the most part, you know, something like blood doping, so to say, if we increase our blood volume, we know that our delivery of oxygen will go up significantly. And so if we were in a place that we were limited by the transfer of oxygen, you know, across that soft tissue, then things like blood doping probably wouldn’t have the effect, you know, that they do.

 

Trevor Connor  40:53

Just to clarify, and we’re getting deep in the we are getting D was Sorry, I wasn’t talking about arterial saturation. So you’re talking about the other side of the exchange of how much oxygen is getting into the blood, I O on the other side, right, I was talking more about bringing in air and actually not really getting that much oxygen out of the error before you’re breathing it out. And that can end up resulting in some wasted work, because you’re breathing in a bunch of error that you’re really not maximizing the use.

 

Rob Pickels  41:19

Certainly, yeah, I think that that does have relevancy. When we talk about the work that the muscles are doing, I’m talking about this purely from how much oxygen is actually making it into the bloodstream. And I personally don’t necessarily know or think that changing this frequency or whatnot, affects that part of the situation.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  41:36

And you raise your raise valid argument, for sure, Rob, is most of the time in even in elite athletes, the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream isn’t really limiting your exercise capacity, kind of that in terms of the exchange from the lungs. But I guess where I’m coming from is, and I think Steve will agree with this is that we want to increase the range of our capacity, we want to feel that we can be comfortable and can be efficient across a range of tidal volumes, breathing frequencies. And I think it really goes back to that perceptual part and psychological part that we talked about earlier that you want to be able to just like being able to change cadences and be comfortable writing and a wide range of cadences, you want to be able to be comfortable breathing at a wide range of breathing frequencies, and tidal volume, so that you are giving maximum flexibility both to your physiology, but also to decrease the perceptual discomfort. So that’s where I think the real value of kind of this breath training comes in.

 

Rob Pickels  42:54

Coaches, we have a new and free downloadable guide for you at fast talk labs.com. In this guide, Philip hatzes creates a playbook that explores how coaches can grow profits, create opportunities, and reach their growth goals, however big or small, check it out now for free on fast talk labs.com.

 

Trevor Connor  43:20

So we are next on our list to talk about addressing dead space, but I gotta say, I feel like we’ve kind of beat this one to death and fully get why you don’t want too much dead space. So Steve, maybe just a quick question to you, is there anything else that you can do to address dead space, besides just simply keeping that the breathing rate under control?

 

Steve Neal  43:40

Not really, because it That’s Dr. Cheung referred to the 150 to 170 milliliters of dead space. So if we just do a little bit of math, then we, you know, if you have a person who’s breathing at 32 breaths per minute, that would be times 150, that’s 4800 liters of dead space air that they move, if they can lower that rate down to 24 times 150. Did now is 3600, which is about a 25% reduction in anatomical dead space here moved. So that piece of the puzzle and the stuff that Rob’s referring to like it’s it’s above my head, I think it makes sense, which is why I think I always try to refer to the fact that at least we have the opportunity to have more oxygen available to us. Beyond that in the bloodstream. It’s it’s it’s beyond me not going to live I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reducing the dead space and being more relaxed, which gets into the some of the mental sides of the respiration stuff that we’ve been talking about. So I think that’s about it for dead space.

 

Rob Pickels  44:43

Perfect and real quick clarity on that listeners when when Steve multiplied that I think that he said 4800 liters, but it’d be 4800 milliliters so 4.8 liters, right? Yep.

 

Trevor Connor  44:53

4800 liters would be great. I

 

Rob Pickels  44:55

know I right. I know. We’ll get an email about that. So I just wanted to throw it out there before What happened? Let’s check in with Jared Berg for a quick update on some of the research that’s out there supporting breathing training.

 

Jared Berg  45:08

So this is an area you had to jump in a little bit and look at what’s out there and the current research. And you know, I was actually surprised when I was digging in, there wasn’t a lot. There’s not a ton of research out there. But there certainly is some, I did find this kind of extensive article by McConnell and and her group and different few different researchers she collaborated with. But first she notes that there’s a researcher out of University Wisconsin that found that the main stimulus behind sort of respiratory training is that there’s like a reflex. And so just a vascular constriction that happens when we feel like we start to breathe harder, that happens throughout our body. And that is actually originated in our inspiratory muscles. So I thought that was kind of interesting. So a lot of what she found was that it’s not all about does training our breath actually improve our vo two Max, does it improve our lactate threshold, it actually maybe helps increase blood flow in our limbs, through this reflex that actually happens at our lungs, another researcher and she did this in her master thesis at the University of Auckland, she did a cycling study with 24 participants. And this was breathing pattern retraining, which is a little bit different than the respiratory training where actually you’re really trying to challenge that respiratory system. And it’s more on the the inhale and the exhale that you’re trying to really improve respiratory strength. But this is more about breathing pattern retraining. And so maybe it’s that you start to breathe harder when you get towards lactate threshold or to hyperventilate kind of thing. Well, if you take a step back, and you try to retrain that through a biofeedback mechanism that they were using, does that improve performance. And they found just that that it actually did improve performance in this specific study, when they did a four week session with 28 sessions and four weeks of breathe retraining. So this particular study said that they’re, you know, some of the, you know, they they found improved in performance, not an improvement via to max are proven not to threshold, but improvement in 20k, Time Trial performance. So with that 28 sessions, they also found that they were able to reference other researchers that did longer and have found even more benefits. So you know, it takes some time to really get benefits from retraining your breathing.

 

Trevor Connor  47:29

So then the last thing we have in the list is talking about anything that we can do to address the forced expiratory volume.

 

Steve Neal  47:37

Yeah, so training, the strength of lungs really comes down to using a device, there’s a number of different devices that you can add variable resistance to, and then take a big breath in without resistance, and then breathe out through a certain amount of resistance, you have to overcome, like doing strength on other muscles in the gym, let’s say that piece of the puzzle can really help somebody, especially with like a respiration problem, like asthma or something improving that FEV, one can really help. But when we’re looking at improving that with someone who is healthy, same thing, I think there’s probably from what I’ve seen, there’s usually about a 25 to 30% room for improvement in that FEV one strength while we ride for all the reasons we’ve sort of talked about. There is one device that I use quite often with people that allows you to add resistance, while you exhale while you inhale but at different rates. And so then you can work on the strength of that FEV one, while you’re asking the person to read it 24 minutes while you’re asked them to move four liters. So you can put them in this really specific situation for themself and slowly work on the strength of the exhalation in the inhalation, while they’re actually doing some endurance training, kind of like maybe dropping the cadence and adding more muscle tension when we you know, when we do tempo, I see a lot of benefits there. And it’s I guess it’s along those lines. Yeah, I

 

Rob Pickels  49:06

think this is a topic actually that I might be able to get behind. Not gonna lie. You know, I think barring any situation where somebody has a constriction, you know, they have a COPD or an asthma type of situation, you know, then the FEV one is really interesting to me, because, you know, what we’re talking about is how much volume of air can you move in one second, right. And there are definitely situations where moving more air quickly is very beneficial, as we pointed out, swimming, right, that’s going to be able to really help you move more air and in and out of your lungs. But then also, you know, as we work harder and harder and we breathe faster and faster. The faster we breathe, the less time we have to get air in but also to get air out. We move more air quickly, we get more air out quickly. And something that we had mentioned before is that, you know, this is really oftentimes to be driving off some car Been dioxide, right. And when we start to end up in a situation, perhaps while we’re accumulating acidosis in our body, our body can use the bicarbonate buffering system to help alleviate the acidosis that’s occurring. And what that does is it results in a lot of carbon dioxide in excess of carbon dioxide, you know, and so this is a place where, you know, if we’re really able to move more air quickly when we’re working hard. And that’s also when we’re creating this acidotic condition, maybe we can drive more buffering, because we’re blowing off more co2. And in my research, it seems like a lot of the performance benefits that we’re getting is actually in sort of these above critical power above threshold, sort of levels of workloads of of work, you know, even all the way up into max. And, you know, in my mind, I can definitely kind of make a link between the mechanism and the increase in performance on this FEV situation.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  50:59

Yeah, that that might be a whole complex idea. I didn’t want to get a metabolic and respiratory kind of buffering, and sorry, hypercapnia, all of that extra stuff.

 

Trevor Connor  51:14

I kind of did, because I think that’s an RA side of respiration. I mean, to give the, the short summary of what Rob was talking about, so any of you have listened to your gym teacher, you know, when you’re doing 100, meter sprint and gym class, they tell you, well, you’re building all that lactic acid. No, first of all, it’s not lactic acid. We’ve already addressed that one, but you are producing acid when you are going in doing that above threshold, really anaerobic work. And your body needs to buffer it. And Rob gave the the explanation. But the short answer here is, you have to breathe out carbon dioxide to buffer it. So we think when we think of breathing, we’re always thinking about, Oh, we’re trying to get oxygen in. But getting that carbon dioxide out can be as important and sometimes more important to activity. This is why you do 100 meter sprint, and you’re gasping for air breathing harder after that, yeah, even though you’re really not doing that much aerobic work, you could have done it holding your breath. Right, you’re breathing hard to buffer that acid. And if you are in a bike race and do 100 meter, you know, a quick one minute effort to jump up to a break away or something, a lot of that breathing heart is same sort of thing. You’re trying to buffer the acid that you just dumped into your blood. And that’s important.

 

Rob Pickels  52:27

Dr. Cheung I feel like you had you wanted to go on that topic a little bit, but we’re afraid to it sounds like you’re free, you’re free to take off my man,

 

Trevor Connor  52:35

we’ve opened the door. Sure.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  52:36

So as you said, one of the big things that happens is not only do we use up oxygen in our body, but we produce carbon dioxide. And that leads to a whole cascade of acidity levels in our body. So there are three ways that the body gets rid of carbon dioxide. One is that it’s just dissolved in the bloodstream and then transferred to the lungs. The other way is that it is also bound to hemoglobin the same way that oxygen is, but the vast majority of it is through this buffering system. And so carbon dioxide plus water sensually turns into carbonic acid. And that is the big way in which our body gets rid of carbon dioxide or transports carbon dioxide from the muscles to the lungs. And the more carbon dioxide that we build up, the greater the acidity levels in our bodies. So again, we use that buffering capacity to buffer the high acidity levels from the high amount of carbon dioxide that we are producing. And one of the ways in which we can manipulate the acidity levels in our body is by changing our breathing patterns. If we are breathing out both very forcefully, but also very rapidly, it is actually blowing out carbon dioxide quite a bit more efficiently. So by doing that we are actually decreasing the acidity levels in our in our body. So one of the things that we can do, and I think that’s very good point you brought out Rob, is that breathing may not just be helping us bring in oxygen, but it also may be helping us get rid of carbon dioxide and especially to regulate the acidity levels in our body and especially when we’re working very very hard when there is a lot of carbon dioxide being built up.

 

Rob Pickels  54:44

Got to get rid of those co2 shoes.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  54:47

Yeah, and that’s a lot of times the half of the equation we don’t really think about but it is really really important. We’re using up oxygen but we are also producing carbon dioxide and we need to get rid of it. Just slike in my bread and butter research, we need to get rid of heat, we need to get rid of carbon dioxide also.

 

Trevor Connor  55:05

And this, I always loved pointing this out when you you watch a really good time trial is Time Trial, if you can listen to their breathing, they really focus on that exhalation, very forceful trying to get as much air out as they can. Because if you’re a time trial as you’re sitting right at that edge of building a lot of acid in your blood that you are trying to manage. And so they do learn how to focus on that exhalation I’m getting a look from Rob to telling me that he’s totally go against Oh, no,

 

Rob Pickels  55:37

I’m not gonna go against it, I was actually trying to picture how you can listen to the breathing of a time trial list. And as a singular observer on the side of the road, and somebody blows by you. So the only thing I could come up with was to listen to your own breathing if you were a good time trial list, and that was the scenario that I was laughing about traffic.

 

Trevor Connor  55:57

That’s very cheap. There you go. So no, I was never I was an okay time browsers, it was never great. But you can have them sit on a trainer.

 

Rob Pickels  56:05

Oh, trainers, God, yeah. Who does that? Internet mode,

 

Trevor Connor  56:10

Says the guy who worked in a lab for how many years?

 

Rob Pickels  56:14

No, I will say though, interestingly, and while we bring this up, I don’t know if it’s really relevant here or not. But working with a lot of professional top level cyclists, and a lot of cyclists who were not at that level, you definitely see a difference between elite performers and non elite performers in their breathing, elite performers are working so hard. But so in control, it’s incredible to see the work they’re doing, but also to see the physiological responses that they’re putting out, because it’s not as if it is just relatively easier for them because they’re more fit, it is relatively hard for them, but they’re in complete control. And that’s always kind of been astonishing.

 

Trevor Connor  56:53

So something that just kind of came to mind, to me that makes this FEV one all the more important. I’ve mentioned this on previous episodes, the the primary driver of our respiration rate, is not actually the need to breathe in, it’s the need to breathe out. So if you have a weak forced expiratory volume, that’s actually going to really drive your respiration and force you to start breathing a lot more rapidly and possibly more rapidly than you should be to really maximize your breathing. Would you agree with that?

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  57:26

Yeah. And it really gets back to why are we interested in breathing, we’re interested in breathing because it is such a primary urge in our body, and anyone who’s tried to hold their breath underwater, as long as possible, you know that, at the end, it gets really, really challenging, you’re just so driven to breathe, and it becomes scary. Also, if you cannot breathe. So we’ve talked about fatigue, I know in a lot of different episodes, including ones that I’ve been on. But you know, that’s remember the whole conversation about that. We are constantly trying to take back all of the signals in our body to see how hard we’re willing to work. And I’ve talked about temperature, we’ve talked about things like glycogen levels, and glucose levels in our body. And one of the other things is our difficulty in breathing, if we are really having labored breathing, if we’re hyperventilating, taking very shallow breaths, and there’s a lot of discomfort with that, and that discomfort goes back to our brain, and it’s a danger or a warning signal to us and we respond by slowing down. That’s to preserve our body, right? The brain is saying, I’m having really a lot of trouble breathing, this doesn’t feel comfortable. Well, how do I reduce that discomfort, I’m not going to run or bike as fast or as hard. So that’s really why we’re interested in this topic of breathing when it comes to exercise and performance.

 

Rob Pickels  59:00

Yes, even I think that you’re bringing up a very interesting topic here. When we’re considering performance and the impact on it, we do have to consider both I’ll say the maybe the biochemical changes at breathing is having balancing oxygen, carbon dioxide in our body. But then we also need to consider sort of the psychological things that we’re going through when when we are having these breathing challenges. I think every one of us have been in a situation where we’re not able to breathe well, and it is one of the scariest things in the world. Right and, and granted, I understand that it’s not happening while we’re out competing in a triathlon or whatnot. But any discomfort with breathing oftentimes can put you in a, maybe a negative mind space, or it can cause you to assess the challenge being harder than it is and all of those, they affect your motivation, they affect your performance, so on and so forth. So there’s definitely two different avenues. You know, I think we’re very much talking about the physical and the physiological today. Maybe we you know, the psychological is maybe something for another day,

 

Trevor Connor  59:56

but it’s such an important point to realize that your muscles my be able to do all to handle the work that you’re doing right now. But if your body is perceiving that it can’t breathe, it’s not going to let you do that work.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  1:00:08

There’s just some really fascinating research on elite breath hold divers, and it is a competitive sport. And they can hold their breath for a ridiculous amount of time underwater. And I know some of my colleagues, they really research these guys, these elite breath, hold divers to try to understand what that tells us about how we control a respiration, and also how it affects kind of our body when we’re really holding our breath for prolonged periods of time. So that’s actually really fascinating research. But we won’t get into that today.

 

Rob Pickels  1:00:42

That sounds like the extremist of the extreme athletes right there. There was a big consequences.

 

Trevor Connor  1:00:47

But Margo bandhani was famously known for he would do a lot of practice Underwater Swimming. So you know how long you could go. All right. So before we wrap up this conversation of FEV, is there anything else that you want to say about it, Steve?

 

Steve Neal  1:01:01

Yeah, all the conversations so far, it’s been super awesome. And I just wanted to relate to one of the tests I do with people is to put them on a respiration training device that allows me to set the volume that they actually move on the bike. So if someone’s pedaling it 250 Watts and they’re moving 4000 Like four liters of air, I can put that four liters into the computer on the device, I can then have them do a step test on respiration rate. So they stick they move four liters the whole time, and they started 18 Breasts a minute, and then two minutes later, 20 breaths a minute. And every few minutes, I add respiration rate, and it’s super interesting to watch that they start to fail, holding on to the leaders because they can’t breathe out fast enough to breathe back in. So and it also sort of changes like at the bottom lower rates, it’s kind of a circular breathing pattern, like I said before, three seconds in three seconds out. But then when you really start breathing faster, it’s more like a really forceful breath out. And a really big long breath in which we sort of talked about. So I see that in one of my tests, where that it does show as a limiter when they’re just breathing. This is all done sitting in a chair, just breathing.

 

Rob Pickels  1:02:11

Interesting, Steve, um, you know, I’m glad that we’re bringing this back kind of to the real world and out of the textbook. What other practical advice, you know, you do a lot of training like this with people, you’ve definitely seen improvements in performance, or fitness, or maybe just enjoyment, what are some just universally good practical advice that anybody can use?

 

Steve Neal  1:02:31

I think lowering the rate, the breathing frequency to a comfortable level, and working on breathing depth when you’re doing sort of tempo and blow training is like a free and easy way to do it. It does require concentration, you can’t always talk to your writing, buddy. But you could do five minute breathing intervals and focus on lowering that breathing rate, and looking maybe into trying to figure out how much that FEV one is a limiter, I’d say, you know, 95% of the people that I do test have a 5% limiter or more, and that I think can really help in the higher intensities. And I think

 

Rob Pickels  1:03:06

what’s interesting when you’re talking about this being a limitation, Steve, right, you’re you’re testing this during kind of in conjunction with exercise, right, as opposed to just say, somebody who’s getting tested for asthma, then they go to their pulmonologist, and they’ve loaded with spirometer. Am I right? That you’re looking at this exercise versus resting?

 

Steve Neal  1:03:23

Well, I actually have I do a spirometer chest before, so I get the FEV, one from a medical spirometer. And then I relate that to the tidal volume and move it on the bike. And I you know, often see numbers of 50 to 55%. And yet, I’ve been able to improve people up into my goal range of 75 to 85% of FEV. One when a person’s on the bike

 

Rob Pickels  1:03:45

of the resting FEV. Yeah, when they’re actually riding.

 

Steve Neal  1:03:49

Yeah. So that way, it really shows that the, you know, that’s where the limiter is, can we change it and work on the endurance and strength of the respiration system combined, to be able to, you know, anatomical dead space, we’re going easy at tempo, and forcefully expired to blow off that co2, like you’re referred to at the top end.

 

Trevor Connor  1:04:09

So I think we are getting towards the end of this episode. So it is time to do our take homes. And I’m going to let all of you guys go first because I’m really the person the least educated on this topic. So I’ve got not too much to offer. So, Dr. Tang, Steven, who would like to go first here,

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  1:04:29

maybe I’ll go first take it from the scientific bent and hopefully the listeners found value in kind of this primer on respiratory physiology, some of the main terms and also why it may be interesting and relevant for us as exercise enthusiast. And As Rob mentioned, and I think it is a valid point. It may or may not kind of be the big marginal gain for for us in terms of improving our perform are minutes. But I think there is relevance in understanding our breathing and being aware of our breathing while we’re exercising. And because it also really leads into that discomfort realm. And I know we haven’t really focused on it. But being able to control your breathing when you’re going hard, just makes things a lot easier. It makes it easier for our body physically. And I think it also makes it easier for us mentally. And then the last thing I want to raise is just the idea that when we’re talking about breathing, we’re not just talking about oxygen, we’re also talking about regulating and getting rid of carbon dioxide. And that’s another important consideration in terms of training, your breathing and regulating your breathing.

 

Trevor Connor  1:05:47

Rob, what do you have to say here?

 

Rob Pickels  1:05:49

You know, for me, this is one of those things where there is no reason not to do it. Right, you’re not going to hurt yourself, it’s not going to take away from other training, you’re not going to have any negative sort of effect. And so it’s definitely 100%, in my opinion, worth trying. Because if you do try it, and you get a benefit, whether it’s kind of like we’re talking about physiological, or as we stated in the beginning psychological, then that benefit is worth it. And if you try it and nothing happens, then nothing happened. It’s really not that big of a deal. And I kind of I love things like these, because these are the things that are fun to experiment. And, you know, Hey, man, I’m skeptical about a lot of things. I ask a lot of questions about stuff. But you better believe that in the coming weeks and months, I’m probably going to be giving this a try, you know, because I want to find out for myself. And ultimately, that that’s my advice to everyone is, is why not?

 

Trevor Connor  1:06:42

And Steve, even though I’ll finish up, we’re gonna give you the last word because as I said, I’m not gonna have much to say,

 

Steve Neal  1:06:48

Yeah, I think even little things when you can get a bit of control over the respiration, you know, if you if you just think of it right beside your buddy, or you’re right beside a buddy, and that person’s like puffing and panting like crazy, and you’re kind of in control, then you get a bit of confidence from that situation. So I really liked the mental sides of things that that Dr. Cheung touched on, because I’m a big believer in those and the confidence gives us to feel in control when the people around us are breathing really hard. And what are they thinking because I’m in control. So I think the mental aspect of feeling and control your breathing from doing some work is is a really positive thing.

 

Trevor Connor  1:07:26

Well, I think it’s been a really interesting conversation. I’m just gonna say with mine, it was interesting, listen to three experts on a topic where there was a bunch of different opinions. But ultimately, what I love is physiology is never that simple. And everybody kind of nudge their position a little bit opened up a little bit more. And I don’t think you’re ever dealing with something that’s black and white. And that was certainly the case here. So I’m interested in continuing these conversations and also finding out what Rob discovers after he gives us a try. So we’ll leave it there. Thank you everyone for participating in this episode. That was a lot of fun. I hope it was eye opening for all of our listeners. Thanks, everyone.

 

Dr. Stephen Cheung  1:08:11

Really enjoyed it. Thanks for having me on.

 

Steve Neal  1:08:13

Thank you very much.

 

Rob Pickels  1:08:15

That was another episode of fast talk. Subscribe to fast talk. Wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on fast talk are those of the individual. As always, we love your feedback. Join the conversation at forums dot fast talk labs.com to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of fast talk laboratories at fast talk labs.com/join and become a part of our education and coaching community. For the practical Steve Neil, the scientific Dr. Steven Chung and the true believer Trevor Connor. I’m Rob pickles. Thanks for listening.

Related Episodes