Learn What Muscles You Need to Train for Better Breathing

Learn What Muscles You Need to Train for Better Breathing

PowerLung - Learn What Muscles You Need to Train for Better Breathing.jpg

It is commonly understood that using Respiratory Muscle Training (RMT), a series of exercises and breathing techniques to increase strength and endurance of respiratory muscles, will improve breathing (and subsequently, respiration) during periods of exercise. However, understanding the science behind RMT is important to better utilize the techniques to benefit respiration and endurance.


In normal breathing (untrained and automatic), an individual only uses 10-15% of lung capacity. RMT can increase the capacity used by encouraging deep breathing, allowing more oxygen into the bloodstream. This increased oxygen becomes available to working muscles, increasing their ability to continue working. Additionally, the respiratory muscles are strengthened at the same time.


There are 12 sets of muscles used in breathing. How does one determine which ones should (and can) be trained? Some muscles, like the transverse abdominals, are exercised with common exercises like crunches and plank moves. These muscles are worked in the process of regular weight and strength training. However, there are other muscles (and sets of muscles) which can be exerted with specific training focus.


These are the muscles which are used in normal breathing, that which happens without a lot of thought.

Intercostal Muscles: These short muscles running between your ribs are broken down into two varieties, external and internal. Each type of muscle performs a specific duty.

  • External Intercostals elevate the ribcage and help inhalation.
  • Internal Intercostals depress the ribcage and aid in forced expiration.
  • Exercises like barbell pullovers, dumbbell flyes, and gate poses are good for training the intercostal muscles.

Diaphragm: This overlooked muscle works in tandem with the intercostal muscles, in both inspiratory and expiratory activities.

  • Expiration: The diaphragm relaxes (with the intercostal muscles), allowing air to leave the lungs.
  • Inspiration (inhalation): The diaphragm contracts, allowing air to enter the lungs, lowering the pressure in the thoracic cavity.

NOTE: One major mistake adults make in breathing is due to the desire to “suck in the gut”; by doing this, the diaphragm is not engaged and the stomach is not compressed!


  • Upper Trapezius
  • Scalenes
  • Sternocliedomastoid
  • Levator scapulae
  • Pectoralis minor

During heavy breathing (as with periods of strenuous exercise), these muscles work together to force air out quickly and fully. This more forceful “chest breathing”, requires these secondary muscles to help lift the rib cage so the lungs can expand further as more air is brought in to the lungs.


Respiratory muscles (like any other muscle) improve strength with high intensity and short duration activities, while improving endurance with low intensity and long duration activities. Due to the active nature of inspiration, much more extensive research has been done on this type of training. However, there is a trend away from this focus and more on combined inspiratory and expiratory training due to the increase in expiratory (and secondary) muscle employment in more intense activities.


With information regarding combined RMT available to individuals desiring to improve their respiratory ability, PowerLung is the perfect device to incorporate into any training plan Athletes, musicians, and anyone wanting to improve their lung function and overall health, can benefit from the resistance training offered by PowerLung. The threshold resistance unique to our products provides a uniform load for both inspiratory and expiratory training, to challenge each of your respiratory muscles. Learn more about combined RMT in our whitepaper, The Importance of Respiratory Muscle Training For Inspiratory and Expiratory Muscles, and visit PowerLung today to discover how you can easily add PowerLung to your training regimen.




Back to blog