How to Improve Your Stamina with Respiratory Training
Have you ever heard runners chatting about respiratory training? No matter if we’re talking about marathon runners, sprinters, cross-country runners, professional and amateur alike, nobody really talks about it.
And very few people use it as a part of their training routine. So, it would be fairly safe to say that it is one of the most overlooked types of training out there.
Yet, respiratory training doesn’t just apply to runners. In fact, you can apply it to pretty much any other sport. After all, breathing is fundamental in all physical activity. And most of the time, respiratory function can be the bottleneck that hinders performance in aerobic activities.
The way you breathe and the way your body uses oxygen can be the weak link for runners. Your technique can be solid, your muscular development can be strong, you can have a good running strategy, but your respiration can hold you back. And you may not even realize it.
Bottom line, breathing has a really big impact on your endurance performance. If you are a long distance runner and you are looking for out of the box ways to step up your running game, this post will show you how to harness the power of your breath.
After this post, you will understand what respiratory training is, why it is essential for runners, how exactly it can help you, and how you can start doing training today.
Get pumped up and let’s get started.
What is Respiratory Training?
Simply put, respiratory training or hypoxic training is a way of training your lungs. That might sound confusing. How on earth can one train their lungs?
It’s very simple actually. You do it using the same principle you use for any other training routine. You add some kind of resistance that makes it harder. If you want to train your biceps you do curls using resistance, more commonly known as weights, right?
Apply the same principle to your respiration, you would need to add some kind resistance to your breathing to train your lungs.
How Do You Train Your Lungs?
The most common way of working on your breathing is to train at high altitude. You’ve probably heard about professional athletes such as NBA players, NFL players and NHL superstars who go to the mountains for weeks or months to train.
At high altitude, the oxygen content of the air it is lower than the air at sea level. The lower oxygen concentration means that you will be taking in less oxygen with each breath.
Your body picks up that signal. It notices that there are fewer oxygen molecules in the air you breathe, and it “learns” how to become more efficient at using the smaller amount of oxygen. Basically, your body learns to be a more efficient machine when training at altitude.
Another type of restriction training for breathing is to use a device that restricts the air flow intake. Commonly, this device is a mask that goes over your mouth and nose.
If you’ve seen people running around who look like a super-villain that came out of a comic book, you’ve probably seen these training masks in use. I think it is pretty cool looking actually.
Obviously, it is much more convenient to just use a mask than the altitude method because you don’t need to go to 5,000 feet and live there for months to train. The mask is more affordable and accessible for runners.
There’s a downside to the device training though.
A mask will not specifically reduce the oxygen concentration; it will reduce the overall air flow intake.
Therefore, your lungs will work harder to breathe in and breathe out. This works like any other kind of resistance training. When you use resistance training (e.g. weights), your muscles grow bigger and stronger.
The same process happens to your lungs. Lungs are just muscles, after all. The mask acts like the weights do for your muscles, and the lungs adapt to that stimulus by becoming stronger.
So you will be able to take deeper and fuller breaths. This will compensate for the airflow resistance.
When you are breathing heavily, almost 20% of your energy goes into inhaling and exhaling. That’s a significant amount if you think about it.
With respiratory training, over time, your lungs will become so powerful and efficient that you will actually use less energy on inhaling and exhaling, and therefore you will have more to spend on the actual physical activity that you are engaged in.
Initially, when you first get started with any type of respiratory training, your performance will decrease. That’s perfectly normal because your body is not used to the restricted air flow. But once your body adjusts to it, you will start to perform better and better.
Then when you go out and start running without having any kind of breathing resistance you will perform even better. You will be able to run faster for longer periods of time. Your endurance and stamina will improve radically.
Everything will seem so much easier when you don’t have that restriction on your breathing. There will be more molecules of oxygen in your bloodstream and your body will do a better job at carrying around the oxygen to all the organs and muscles that need it.
Personally, I’ve been using a training mask on my insanity workouts, and when I go through the same routine without it, everything feels so much easier.
It’s also a mental game
Besides the obvious physical benefits of respiratory training, there’s another really important aspect of it that I really love: the mental game.
Respiratory training works on a psychological level as well. When there’s a lack of oxygen, you are more focused on the way you breathe. You will increase your awareness and start paying more attention to the way you inhale and exhale.
So you will actually be able to improve your mental focus and control your pacing better. These strategies will make you more efficient at running or whatever sport you are in.
Stepping up your physical game is just one side of the coin. But if you can also develop a better mind-body connection, you will see even greater results in terms of performance.
How to Implement
Now that you have a solid grasp of what respiratory training is, what it does and how it can help, let’s look at how you can actually do it.
And it’s actually really simple.
The cool thing about hypoxic training is that it can be added to your existing routine without making any changes to it. So you can continue to do sprint drills, jog, or run cross-country as you would normally do.
The only difference is that you do it while using a training mask or by doing it at higher altitudes (over 4,000-5,000 feet). It is as simple as that.
The first thing you will notice is that your normal routine will become much more difficult. You will be breathing harder and your performance will decrease. I always recommend to the people I coach to use a gradual air flow resistance.
If you are using a training mask, it’s really easy to adjust the intensity because these kinds of devices come with an adjustable or inter-exchangeable valve system.
When you are just getting started with using a training mask, your first instinct will be to rip it off your face. But if you resist the urge to do so and give it some time you will get used to it. Be sure you have it set on the easiest level when you first try it on.
If you are training at high altitude, don’t start directly at 7,000 feet. Start running at 4,000 feet at first and build your way up from there. Once 4,000 feet starts to feel like a walk in the park, go higher.
Over to You
With all that being said, I highly encourage anyone, regardless if you’re into running or any other physical activity, to give respiratory training a try. It will have a major impact on the way you breathe, the way you connect with your body, and last but not least, on your performance.
Just remember to use some sort of progression system and start off slowly. Don’t go 100% training from the very start.
It will be too hard for you and you will probably give it up before you actually get the chance to learn how respiratory training really works. And when you give respiratory training a full chance, you’ll find huge improvements in your performance.
Author bio: Tyler has been working as a certified personal trainer for over 10 years. He's specialized in weight loss and functional training with women between the ages of 30 - 65. Tyler enjoys helping others become industry leading personal trainers through his website PTPioneer.com. You can also catch him on YouTube.