What is Inspiratory Muscle Training?
As part of Respiratory Muscle Training (RMT), Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT) strengthens the muscles of inhalation specifically. This method focuses on deep diaphragmatic breathing against resistance. During inspiration, the diaphragm contracts and descends into the abdominal cavity, thereby expanding the lungs’ volume. At the same time, the chest wall (intercostals) and accessory neck and shoulder muscles move to raise the ribs and sternum to further increase the lung volume during inhalation.
Mechanism of IMT
IMT, first and foremost, acts on the diaphragm, the major breathing muscle. The resistance training provided by IMT results in better elasticity, increased strength, power, and diaphragm’s endurance over time. Using a foundational IMT protocol, the diaphragm movement becomes more pronounced, improving its respiratory activity. Likewise, all other respiratory muscles engaged in IMT become stronger and more efficient. IMT helps the respiratory muscle to cope better with the increased work of breathing and oxygen demand in disease conditions such as COPD, asthma, and heart failure. The improved breathing function can help reduce dyspnea, or breathlessness, which is the symptom that mostly affects people with respiratory or cardiac disease, and which significantly reduces their quality of life.
Just like with any other exercise, before starting IMT, the respiratory baseline should be assessed to tailor the individual approach and intensity of training. Then, the respiratory muscles are exercised by working against a set resistance, putting a target workload on the muscles.
IMT on Delaying Metaboreflex
Dyspnea, or breathlessness, is also a limiting factor in the top and recreational athletes. It becomes apparent when the athlete feels that he or she “hits a wall” during training or competition. At this point, ventilation cannot keep up with the oxygen demand of the body. There is limited oxygen delivered to the muscle and CO2 removed from the body. At a certain point, this can trigger an evolutionary reflex called metaboreflex.
As oxygen supply is limited, the body is faced with the decision to either continue supplying the working muscles (e.g. running) or to keep breathing. As breathing is always prioritized, the body redirects blood flow from the exercising muscles to the respiratory muscles. At this point, the breathing muscles also fatigue from the exercise, demanding more oxygen than before, and using up more of the supply. IMT helps to delay respiratory muscle fatigue and the onset of the metaboreflex.
Benefits of IMT
Even in athletes in peak condition, respiratory muscle fatigue may be a limiting factor. However, if they have not trained their respiratory muscles in isolation, there is definite room for improvement. Adopting IMT into their training routine pushes the breathing muscles to their full potential. Trained respiratory muscles delay metaboreflex and fatigue, which may just give you that extra inch or second to win.
Besides pushing performance, more effective breathing muscles also help to relax and unwind from a stressful situation. As IMT trains diaphragmatic breathing, this natural and effective breathing pattern becomes a habit again. While diaphragmatic or belly breathing is the natural breathing pattern that we are born with, most people switch to shallow and ineffective chest breathing as they grow up. Resetting the breathing pattern and strengthening the respiratory muscles by IMT helps to promote natural breathing, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system associated with a calm and relaxed state. IMT can improve quality of life, sleep, and impacts on every aspect of life.
The unique position of the diaphragm within the body makes it a respiratory muscle and a component of core strength and posture. Strengthening the diaphragm through IMT, therefore promotes balance, core stability, and posture, and can contribute to reduced injury risk.
The Breather and Breather Fit, Luft for Life’s recommended respiratory muscle training devices, offer both inspiratory AND expiratory muscle training and help you to achieve all of these benefits, with just a few minutes of training per day. It allows you to adjust the IMT intensity independently of the EMT level, while simultaneously working on both aspects of the breath cycle. Performing RMT at a perceived 60-70% of your maximum capacity, measurable improvements should become noticeable in as early as two to three weeks.