December 8, 2012

Diaphragm Training




Nice picture of the woods, nice old road. Not a great surface to ride on.



And not a good surface for cross-country skiing.

The dusting of snow is gone, but the cold rain is not. Caught between seasons, and mostly indoors, all road riding has been on familiar local routes, and unremarkable. But happily twice a week I'm riding with a group of all-stronger-than-me cyclists who meet for an hour of spinning, followed by 30 minutes of core and upper body strength work. It isn't riding outside but since it's winter ... I love it!

So, with very little to post, I've been absent from the internet, but now have a question, inviting a discussion (that idea stolen directly from Gerry Patterson at Vicious Cycle.) A fitness coach suggested I might want to try one of the devices aimed at strengthening diaphragm muscles and training breathing. Since my lungs are a major limiter, this is intriguing.

There seem to be 2 basic types, one a mask, the other a plastic thingie you hold in your mouth. The 2 types work on different systems, but I can't say I really understand the pros and cons of each. There are a number of brands out there on the market, especially of the non-mask type. They all seem to be based on restricting available oxygen, simulating training at altitude. I immediately rule out the versions that cost more than new shoes.

Although somewhat controversial, they are recommended here and there on cycling fitness sites on the internet. And not just cycling, they are mentioned on sites aimed at anyone needing a strong diaphragm ... cyclists, runners, swimmers, singers.

Anybody used one? Any experience, feedback, relevant science, or opinions about using any of the diaphragm training devices intended to strengthen breathing? Which specific device?



15 comments:

  1. Frankly they both sound a bit scary to me. I'd be worried you'd black out from not getting enough oxygen. Is swimming an option for you? Swimming is such good all-round exercise that would help tone your diaphragm muscles.

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    1. Steph, With the mask, you're right that passing out is a possibility if you're not careful. With the plastic thingie (darned if I know what to call it) not so much, because of the way it is used. Unfortunately, swimming is not an option.

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  2. This might sound silly, but isn't it just more cardio that you need if breathing is your problem?

    Or do you mean you can't control the breathing, maybe? I have done a lot of martial arts, yoga, etc. in my day and, although I'm not sure I even use this technique much in cycling, know that simply focusing on your breathing works wonders. The body doesn't do a good job of breathing deeply and regularly under stress unless you train it to do so - at least in my experience. 'Watch' your breathing when you are pushing hard and make it behave. I find this helps a lot and even takes your focus away from the lactic acid pain!

    Also, breathing 'from your belly' allows much more oxygen in than 'from your chest'. Try this at home - it's a great relaxation technique, too. Having said that, I'm really not sure 'where' I breathe from on the bike. I'm hoping that, after all the years of training I've done it comes out naturally. I'll check today!

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    1. Hi Gerry No, more cardio doesn't sound silly, and I'm working at that also. Though I admit, I hate to run. And yes, I totally agree, diaphragm breathing does help ... never having done yoga, I am sure that when I don't pay attention I am only breathing from the top of my lungs, so am also working at that, on and off the bike.

      But something different might be going on with these devices. To paraphrase, as I understand it, the diaphragm is also a muscle and so also gets fatigued. When fatigued it (and I think other similar muscles) take priority over the limbs. This is an issue more in long events than in shorter ones, I think.

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    2. Just as I suspected, I got your point all wrong! I'll bet Coach Rob has an opinion on this. I'll send him the link to your page and sit back and learn some more ;-)

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    3. I'm not so sure you got it all wrong, because there seems to be some controversy about them, you might have it all right! Thanks for sending it to Coach Rob, I look forward to his opinion.

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    4. Hi Suze,

      Yes, I’m quite familiar with this training aid. The primary reason people resort to this type of device for training is to prevent “side stitches” that happen to endurance athletes when their diaphragm is tired or weak. This often happens during a race or exceptionally hard effort where the hard effort you’re calling on your body is significantly more intense than your peak training effort. Another reason is when you eat hard to digest food that steels blood from the diaphragm for digestive purposes. These devices in theory are designed to restrict the air flow thereby forcing your diaphragm to work harder than normal and like any other muscle in your body, it should get stronger.

      I knew a few guys I trained with years ago try these things out. Of course they got some strange looks riding and running with a thing that looked like an oversized “kazoo” sticking out of their mouths. They said they felt like their diaphragm got stronger and breathing was easier after about 4 weeks of training, but it never transferred into a better performance come race day, so they gave them up. I’ve personally never used them so I can’t speak from firsthand experience. I guess I couldn’t get past how foolish they looked. In fact, I told these guys I wouldn’t train with them if they insisted having their stupid looking kazoos sticking out of their mouths.

      My suggestion is to increase the intensity of your training, through interval workouts to close the of your maximum efforts. I’m a firm believer of using natural training methods to optimize athletic performance. I always tell the people I train, “if you want to go fast, you have to train faster”.

      Hope this helps a little.

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    5. Hi Rob,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond, it did help. I am definitely upping the ante on training, including interval training and intensity. And you didn't say "Absolutely not, that's crazy, have you lost your mind??"

      And am also agreed, the things do look totally bizarre! I can just imagine the dinnertime conversation in my small town rural world going something like "Now she's even crazier....riding up the same hill over and over with some wierd blue plastic thingie sticking out of her mouth." No, I'd only use it in the privacy of indoor training!

      Haven't yet decided, I won't stop anything else I'm doing, but if it might help a bit, it might be worth giving the thing a (secretive) try.

      Suze

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    6. I'd never say no to anything as long as it's within the rules of the game. So I guess sucking air through a Kazzoo is ok, but I agree, good idea to ride indoors with that Kazoo in your mouth to ensure your friends don't think you've gone completely over the edge.

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    7. Oh, my friends have no doubt long since decided I'm somewhere over the edge ... and love me for it. It's all the rest of the world that I'd just as soon not meet with a plastic kazoo hanging out of my mouth while on a bike...

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  3. Hi Suze, I cannot really contribute to the devices conversation as I have no experience. I can tell you that last year we engaged in a spin class followed by strength work that helped my fitness a great deal. I came back much stronger when the weather warmed up. I'd continue doing that if you can. You'll probably notice a lot of improvement in your cardio ability.

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    1. Hi Aaron,

      Yes, absolutely I will continue the spin and strength class! It's great to go there after work twice a week...

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  4. A few years ago I was fairly asthmatic. Living in Scotland as I do, I took up playing the bagpipe which are a remarkably physical instrument to play. This resulted in me greatly strengthening my whole breathing system and reducing the asthma to almost nothing. I also find that when I play I have to blow so hard that I get a real buzz from it, probably from super-oxygenating my blood.

    I would suggest that rather than fairly boringly blowing into a mask or a 'thingie' you take up a hard blowing musical instrument and multi-dividend. I find pure exercise so boring I rarely manage to keep it up but, if I find a stimulating context, it is no problem.

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    1. Hi Dick,

      Thanks for reading, and for sharing your story and fine idea. I love it! Unhappily, many years of diligently trying to learn to play both the piano and the recorder proved that I have absolutely no musical talent, much as I love to listen.

      My trying to learn the bagpipes in my small house would almost surely drive my husband either crazy with fear, or inspire him to buy me a ticket to France, with bike, far sooner than the instrument would make my lungs stronger.

      Your story does give some credence to these devices, though!

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    2. If a kazoo sticking out of your mouth would be odd while you're riding your bike, imagine a set of bagpipes!

      I love that story, though, Dick. Who would have thought this is something to exercise..

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