When considering adding respiratory muscle training to an athlete’s training regimen, one may ask if any true benefit has been found. Although it has been proven beneficial to COPD patients, there have been mixed reports in the past regarding hyperpnea (technique for improving endurance respiratory muscle function) training. Variations in study types, methods and protocol could be factors in the mixed results. Athletes and their trainers are looking for tools which can truly improve performance, and studies specific to their gender, sport and level of competition are in demand.
What to Measure
When looking at an RMT device, potential users want to know if it is effective at increasing endurance or lung capacity and reducing dyspnea (shortness of breath) and fatigue. Numerous studies have been performed, indicating successful improvements with RMT devices. Some test results measured are:
- Maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max): the maximum rate of oxygen consumption as measured during exercise, usually on a motorized treadmill;
- Maximal expiratory pressures (MEP): the greatest pressure of expired air achieved by a person after a full inspiration;
- Maximum voluntary ventilation (MVV): measure of the maximum amount of air that can be inhaled and exhaled within one minute;
- Maximal inspiratory pressures (MIP): measure of pressure during inhalation against a completely occluded airway;
- Forced vital capacity (FVC): The total amount of air exhaled during the FEV test, which is separated into 2 or 3 section seconds: FEV1 (first), FEV2 (second), and FEV3 (third) seconds of the test;
- Peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR): is a person's maximum speed of expiration, as measured with a peak flow meter.
Nearly all tests performed with the PowerLung resulted in increase in each of the indicators of improved fitness. One test was performed by members of the Physical Therapy department at Wheeling Jesuit University, along with the departments of Exercise Physiology and A.R. Physiology at Ohio University. This study was performed with collegiate cross country runners, to determine if utilizing an RMT device would result in a change in VO2max and improved performance. By maintaining an elevated level of respiratory stress, researchers were looking for increased muscle strength and a decrease in breathlessness. The study indicated that respiratory muscle strength increased, even without marked increases in VO2max or endurance time.
One final note—the benefits experienced by athletes can be even more drastic in those suffering from respiratory diseases like COPD or bronchitis, or after being intubated. This supports the theory that respiratory muscle training is a valuable tool for so many individuals who feel they can benefit from increased lung capacity!