Train your Breathing Muscles to Improve Performance: Part 3

Updated: Mar 17, 2019

In part 1, the scientific literature was reviewed on the efficacy of respiratory muscle breathing (RMT). In part 2, the mechanisms by which RMT works was covered. How to perform RMT is covered here in Part 3.

How to Perform Respiratory Muscle Training

First, you need to purchase a device (device reviews in part 4 of this series). The systematic reviews (1, 2, 3, 4) state there are two ways to use IMT – for 20 or 30min once per day, 5-7 days per week, for 6-8 weeks or, more practically, for 30 breaths twice per day, every day for 6-8 weeks. Breathing heavily or intensely as dictated by your sport for 30min seems time consuming and perhaps unnecessary if 30 breaths has been deemed suitable for improved performance. As mentioned earlier, even though some studies have found improved performance with IMT and EMT, it’s advised not to breathe out forcefully due to the increase in intra-chest (thoracic) pressure from exhalations. It is possible to get light headed or even pass out from forceful exhalations. Because of the decrease in pressure from inhalations, there isn’t as great of possibility to get light headed with IMT. Therefore, IMT should consist of 30 appropriate inhalations ( more forceful than what is required by your sport) and 30 relaxed exhalations done twice daily, 7 days a week for 6-8 weeks. Progressive difficulty inhaling through a device is key. With the POWERbreathe device, you can then adjust the device for more forceful inhalations to ensure you are getting a progressive stimulus.

What comes after that? What after the 6-8 weeks? Well, the science doesn't know yet. I would keep performing IMT for most of the year but probably not the whole year. The sensible thing to do is perform IMT training for 6 weeks and then take one or two weeks off. Appropriate experimentation will have to be done after 8 weeks of use.

On a personal note, since using the POWERbreathe for a few weeks now, it feels really good to do some IMT first thing in the morning to ‘warm-up’ my lungs for the day. It’s as if I get a “runners high” for my lungs.

"Doing RMT in the morning just feels good. It's like I warm-up my lungs for the day."

Step by Step Use of RMT for Training

  1. Purchase a device (device reviews in part 4). You may be able to find some deals on Amazon. Decide on the level of difficulty to purchase. The POWERbreathe comes in light, medium, and heavy loads. Here is additional information on how to choose the appropriate load.

  2. Inhale forcefully. For the first 2-3 weeks, use a lower setting and perform 30 strong inhalations with normal, easy exhalations. If an inhalation takes 1 second or so and exhalation takes 2-3 seconds, then one session should take about 90 to 120 seconds. Do this twice per day. As it becomes easier to use the device, increase tension as the weeks go on.

  3. Incorporating Breath Holding with IMT (Isocapnic Hyperpnea Training). After a few weeks of use, begin to hold your breath during inhalations. But ease into it. For example, during the 30 strong inhalations, hold your breath for 10 seconds on repetitions 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30. Eventually, holding your breath for 10 seconds on each strong inhalation can be achieved. As before, exhalations are easy and relaxed.

  4. As with all training, periodize your IMT. Perhaps load for 3 weeks with 1 week of de-loading. There is no scientific advisement when it comes to IMT periodization.

  5. Warm-up first. Like any muscle, your intercostals need to be warm-up before jumping into near maximum inhalations. Take a few deep, light breaths before your strong inhalations.

Take a few deep, light breaths before your strong inhalations.

Step by Step Use of RMT for Warm-up Before Racing

Still use the 30 inhalations but only at 40—50% of maximum inhalation, 10-15 minutes before your race. If you don’t know what your maximum inhalation is, just breathe in as hard as you can, then perform 30 inhalations at an intensity at half of that. The study did IMT after normal warm-up and before your race. I’m sure you could do IMT before warm-up as well if you wish. Perform IMT before each subsequent race.

Notes on Sanitizing

The POWERbreathe instructs you to wash it “a few times a week, soak your entire POWERbreathe unit, including mouthpiece, in warm water for about 10-minutes and then rinse it under warm, running water, paying particular attention to the mouthpiece. Shake off excess water and leave it on a clean towel to air dry.”

These devices collect breathing moisture when using them. Instead of breathing out the mouth on exhalations, breath out the nose on exhalations. Also, rinse the mouthpiece off after each use then rinse the body of the device. Shake out the extra moisture and then turn it upside down so that any additional moisture can drain out.

Finally, to wrap up this series, RMT devices are reviewed in part 4...


  1. Shei, R. J. (2018). Recent advancements in our understanding of the ergogenic effect of respiratory muscle training in healthy humans: A systematic review. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 32(9), 2665-2676.

  2. Karsten, M., Ribeiro, G. S., Esquivel, M. S., & Matte, D. L. (2018). The effects of inspiratory muscle training with linear workload devices on the sports performance and cardiopulmonary function of athletes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Physical Therapy in Sport.

  3. Gualdi, L. P., Sales, A. T., Fregonezi, G., Ramsook, A., Guenette, J., Lima, I., & Reid, D. (2015). Respiratory muscle endurance after resiratory muscle training in athletes and non-athletes: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

  4. Menzes KKP, Nascimento LR, Avelino PR, Polese JC, Salmela LFT (2018). A Review on Respiratory Muscle Training Devices . J Pulm Respir Med 8: 451. doi: 10.4172/2161-105X.1000451

  5. Leddy, J. J., Limprasertkul, A., Patel, S., Modlich, F., Buyea, C., Pendergast, D. R., & Lundgren, C. E. (2007). Isocapnic hyperpnea training improves performance in competitive male runners. European journal of applied physiology, 99(6), 665-676.

  6. Wilson, E. E., McKeever, T. M., Lobb, C., Sherriff, T., Gupta, L., Hearson, G., ... & Shaw, D. E. (2014). Respiratory muscle specific warm-up and elite swimming performance. Br J Sports Med, 48(9), 789-791.

  7. Tong, T. K., Fu, F. H., Chung, P. K., Eston, R., Lu, K., Quach, B., ... & So, R. (2008). The effect of inspiratory muscle training on high-intensity, intermittent running performance to exhaustion. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism, 33(4), 671-681.

  8. Seals, D. R. (2001). Robin Hood for the lungs? A respiratory metaboreflex that ‘steals’ blood flow from locomotor muscles. The Journal of physiology, 537(1), 2-2.

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