Train Respiratory Muscles for Peak Performance and Better Recovery

Train Respiratory Muscles for Peak Performance and Better Recovery

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Amid all your exercise and training plans, can you add one more thing to your plate? Respiratory muscle training (RMT) is one skill you may be considering. However, is it worth the effort, both in increasing performance and for an easier recovery?

You may think your training regimen covers all aspects of your conditioning needs, that it is not necessary to concentrate on your breathing ability. However, the fact remains: respiratory muscle fatigue during exercise can limit performance.

We do know lungs have not shown improvement with training. However, the musculature surrounding the lungs may be the key to improved function.

The Respiratory System

When thinking about what can be improved, your first thought should be the diaphragm. This dome-shaped muscle, combined with the intercostals, make up what we know as the respiratory muscles. As the diaphragm contracts and relaxes during inhalation and exhalation, it is constantly working to keep the abdominal and thoracic cavities separated. The intercostals provide support to expanding and contracting lungs. Muscles that are working with no break can become exhausted.

For this reason, it is common to find that athletes experience breathlessness before the rest of the body is fatigued.

Respiratory Fatigue

Several studies have shown decreased performance due to respiratory fatigue. Oxygen is reduced to other muscles due to respiratory fatigue, and you simply cannot perform at your peak, as your inefficient respiratory system cannot share the oxygen. RMT has been proven to reduce the fatigue found in the diaphragm.


A variety of measure are used to study how respiratory muscle training can help:

  • PEF (expiratory peak flow)—fastest speed air can be expelled from the lungs;
  • FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in 1 second)-volume after exhaling 1 second;
  • Pulse Oximetry—measurement of oxygen saturation in the blood.

In the study by Dr. Joseph Sheppard, he found significant improvement in several measurements, including that respiratory muscle training, is useful in athletes to improve performance.


We all know it takes time to “catch your breath” after vigorous exercise. Several sources indicate that the diaphragm is fatigued post-exercise, with strength reduced by up to 30%. This could be due to simply being tired, but could also be due to the combination of fatigue and oxygen flow being re-distributed to other muscles.

Additionally, lactate levels have been found to be lower in athletes who used respiratory muscle training, indicative that the better-trained respiratory muscles improve lactate uptake.

Bottom Line

Whether you are a believer of respiratory muscle training, or just considering the possible benefits, this study by Dr. Joseph Sheppard of The Happy Athlete will provide some scientific results which may help you decide which road you want to travel in respiratory muscle training.


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