April 2, 2006 As science has focussed on human fitness and wellbeing over the last few decades, our understanding of the benefits of exercise has grown immensely. “Use it or lose it” applies to every aspect of human performance, and it’s now been proven that regular mental exercise improves your ability to think. So perhaps we should consider specialised training for the lungs? The lungs are without doubt one of the keys to all human performance as they supply the body with oxygen. Every 24 hours the average human takes over 20,000 breaths, with physically active people pushing towards 30,000 breaths. Most people assume breathing is controlled automatically, like our heartbeat, but the truth is that we can learn to breathe better. That’s the thinking behind the POWERbreathe training system – by exercising and strengthening the muscles we use to breathe (the inspiratory muscles) we can help alleviate breathlessness, improve all-round fitness and even maximise the effectiveness of other muscles used in exercise.
Dr Alison McConnell is the head of the Centre for Sports Innovation at Brunel University. More than a decade ago, McConnell recognised that breathing was a potentially limiting factor to athletic performance and her research into breathing and exercise with some of the UK's top athletes and human performance scientists resulted in the development the POWERbreathe product.
Breathing is an often practised, but seldom mastered art according to McConnell. “Even top athletes can fail to breathe optimally and recent research has shown that specific training of the breathing muscles can improve the performance of highly trained athletes,” she said.
“In addition to their role in sucking the air in and out of our lungs, the breathing muscles (principally the diaphragm, the muscles of the rib cage and the abdominal muscles) play a vital role in stabilising and rotating the upper body. In sports such as rowing, boxing and racquet sports, this secondary function of the breathing muscles has obvious implications for an athlete who is also trying to breathe as hard a possible at the same time.”
“The demand upon the breathing muscles increases enormously above what is known as the 'lactate threshold'. This exercise domain is associated with short, intense bursts of activity and places the breathing muscles under sufficient strain that they show fatigue. Above the lactate threshold, breathing is driven to high levels because lactic acid stimulates it to increase as part of a compensatory strategy to overt fatigue of other muscles.”
The POWERbreathe training system comprises using the hand held device for 30 breaths twice a day, and POWERbreathe claims your strength and endurance will increase rapidly at this level of effort – essentially only a few minutes a day. The POWERbreathe has a controllable “load”, similar in concept to the weights we use in the gym for resistance training, so the level can be set appropriately for people at all levels of fitness.
It’s like “dumb-bells for the diaphragm” - just as you might use weights to strengthen your arm muscles, breathing in through Powerbreathe for a few minutes twice daily, makes your inspiratory muscles work harder - thereby increasing their strength and endurance. PowerBreathe claims that within a few days inspiratory muscles will feel stronger and within four weeks lung function will improve. As a result, any ‘every day’ activities or ‘exercise’ carried out will feel easier, enabling you to get more out of it.
There’s a great interactive animation here that shows you how the PowerBreathe works.
POWERbreathe is claimed to be great for asthmatics, or anyone who suffers from respiratory problems. Numerous research trials have already been conducted, examining breathlessness and respiratory muscle fatigue in many groups of people. In these laboratory controlled trails, endurance performance was found to increase by over 30% in some cases for endurance athletes so there are clear benefits to be had by cyclists, runners, triathletes, swimmers etc in longer distance events and even in shorter distance events, trials suggest that any elite sportsperson will find an edge.
We thought it was such a good idea after preparing this initial article that we requested an evaluation unit and we’re now in the process of testing the POWERbreathe to see how it goes on semi-sedentary overweight writers with a gym membership and the best of intentions. We’ll accordingly be testing the PowerBreathe fitness model, though there are three identically-priced models in the range, the others being the wellness (for general health) and the sport model for serious athletes. All sell for around US$90 or UKP40 - find your nearest reseller here. Our thanks to the Health Management Group for assisting with the evaluation product.