Tri & Multisport - July 09
LUNG TRAINERS ARE THEY WORTH ALL THE HUFF AND PUFF?
Text by Rod Cedaro (MAAESS Consultant Sports Physiologist, ACC Accredited Level III Triathlon Coach)
Back in the early 1990s whilst working at the AIS I had an idea, now I wish I'd patented it!
I saw how hard athletes were working. Endurance athletes couldn't train any hard, there simply weren't enough hours in the day to train, eat, sleep, recover, etc.
I watched the road cycling program riders log up to 1000km a week during their base training phase, saw Deek regularly log over 200km per week on the running trails around Canberra and worked closely with the swimmers as they swam two sessions a day and complimented their in pool work with 3 or 4 weight training sessions per week. Physically you can't train much harder than that without breaking down.
There were however other muscles I reasoned that we could load and condition without running the risk of injury. These muscles were well protected and non weight bearing (so it would be hard to injure them), they were already partially conditioned by the very nature of the work they were doing for the athletes and would relatively easy to strengthen with a little lateral thinking I was thinking about the inspiratory muscles. Those muscles that lift your rib cage, create a negative pressure inside your body allowing air to rush in and fill your lungs.
My rationale was - they are muscles, like any other muscles in the body, if we can train them they'll become more efficient in doing what they do, this will lower their energy cost and free up blood to power the other muscles directly involved in the actual event in which the athlete was competing. In short, better efficiency means better performance.
I took the idea to Professor Alan Hahn, who at that time was the physiologist responsible for the AIS rowing program. He too immediately saw the potential of the idea. Problem was there was no commercially available device that would restrict breathing (i.e. Making it harder for athletes to breath in we weren't so concerned with exhaling as that is a passive motion that occurs when the inspiratory muscles relax and recoil back to their resting state forcing the air out of the lungs), so we improvised. Within weeks there were AIS rowers all over the place training on rowing ergos whilst breathing through restricted bore mouth pieces. We achieved this by taking devices such as VO2max mouth pieces, getting the athletes to put them in their mouths, pinching their noses closed and then blocking off half of the opening on the mouth pieces so that athletes had to suck the air in through the smaller bore - loading their inspiratory muscles further. It was a crude and rudimentary adaptation but it was successful. The rowers who were using the makeshift devices reported that their on water performances were improving and this was supported via lab assessments. This was sports science in the real world at a grass roots level making a real difference by training smarter. I was pretty stoked that my idea had been successfully adopted. I didn't think too much more about it for probably another decade until I saw the Powerbreathe device hit the market. Here was an ingeniously engineered device designed to do precisely what I'd thought up 10 years earlier. My initial reaction was why in the hell didn't I do that 10 years ago After quickly getting over the initial commercial disappointment of seeing my idea out in the marketplace, I started reading a bit of the scientific literature accompanying these “lung trainers. These guys had really done their home work. Not only that, they had identified a completely different market we hadn't even considered 10 years earlier at the AIS asthmatics and those suffering from respiratory dysfunction smart, real smart. If it works for athletes logical follows that it would benefit those with breathing problems and their scientific, peer reviewed research supported that logic as they say on their website: As you inhale against the load, the inspiratory muscles are made to work harder; this training stimulus induces improvements in the force-generating capacity and metabolic efficiency of the inspiratory muscles. This applies equally to athletes and asthmatics. So, as an athlete what sort of performance enhancement can you expect from training with such a device? I wrote a review article about this for TMSM a few years back and the most stunning difference I saw recorded in the scientific literature were some papers published in 2001 by Volinitis and Romer who recorded performance improvements of as much as 4.6% in the performance of rowers and cyclists over 2000 metres of rowing and a 40km time trial. 4.6% you say, that's not much! Let's put this in perspective. At an elite level the authors concluded such an improvement would improve rowing performance by as much as 60 metres over 2000 metres what crew wouldn't want that! And slash as much as 3.00 minutes off a 40km individual time trial on the bike. That puts an elite male triathlete 1km into a 10km when previously he'd only just be getting off the bike! The performance difference is considerable.
Why? In short, under heavy exercise conditions the inspiratory muscles have a huge task to perform -ventilating the lungs. As such they 'steal' blood from the exercising limbs to supplement their own work. This limits the performance of those limb muscles - making exercise feel harder and impairing performance. Making the breathing easier means more oxygenated blood can be sent to the limbs and hey presto you go faster.For a relatively cheap competitive edge consider getting yourself one of these devices I only wish I was getting a slice of the action!