Respiratory Muscles Need Conditioning to Maximize Performance

On a recent run, several athletes complained of acute tightness in their chests which I speculated was partly pollen induced and an increase in humidity.

However, upon further examination, I noticed they were breathing very shallowly and part of their weakness was due to good ole laziness of the respiratory muscles.

Correct breathing techniques can help improve performance, delay the perception of fatigue and reduce recovery time … but it takes work.

Research has shown that inefficient breathing and respiratory muscle weakness can lead to a low tolerance of exercise and a misconception of fatigue.

Unfortunately, this misreading of fatigue often leads to prematurely quitting a training session or exercise set and ultimately prevents individuals from breaking plateaus and reaching their goals.

Correct breathing occurs when the volume and rate of oxygen uptake matches the muscle tension for a given activity level.

This means that as intensity or duration of activity increases, it is natural to breath faster and at a greater volume. It is also natural for our breathing muscles to become more active and move more towards our upper chest.

Without specific exercises to strength our breathing muscles, this results in rapid, tight chest muscles and shallow chest breathing.

Short and tense respiratory muscles are functionally weak and do not respond properly to increases in workload.

The weaker the muscles, the more pronounced the breathlessness will be.

A well functioning diaphragm and relaxed breathing muscles are key to efficient breathing patterns and reduced feelings of fatigue.

The respiratory muscles are made up of two groups; inspiratory (inhale) and expiratory (exhale) muscles.

The main muscle in the inspiratory group is the diaphragm, along with muscles of the rib cage and neck. The main expiratory muscles are the abdominals.

Inspiratory and expiratory training requires individuals to inhale or exhale against resistance to improve respiratory strength and endurance.

One of the simplest ways to do this is to place a book on your stomach while laying flat on you back. Breathe deeply and fully to make the book rise with each inhalation.

For individuals looking for something more technically advanced that can be implemented into an existing exercise program, the power breathe device ( offers multiple training adaptations.

A Swiss study reported that two-thirds of healthy individuals who included respiratory muscle training in their programs saw significant improvement in their workouts.

Furthermore, improvements in performance during endurance tests ranged from 24-50%.

The bottom line is this: Respiratory muscles are like any other muscle in your body. You may not see them when you look in the mirror but if you want then to function properly and serve you well, they must be exercised.

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