The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Respiratory Muscle Training for Swimming, Diving, and Running

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At the diving and hyperbaric conference three weeks ago, I attended sessions on respiratory muscle training for underwater operations. It is a topic of interest for those in charge of combat swimmers, and anyone doing physical training.

In one study, Researchers at the State University of Buffalo at New York found that respiratory muscle training improves swimming and respiratory performance at depth. As you go deeper, the work of breathing can increase, even using high performance breathing devices, because of higher gas density and other factors. They tested the effect of resistance respiratory muscle training on respiratory function and swimming endurance in divers at 55 fsw (~16 m). They found that respiratory muscles were less fatigued following training, breathing rate was lower during the swims, and that the training increased the duration they could swim by about 60%. They concluded that respiratory muscle fatigue limits swimming endurance at depth, and the increase in swimming endurance may result from reduced work of breathing or improved respiratory muscle ability.

The second study by the same group looked at the different benefits of training the endurance and strength of the respiratory muscles. Eighteen SCUBA-certified swimmers were randomly assigned to a placebo group who didn't train their breathing muscles, a respiratory endurance training group, or a respiratory strength training group. Each group used a breathing resistance device five days a week for 30 min over four weeks. The endurance trained group decreased heart rate and ventilation during underwater swims. Both the endurance and strength groups improved fin swimming endurance. The placebo group experienced no changes.

The researchers concluded that respiratory muscle training is effective in improving swimming endurance. They told me they found it is also effective for endurance running, but perhaps not as effective. They are working on finding out why. My friends who do long stints in submarines mentioned they like to use respiratory muscle training to help keep them in shape since they can't go out for a run while on sub duty.

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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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