Ever wondered why some training programmes work for some athletes and not for others? Why some people are genetically gifted athletes? Why there is a fixed set of intervals for all athletes? Why certain drugs work for some and not others? Do compression socks work? What the hell does a VO2 max test tell you, is it just useless information? Is lactate friend or foe? I delve into the sport science world and try to find the answers to train smarter and hopefully become a better athlete. This page is written in my own thoughts and words with a cross-pollination from several other sites and links to the original articles. Some of it might sound like a rant but it is written to make you think. So if you read it without a open mind then your in the wrong place. Enjoy and open your mind.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Diaphragm and respiratory training (SpiroTiger).

This is the SpiroTiger (ST) article that I published over a year ago and has been rewritten with a year and a half worth of experience and improvements. Keep in mind that every person is a individual and he or her has their own weaknesses, so there may be different reaction to what I have found.


Most athletes do not even think of training their lungs, they think that they can not train their lungs, that their lungs could not possibly limit their performance. And that their body is limited by how high their heart can beat and how much watts their muscle can push.

When we look at the body in terms of what could limit performance we see that there are a few trainable systems in the body. The muscular system, the cardiac system and the respiratory system. This is a very broad view and obviously each system can be broken down further and interact with each other. When we use certain equipment we can find our weaknesses within these systems and train them. In the case of this article topic, if we find the need to train the respiratory system we have certain means by which we can do this.

What you have found through testing will determine how you can use a breathing device to strengthen your respiratory system. Now there are a few devices out there with which you can train the respiratory system and you can make your own. But the only current one that I am aware of that has a safety system build into it is the SpiroTiger. Any other system you will need a oximeter and capnometer at a minimum to control blood saturation and PCO2 levels, the price of a capnometer would already have overshot the price of a SpiroTiger. The build in sensors for the SpiroTiger monitor the amount of air movement and calculate if you continue at the current breathing rate if you will move into a hypercapnia state in which case the system will shut down as a safety precaution. For Hypercapnia specific work we override the safety features. The bonus is that there is no filters to replace on the ST as with other hypoxi equipment. (hypercapnia and hypoxia work is not supported by the manufacturer and is not recommended unless you have had instruction).

With the ST we can dial in breathing frequencies from 15 up to 60 breaths per minute and change the breathing ratios. Show me another breathing device that can do this and with which you can do endurance work for the breathing muscles? Most work outs on other devices last 30 seconds which will not challenge the respiratory endurance muscles. You may ask why would you use a device and not just go out and train? By challenging your respiratory system specifically you don’t risk over stressing any of your other systems. If your respiratory system is compensating for something else that is a weaker system, you will need to overstress the weaker system first before placing enough stress on the respiratory system, in this way with the ST we can dial in on the respiratory system without stressing other systems that we want to keep recovered.

Training ideas

One idea would be to do a training session, and perhaps you have challenged your cardiac system, but your respiratory system still needs a workout, this is where the respiratory work can come in. But then if you look at it at from another angle if you were perhaps swimming and you were really trying to challenge your lungs by instead of breathing every other stroke and breathing say every fifth or sixth stroke. This could challenge the inhalation and the gas exchange due to the time delay and short period you have to breath, then because your lung are already stressed then it may not be such a great idea to stress them again with the ST.

The idea behind the ST is to train the endurance muscle of the lungs which will train the diaphragm, breathing co-ordination and the inter and intra muscles involved during breathing. By training our respiratory system we may reduce or slow down the effect of the respiratory Metaboreflex (studies from Dempsey).

So the big question that a lot of people will want to know is will breathing training make me faster and stronger? The simple answer to this is it depends on what your limiter is, is your limiter your respiratory system? And then it depends how you use the ST to challenge your limiter?

Diaphragm training

Here are some of my experiences over a year and a half. I used mainly larger bag sizes to challenge my diaphragm strength, with 4-6 ST sessions a week, although I have now reduced this to 3 session unless I am doing hypoxia work. The diaphragm is one of the main supporting core muscles. You can do as many sit ups, planks and traditional core work as you like, but if you can't target your diaphragm all this traditional core work will only make you good at sit ups etc. Plus a six pack is not going to make you race faster. From video footage I know that my technique 'falls apart' from the core area when I am tired at the end of a race. Knowing that the breathing training might have a effect on my core, I decided to totally avoid traditional core work, the only place that I would still target my core is when lifting weight during squatting, dead lift, olympic lift etc. This would allow me to know that any diaphragm strength gain came mainly from the breathing training. Which it did, and it took about 5 months to notice. A year later (still avoiding core specific work) looking at new video footage you can see I do not 'fall apart' from the core anymore, and I am convinced that this is from training my diaphragm with the ST. (I am not suggesting that you do not do core work, but simply that you understand that there are better ways to target the main core muscles).

The biggest challenge in any work out is for this to transfer to the sport that you do, you lift weights so that it would transfer to cycling, you might do cross country skiing in winter to become a better cyclist in summer, you might run and bike to become a better cross country skier. With the breathing training it is the same concept. I want to be able to use a larger portion of my Vital Capacity (VC) so in effect increase my Tidal Volume (TV). But over the past year this work hasn’t really transferred, although I have been able to reduce my breathing frequency (RF). So the plan now is to use a bag size and RF that resembles my TV and RF at the level where things become critical in my body, and in this way challenge my respiratory system which could possibly make a structural change. Time will tell.

Hypercapnia and cool downs

I have misused the ST and used if for hypoxi work, always using a oximeter and pulse watch to check that I control my SpO2. I played with this idea over the summer and took it one step further into my cool downs and recovery in between sessions. What does this mean? I do not do a cool down in the traditional sense anymore. I use hypercapnia. We all know that Lactate is our friend and the body uses it as a fuel. Some background. During exercise, hydrogen ions H+ accumulate in the body which leads to a drop in the body’s intermuscular pH which will affect muscle performance. The more the body relies on glycolysis as the primary energy system the higher the production of H+ and lactate. Although the level of lactate has very little to do with the pH. Lactate gets produced as a by product and helps to buffer the H+ which there fore helps to prolong our workout. (The H+ may have a negative effect on the coupling of Ca++ and Mg-- on ATP production). So by keeping lactate in our system we have firstly a good source of energy plus we have a buffer system for the H+.

Now by cooling down traditionally we are taking away blood from the vital system. Because blood is needed again for the muscle and we are taking away the Lactate needed to fuel our brain, heart and get rid of the bad H+. So this is how I have done it, with out any negative results and keeping lactate and blood available where it is needed for faster recovery.

As soon as I can, after a race when every one else is 'cooling down' I use respiratory intervention to cool down instead, using hypercapnia. This creates a respiratory induced acidosis, (during exercise your body creates metabolic acidosis). Initially this will create some more H+ , but also your body will increase the CO2 level, Increase CO2 will release O2 from haemoglobin which will aid recovery. I do this for some time and it depends on how tired my respiratory system is, I will never push it further based on a time. Simply feeling and generally aim for several minutes. followed by a second session later in the evening. What I will start to add to this idea now is to first load the haemoglobin with O2 directly before the hypercapnia so that there is more O2 that can be released from the haemoglobin and possibly myoglobin. The early release of O2 through CO2 creates a better use of lactate and helps shuttle the H+ out of the system. And that is my recovery, only thing I might ad to at the end is a walk, thats it. 

Hypercapnia and warm up 

I have added hypercapnia in my warm up. Similar to above, so I have done my normal warm up which is up to race pace, straight from this I will go on the ST and go hypercapnic for 5 min.  From here I am ready to go. This season I will experiment with hypocapnia before the hypercapnia then race. The same idea could be used in between intervals. (5 min at hypercapnia is a ball park figure as it is just long enough to get the desired result but not so long that I am sitting around losing the optimal blood flow from the warmup). 

All these ideas are trial and error, and they are individual dependant, some people may respond to it, some may not, the results will depend on your limiters. Some people may benefit from a more hypocapnia versus hypercapnia state just before their race start dependant on the type of race start and how there body reacts. Other people who have more of a respiratory limitation might benefit from doing some race pace breathing before a race or hard session as to avoid or slow down the process of the metaboreflex reaction during the race. I wanted to integrate ST work into my training, so go hiking with it, but I decided against this as a lot of the time my blood saturation is already very low, and adding more stress with breathing which would likely lead to a even further drop in blood saturation would not be the smartest idea if I want to increase the muscle recruitment (this assumes that the blood saturation is a reflection of the muscle tissue saturation which is not always the case).

Lastly, would I recommend buying a SpiroTiger? Put it this way I have bought a second ST, which is a upgrade from the first one I owed. The SpiroTiger is a powerful tool if used correctly. Find your limiter, figure out how it will react, then trial it and apply the physiology instead of following every one else just because they do it. 


  1. Hi there. I am curious to talk with you about the spiro tiger. I am a world cup ski mountaineering athlete and also high level endurance athlete. I now have a Spiro Tiger. I am curious to talk with you about how you have used it in your training. What has worked , what has not. What kind of workouts you do for recovery, pre-compeition, during competition. Great site by the way. -nina silitch www.ninasilitch.com

  2. Hello Nina,
    Thanks for the question. One thing to remember is what has worked for me might not work for you. But I am happy to share some ideas for you to think over and you can try it, see if it works. For safety I can not rely share protocols on this site. If you post your email on the next comment and Ill shoot you some ideas, ill delete your comment with the email address after I have received it so the whole world doesn't have the address, alternatively send me a mail to mybigadventure@europe.com There is a much deeper insight of information at http://www.fact-canada.com/discus/messages/43/43.html?1319326402 where you could ask open questions.