Better Breathing Blog

Respiratory Muscle Training for Musicians

Posted by Carolyn Morse

Aug 3, 2017 7:30:00 AM

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Wind instrument and vocal musicians perform respiratory exercises repetitively during practice and at an elevated level during performances. Therefore, one of the most crucial aspects of their abilities is the management of air. These types of musicians have historically spent countless hours training with their instruments (considering a vocalist’s voice as their instrument). As is true of any athlete training for their specific event (running, swimming, bicycling, etc.), musicians need to focus on improving their abilities for the event they are competing in (lungs for creating music). Wind instrumentalists generally have much greater lung function than non-instrumentalists, proving that the constant training of lungs does make a difference. Further, they tend to have a high degree of voluntary control over breathing due to the regulation of air flow and pressure to optimize their sound production abilities.

Lung Capacity-Can it be Increased?

Lung capacity is generally predicted by age, size (height/frame), and gender; these factors cannot be changed. However, lung function (and capacity, to a small effect) is not entirely preset. Over the years, studies have shown that lung capacity can be increased—and in direct relation, respiratory fatigue can be decreased—by respiratory muscle training (RMT).

One might think that the basic action of breathing under various pressures for an extended period, especially as experienced by musicians, would be training enough for the respiratory system, but looking at the parts of breathing, one can understand how both breathing in and out can possibly be improved. Due to the nature of playing a wind instrument, musicians are aware of the value of variations in inhalation (i.e. through the nose, more slowly, or more deeply), as well as the pressure and force in which breath must be exhaled through the instrument (or when singing).

Vital Capacity

As early as 1949, researchers discovered that patients could increase vital capacity by basic training exercises like taking large breaths, and when performed over a period as short as 18 days, saw great improvements. These studies indicated that vital capacity is something that can be adjusted over time.

Respiratory Strength

In 1976, Harvard researchers found that both ventilatory muscle strength and endurance could be increased with muscle group-specific training. This indicated that there could be room in a training program for athletes. The use of these types of exercises expanded into other vocations, like firefighters and musicians, as well as individuals suffering from respiratory illnesses which may have weakened the respiratory system.

As further studies were performed, it became more obvious that both inspiratory and exhalatory pressure could be trained independently, and with both resistance and flow training.  In 2002, a 2-week study on high school musicians proved that expiratory training could be used for expiratory muscle strength. Increases were found, and possibilities for a respiratory training device were realized, although there are differing needs for improving both flow and resistance.

Why PowerLung?

Other devices use a simpler method for resistance, called restrictive resistance, by breathing through various of opening sizes, which can cause the user to reduce the flow instinctively. This has been proven to reduce effectiveness, and even lead to negative effects. Additionally, although those devices which focus only on inspiratory training can improve breathlessness and increase exercise tolerance, they miss the mark with endurance and improved performance gained by exhalatory exercise.

PowerLung’s threshold resistance, with separate cells for inhaling and exhalating, allows the user to set thresholds independently of each other, allowing for a personalized regimen for both inhalation and exhalation. With a dial to set the appropriate level and modify when increased resistance is necessary, one doesn’t “outgrow” the product quickly.

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Topics: Musicians and Vocalists