Breathing muscle fatigue Part 2

Our last post discussed breathing muscle fatigue and its effect on performance. We know these muscles can get fatigued, and this post will investigate the effects on the exercising muscles when this happens.

Before we get into the practical application, the reasons we focus on the fatigue of the breathing muscles are:


  1. When our breathing muscles become tired, our shortness of breath levels increase reducing performance and concentration. FACT!
  2. The breathing muscles contribute to core stability by providing the lid on intra-abdominal pressure. A fatigued system may reduce the ability of an athlete to maintain posture and technique during a performance. FACT!
  3. When our breathing muscles become tired, our whole body fatigues earlier. FACT!


The article by Harms et al. 1997 highlights the role of the breathing muscles in whole body fatigue. In an interesting study they took 7 competition male cyclists and exercised them on a bike ergo for 2.5 mins and asked them to exercise at a specific work rate approaching V02max. Each subject was exposed to 3 different conditions, which affected their work of breathing. Ie) they made it easier to breath, harder to breath and had a control protocol and measured how long the subjects could hold the workload and cadence on the bike ergo.

  1. Breathing with an assisted ventilator – while the subjects were tested under these conditions, each time they took a breath, a machine forced air into the lungs which reduced the work of breathing. Making it easier to breath by up to 50%, simulating a well trained diaphragm.
  2. Breathing with resistance – while the subjects were tested on the ergometer, each time they took a breath, breathing was made more difficult by placing a resistance on the breath. Increasing the work of breathing, simulating a fatigued diaphragm or poor technique.
  3. Normal Breathing test – subjects exercised on the bike with no breathing intervention in place.

There are 2 interesting findings that bolster the Fletcher Technique protocols of improving the strength and reducing the fatigability of the breathing muscles.


  1. When you make breathing harder, blood flow to the legs reduced. Also, when you make breathing easier, blood flow to the legs increases and not just a little bit!

To make it clear, we see an increase in blood flow to exercising limbs when we make breathing easier.


  1. When you make breathing easier, performance in the bike ergometer test increases significantly!

Again, if we can make breathing easier, performance levels increase. We hypothesise this is because of the increased blood flow to the exercising limbs, or through a reduced rate of whole body exertion. Either way, there is an easy way to make breathing easier and achieve improved performance with less than 5 mins/day.


A easy technique which is showed in this video to begin to strength train your breathing muscles is the pump method. We usually use a pressure trainer to do this, but to start this is a great technique to start strength training.


  1. Actively inhale a full breath, exhale, emptying the lungs.
  2. Breathe through the mouth or the nose, your choice.
  3. The breath begins ferociously, as short and as sharp as you can.
  4. The diaphragm is pushed out at the same time, minimal movement above the diaphragm.

Repeat 10-15 times twice daily.

Bringing Science to the Breath