Note: This is a repost from EVOQ BIKE, written by Brendan Housler on October 22, 2019. Thanks, Brendan!
We’re always trying to stay on top of the latest tips and tricks to help make ourselves faster, and then we pass all, errr most, of them on to you.
If you’ve been using a respiratory trainer, scroll to the bottom of my Frequently Asked Questions and let us know which ones you’ve had, so that we can add them!
When an advertisement for Airofit popped up on social media, I was curious. I did some digging and contacted the company about some of the blogs that they posted.
If you haven’t checked out their basics on what to know about inspiratory training, read this one when you’re done.
Airofit’s Benefits of Respiratory Breathing Trainers
STRONGER BREATHING MUSCLES
Think of this as endurance work. With most of the focus on the diaphragm, endurance athletes can benefit from respiratory trainers because it will prolong the time until we fatigue, which prolongs the oxygen supply to motor muscles.
BETTER ANAEROBIC TOLERANCE
This was the biggest attraction to me, claiming an improvement in anaerobic tolerance, simply because going anaerobic SUCKS!!!! I’ll take any help that I can get.
IMPROVED VITAL LUNG CAPACITY
This means that more air can get into your lungs to be utilized by the muscles. How? Stretching your diaphragm and intercostal muscles allows you to decrease the residual volume and increase the amount of usable air.
Respiratory Trainer History
So why haven’t we heard more about this? If the respiratory system can be trained, why aren’t we already doing this?
Think about cycling power meters. The knowledge about endurance physiology came out, but there was no WKO4 or Training Peaks software. Just because the knowledge was out there, no one had built the hardware, software, or the diagnostics to make improvements.
Think about how hard it is to be the first person to make a power meter. And then, you have to be the first person to make the analysis software. That’s a massive undertaking!
Airofit was initially created for patients with asthma and COPD, so it wasn’t directed at us cyclists or endurance athletes. First comes the device, THEN they saw the need for the software. It was later used for classical music singers, and years later, the founder used it on his sons who were competing in swim meets.
Check out the video here on more history.
Airofit Initial Review
Initial Thoughts: Holy crap, this is HARD!
That’s what I kept thinking as I started diving into the exercises.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure exactly where to start, so I want to point this out: they are working on creating a better roadmap for use athletes to follow, but if you feel stuck, here’s what I did: I wanted to get a grasp on all of the different modules and types of breathing. I started with 2-minute sessions so that I could do about 5-10 exercises a day.
Once I got used to the breathing techniques, it was easy to see what I wasn’t good at. Train your weaknesses! I started focusing on Anaerobic Tolerance and Vital Lung Capacity. Once I started getting tired, I switched to Respiratory Strength, which is important for cyclists, and was just easier for me to complete when fatigued.
You might be overwhelmed by the options at first, but just like anything new, you’ll get into a groove and get used to it.
The initial programs are extremely challenging, and it made me think that I’d never get through them.
I would go two minutes, and almost be gasping for air, taking the device out of my mouth to catch my breath. Don’t worry! Just like in cycling, work on your weaknesses and they improve with time. I’m so stoked on my improvement with this respiratory trainer after just six weeks of training.
Initial Race Results With Airofit
I wanted to start using this before The Tour of Southland in New Zealand, one of the biggest cycling races in the South Pacific. I had hopes that I could get some added benefit before this huge stage race, which was going to test me more than most races, over the course of seven days and nearly 600 race miles.
There will be another blog about this, but if you’re following me on Strava, most of you saw my heavy diet of threshold, threshold bursts, and max aerobic (VO2Max) work, as I really wanted to try to make the break, and stick in one until the end of a stage.
While that didn’t happen, I was in the break all day on Stage 1, and won the Green Jersey and Most Combative award. The watts were amazing that day! For me at least; minuscule for the real pros.
First 45 minutes was 386W NP, until the rubber band finally snapped. I’ll get more into the story of the race in another post, but it was awesome to find myself in a 2 man break after a really tough start.
We then rode 57 miles, 2 hours 20mins at 365W NP! This was massive for me, only 10W off a lifetime power PR!
Caught by the lead group, I was then spit out, not having enough experience to get in the echelon and survive the crosswind.
Jumping to the last stage, Stage 7, I had an 18m time trial at 438W NP, 436W average. While I wasn’t aero enough at 6’5” and came in 31st place behind a load of hitters, I was so amazed at the power that day. This was on day 7, with almost 600 miles of racing in the legs!
I have no doubt that Airofit helped me achieve these results! But I noticed the results in my training beforehand as well.
Initial Respiratory Trainer Results With Airofit
I really want to break this into anecdotal evidence, and evidence-based on the results from the respiratory trainer mobile app.
As I mentioned in the first sentence, initially everything was hard. I noticed that I easily got “caught up” in my breathing. It wasn’t always smooth or controlled.
There are 3 main modules that I’ve been focusing on:
- Respiratory Strength
- Anaerobic Tolerance
- Vital Lung Capacity
Respiratory Strengthis going to improve your exhale strength, massively. The training is focused on strengthening your diaphram so that you inhale and exhale more air in a given amount of time. The big factor for cyclists is that your muscle fatigue resistance will increase, so you’ll spend less energy breathing.
Anaerobic Tolerance will teach you how to exhale and then hold your breath; it’s more of hypoxic training when you consider it all. Studies show that prolonged breath-holding induces additional blood vessel growth, which significantly boosts muscle oxygenation. This prolongs the period in which you stay within aerobic metabolism, reducing lactic buildup, which allows you to perform at higher intensities for longer. Not to mention, hypoxia directly correlates to reduced heart rate, which then means increased lifetime, but more importantly, a greater ability to within extremely hard and extended efforts.
Vital Lung Capacity allows you to both inhale and exhale more air, improving your body’s oxygenation.
This is where I anecdotally saw my first improvement. As I was railing 98-105% FTP efforts, my breathing was much easier; heart rate was lower; I felt in control of the efforts, rather than the efforts dictating my feelings.
It was an incredibly empowering feeling that really helped me push harder when the interval duration exceeded 15 minutes. I felt focused, confident, and controlled.
Max Aerobic, or VO2Max, efforts also seemed more manageable. There was less gasping for air, and when things got tough, I felt like I could breathe deeper and more fully. It was incredible!
There are other breathing trainer modules, such as Instant Performance, which are great for warming up, but the other 3 are the main respiratory training programs that I’ve undergone.
Below are some of the Advanced, Preprogrammed Modules that you can follow along with.
Empirical Results With Airofit
As you can see from above, my Vital Lung Capacity has seriously improved! I went from 4L to almost over 7L, as I’m currently at 6.9L!!
I used to never be able to complete the breath-holding exercises in Anaerobic Tolerance, and I just finished my first Intermediate, 4 minute, continuous session yesterday morning!
My training took a hit when I went to New Zealand, as I was so tired from the stage race. When you are competing, you want to go down one level (expert to intermediate, intermediate to beginner) and shorten the durations of each session, with more rest time. Just like in cycling; taper it.
I’m back at it, shooting for at least 20 minutes a day, and can’t wait to see what other results come from this!
When To Train With Airofit
Just so there is no confusion, the respiratory trainer is NOT used while cycling. You also do not do the training while doing chores around the house. The Airofit device requires 100% of your attention and physical capabilities.
I split my training to morning and afternoon. I try to avoid doing it at night when I’m already tired. I break my sessions into 3 x 4m, in order to hit 24m in a day. Sometimes I have to cut it short.
Some terms that come up in the app and my questions are in BOLD. Airofit’s answers are in italics.
Breathe Normally: yes, just inhale or exhale as you would in everyday life.
What Level Should I Start At With Airofit: If you are an athlete, start at medium, and if you can get through 2 minute sessions, start extending them. You want to hit 5-10 minutes PER SESSION.
Here’s what Airofit had to say when I inquired on session durations:
You can do anything you’d like – you can do all the same exercise or you can do a few different exercises in shorter periods. Whatever you feel more comfortable with! ?
At the beginning, we recommend taking a small break after 3 min though.
And if you feel after some time, that 5-10 min is too easy, you can also knock that time up a bit!
They are working on a more formalized program setting, so keep your eyes out for that! Here’s another explanation!
Regarding the progression – we’re now working on implementing the buildup process. The idea is that you’d start training with Respiratory strength at beginner level, for 3 minutes. Then do the same with vital capacity, then anaerobic tolerance.
After, you’d do the same sequence on intermediate, for 5 min, then expert for 7.
The longer your sessions, the more fatigued the corresponding muscles, the more it’s compensated by muscle tissue growth.
So similar to any other muscle group, really. But then again, if you do feel tired after 5 minutes of vital capacity, you can do another 5 of strength, if that feels easier
In Vital Lung Cap, when it says “let go and freely let air in” does it mean inhale? Because then after that it tells you to inhale. When it prompts you before i almost need to take device off to let air in.
After you have squeezed out all the air in your lungs, your intercostal muscles are contracted to ‘collapse’ your chest and create almost a vacuum in your lungs. When you inhale passively, it means you relax your breathing muscles and let air into your lungs without inhaling actively. Once air has freely flowed into your lungs, you can inhale actively
This is probably a very strange example, but imagine if you’re at that state where your lungs are completely empty, and you suddenly died. Your muscles would relax and air would flow into your lungs passively, without you actually breathing in. Maybe try even holding your nose closed. Your diaphragm should ‘drop’ back into its relaxed state, sucking air in automatically.
Vital lung capacity program increases the flexibility of the diaphragm. During this ‘vacuum’, your diaphragm is at its most extended state, and therefore stretches it. This helps to decrease the residual volume of your lungs.
During your day to day breathing you use only your tidal volume. So once you have exhaled, there is still quite a lot of air in your lungs. For it to be there, you don’t need to inhale it actively. That’s just the natural state of your chest cavity.
So even though you’re inhaling, it shouldn’t be a conscious inhale, but just due to your diaphragm relaxing.
With the next update, this program is gonna become harder – you’ll need to hold your breath with empty lungs longer, depending on the difficulty level!
Never breathe through your nose when using the respiratory trainer. That’s cheating!
The nose plug – staying in control of your nose/mouth breathing is a part of it. Even though nose breathing is more beneficial for you normally, training through your mouth is more efficient and convenient. That being said, without a nose plug you are in control of your airways and that’s a good thing.
Do we re-oxygenate or catch our breaths better by one deep breath or shorter faster ones? The latter seems true but not intuitive to my thinking?
When it comes to re-oxygenation, I believe it’s best to take deeper breaths. The alveoli concentration is higher on the lower part of your lungs, so getting air in all the way will help with better oxygen absorption.
The purpose of the program is to get your muscles used to an oxygenless environment – like they would be if you actually go for a 100% output for as long as you can.
So in theory, the less oxygen in your body during the breath-holding, the more beneficial the exercise. So you’re not supposed to be comfortable. I’d rather push it to where I struggle, so I can also see the difference a few weeks in. In theory, if holding your breath is uncomfortable now, it should get easier with time.
I honestly feel like this has helped my breathing a lot during threshold riding. Even if I haven’t made any physiological adaptations yet it has no doubt helped me be more controlled with my breath and be in tune with fully filling my lungs. It’s awesome!
That’s really nice to hear! One of the reasons why respiratory training works so quick is that you activate your nervous system, which allows you stay in control of your muscles, especially if you haven’t targeted the breathing muscles before.
What is best for cycling? Anaerobic and lung capacity?
Anaerobic tolerance training is made to prolong the period of time at which you can perform at 100% power output. For most people this period is around 10 seconds long. That’s why the pace at which you run 100m is not the same at 200m.
By training your apnea, you can train your muscles to get used to the oxygenless environment, and not be affected by lactate and ions so much. So you can prolong the period to say 12 seconds. In theory this means you would be able to squeeze a few more reps in weight training or start the finish burst sooner than others.
Otherwise, this will not affect the rest of your performance too much, if you do long distance cycling, instead of 200m track sprint, for example.
Lung capacity will definitely be very beneficial, since you will move out more residual volume and be able to replace it with fresh, oxygenated air.
Also, inspiratory strength is crucial for cyclists. Since your riding position means you kind of squeeze your abdominal cavity, many cyclists utilize chest breathing instead of using their diaphragm. The diaphragm contracts during an inhale, so it’s important to activate the muscle in the first place and then work on its strength, speed and efficiency.
THANK YOU AIROFIT!
If you want to read what others think about Airofit, read our reviews.