Breath training aids sprint power

From San Diego, at the Experimental Biology 2005 meeting

Athletes who perform short, high-intensity activities benefit from training their lungs as well as their arms and legs. A new study points to one reason why.

Exercise physiologist Lorrie Brilla of Western Washington University in Bellingham and her colleagues trained 15 physically fit and healthy 22-year-olds to strengthen muscles that drive respiration. Five days a week, the volunteers would suck air forcefully through a training apparatus 60 times while their noses were pinched closed. No air entered the mouth until the suction reached 75 percent of an individual’s maximum sucking capacity.

Before and after 6 weeks of this breath training, the men and women were evaluated as they pedaled a stationary bike as fast as they could for 30 seconds. Such short-term sprinting is powered largely by energy stored in muscles, rather than by lung power, Brilla says. Still, the volunteers demonstrated an average of 10 percent more peak power on the bike after the breath-training regimen. At rest, they showed a 25 percent increase in the amount of air they could move in one breath—a boon for longer exercise tasks.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.