Respiratory Muscle Training: The Benchpress for your Lungs?


What if you could increase the “strength” of your respiratory muscles? Would that improve your training results and result in better performance when you run, swim, bike or any engage in any other activity that involves breathing?

That’s exactly what was asked in a runner’s study to find out how respiratory muscle training could improve overall performance.

Most of us would agree that to improve physical performance you need to condition your heart, build your muscles, and practice your game or skills. But how many of us think of respiratory muscle training as a key component to improving lung function…and your game?

What is Respiratory Muscle Training?

In a therapeutic setting, respiratory muscle training is used for patients recovering from surgery, heart attack, stroke or anything that affects lung function.

This same practice of conditioning the lungs has also been used and studied to find out if improving those muscles will improve sports training and performance. While the results are inconclusive, inspiratory muscle training may be something worth trying if you want to shave a little bit of time off of your performance.

Let’s look at the theory first: Your lungs are surrounded by muscles that support them as you breathe in and breathe out. The idea is that when these muscles are well developed, you will be less prone to respiratory muscle fatigue. And, the theory continues, when your respiratory muscles require less blood-​​flow and oxygen, then other “working” muscles in your body can suck up that oxygen-​​rich blood (like your legs muscles when you’re running or cycling) and physical performance will increase.

Remember, oxygen-​​rich blood to your peripheral muscles and your heart increases your sports training and performance.

Is there Solid Research to Support the Benefits of Respiratory Muscle Training?

The current available studies for muscle training have been performed with small numbers of participants; therefore, there are still a lot of questions about its effectiveness.

Additionally, there are different types of training exercises for your respiratory system and they were researched in various durations.

In the study published in Military Medicine, the conclusion was:

“…a 12-​​session, 4-​​wk RRMT improved respiratory muscle strength and endurance as well as the ability to sustain running at 80% of maximal O2 uptake before exhaustion. A 4-​​week VIHT, following RRMT, preserved the gains in respiratory muscle strength, and further improved both respiratory endurance and endurance running time…”

  • *RRMT – Resistive Respiratory Muscle Training
  • *VIHT – Voluntary Isocapnic Hyperpnea Training

Finally, there is some research that suggests you can experience benefits in your sports performance when you do a little bit of low resistance breathing exercises prior to your event. For example, a runner taking a little jog before the event.

But the question remains whether or not we really need to strengthen a system that’s already overbuilt for exercise.

This is what most physiologists widely believe for people with a healthy respiratory system. After all, during most training athletes don’t get near the vo2 max for their system.

The sentiment seems to be that if we aren’t going to use it all anyhow…why spend the time with any sort of resistive respiratory muscle training?

That’s a good question, and it will continue to be debated.

However, one could also argue that since most people don’t fully use what their brains are capable of then why bother with learning, or reading, or cognitive exercises, or critical thinking.

Should we try to develop something that will never be used to capacity? That’s a question that we’ll leave for another day…similar to the big questions about God, The Universe, Life, and Your True Purpose!

Hey…we’re all just here to get and stay in great shape, right!

So what about this lung training? Perhaps the best test regarding the benefits of respiratory muscle training is to try it out yourself. The known benefits of deep breathing (think meditation and yoga) is ancient; the concept of doing it with resistance to improve your sports training is a little newer

How do you do it?

There are small devices that can be used to build up respiratory muscle strength. They sort of make it hard to inhale so your respiratory muscles are activated.

Here’s an example, so you can see what this is all about. NOTE: this is NOT an endorsement of any particular product or brand. I’m just including the example here to give you a visual for respiratory muscle training

Resources for Respiratory Muscle Training and Training vo2Max

  1. http://​www​.ncbi​.nlm​.nih​.gov/​p​u​b​m​e​d​/​1​2​0​9​6​930
  2. http://​www​.ausport​.gov​.au/​s​p​o​r​t​s​c​o​a​c​h​m​a​g​/​s​p​o​r​t​s​_​s​c​i​e​n​c​e​s​/​s​p​e​c​i​f​i​c​_​r​e​s​p​i​r​a​t​o​r​y​_​m​u​s​c​l​e​_​t​r​a​i​n​i​n​g​_​f​o​r​_​a​t​h​l​e​t​i​c​_​p​e​r​f​o​r​m​a​nce
  3. Effects of Different Types of Respiratory Muscle Training on Exercise Performance in Runners — Hiromi Uemura, MS*; Claes E.G. Lundgren, MD, PhD*; Andrew D. Ray, BS, MS, PhD*; David R. Pendergast, EdD† published in Military Medicine, Vol 177, May 2012

Image Attribution:

  • flickr​.com/​p​h​o​t​o​s​/​r​b​o​w​e​n​/​2​8​7​2​9​2​5​9​29/
  • www​.medicalmuseum​.mil/​i​n​d​e​x​.​c​f​m​?​p​=​e​x​h​i​b​i​t​s​.​v​i​s​i​b​l​y​h​u​m​a​n​.​p​a​g​e​_03
  • www​.sheppard​.af​.mil/​p​h​o​t​o​s​/​m​e​d​i​a​g​a​l​l​e​r​y​.​a​s​p​?​g​a​l​l​e​r​y​I​D​=​2​3​6​2​&​a​m​p​;​p​a​g​e​=10



  1. grayjones says:

    This is spot on. I have sleep apnea and had emphysema. I use CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) to help me with it. This machine forces air into my nose, keeps my airways from collapsing, however, blowing it back out is somewhat resistive and uncomfortable. I overcame it and now my emphysema has been downgraded to asthma. I’ve gone from using inhalers, every 2 hours just to stay alive, to walking the equivalent of 12 city blocks every night for my exercise. Also, I switched to electronic cigarettes, feel almost normal…Semper Fi

  2. knlnm says:

    it got rid of my asthma

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