Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A bit about my book…a story of heresy and heavy breathing

You can obtain more information about breathing training at www.breathestrong.com, where you can also find out about my comprehensive guide to breathing and exercise “Breathe Strong, Perform Better” (published by Human Kinetics Inc.). Visit the ‘Breathe Strong’ Amazon store by clicking here.

On Weds November 9th 2011,  I’m presenting a FREE 60-minute webinar that’s been orgainsed by the publisher of my book, Human Kinetics Inc. Entitled, "Breathing Strong, the Easy Way to Improve Performance", the Webinar starts at 1pm EST, which is 5pm UK time. I plan to talk about the many roles of breathing muscles in sport and exercise, how these vital muscles limit exercise performance, and how specific breathing muscle training overcomes these limitations. To register, just follow this link – http://humankinetics.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/breathing-strong-the-easy-way-to-perform-better

In preparing for my webinar, it occurred to me that I should perhaps post a Blog entry about my book, Breathe Strong, Perform Better, only a snapshot of which I will provide in my webinar. Please feel free to leave any comments or feedback about Breathe Strong, Perform Better at this Blog site.

How it all began…

Almost 20 years ago, I began to question the universally held belief (among sport scientists) that breathing did not limit exercise performance. The magnitude of this heresy cannot be overstated, and the shift in thinking that has occurred over those 20 years has been nothing short of seismic. Now, specific training of the breathing muscles is an integral part of conditioning in elite sport, and it has filtered to the grassroots level in a huge range of sport and fitness settings. So obvious is the logic of breathing muscle training—and so impressive are its outcomes—that it has become one of those “no-brainers” that so often arise with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Just as we now wonder how our grandparents didn’t understand the importance of fluid balance during exercise, people now wonder why it’s taken until the first decade of the 21st century for breathing muscles to be considered an integral part of the conditioning process.

Although huge strides have now been made, we still have a way to go, because even the most progressive and enlightened of scientists and coaches still don’t fully appreciate how fundamentally the breathing muscles contribute to performance and movement in sports. In other words, the need for breathing to be considered as an integral part of functional training is not widely understood. Nor should it be, because the science that underpins this is relatively new and highly specialised.

Who’s it for…?

Breathe Strong, Perform Better seeks to plug the knowledge gap alluded to above. It gives non-specialists access to information that is normally the preserve of scientists, professional coaches, and elite athletes. The book is for anyone who wants to optimise the many benefits that arise from improving the physical performance of the breathing muscles. 

Don't be fooled by the cover, it's not just for cyclists; in fact it covers activities as diverse as running and weight training. Whether you are an Olympic contender, a coach of high-level athletes, or a fitness enthusiast who just wants to make your workouts more comfortable, this book contains something for you, or someone you know (Christmas is coming!).

The book will therefore be of interest to the following:
  •       Athletes and recreationally active people
  •      Coaches, sport scientists, and sports medicine practitioners
  •      Physical therapists, rehabilitation professionals, and personal trainers

I'm very proud to say that the Foreward to my book is by one of Britain's greatest Olympians, Sir Matthew Pinsent. In his Foreward he says of breathing trainingAdvances in sport science knowledge are few and far between, but numbered amongst these rarities is the discovery that breathing has such a profound influence upon performance that it merits specific training”.

Breathe Strong, Perform Better is a distillation of almost 20 years of research and practical experience of breathing training. It is based on world-leading scientific research, and describes cutting-edge applications of breathing training for a wide range of sports and fitness activities, including techniques that have been applied to athletes who were (or have become) world or Olympic champions. The book provides readers with the knowledge they need to get the best possible results from breathing training and get better results from their other training by optimising the breathing muscle contribution to that training.

Why should you be interested…?

If you’ve never heard of breathing muscle training (unlikely as that seems), your first question might be “Why would I want to train my breathing muscles?” The long answer is contained within the pages of Breathe Strong, Perform Better, but the short answer is that whoever you are, training your breathing muscles can make any physical challenge feel easier. So whether you’re participating in a 40K time trial, an interval training session, or a step class, training your breathing muscles will help you breathe easier.

Breathe Strong, Perform Better is also a response to an important development that has taken place in rehabilitation and conditioning over recent years—the rise of functional training. The application of functional training techniques to a wide range of settings has become mainstream, but it lacks a vital component. The missing link in functional training is the integration of breathing and the contribution of breathing muscles to functional movements. Breathe Strong, Perform Better provides this link, and it explains how to achieve the best results for specific sports and fitness settings. Functional breathing training will therefore reduce the risk of injury, because it enables the breathing muscles to accommodate their role in helping to stabilise the body’s core more effectively.

Breathe Strong, Perform Better is intended to answer all your questions about breathing training, whether those questions are scientific or highly applied. Your questions might include the following: What are the benefits to performance? What’s the best equipment to use? How long will it take? What’s the best training regimen? How do I ensure that I get results? How do I know I’ve improved? How does it work? How do I train functionally for my sport? In addition to answering these questions, the book contains case studies that illustrate how different people came to try breathing muscle training, how they approached it, and the results they achieved.

Why I became interested in breathing…

I’m often asked why I became interested in the fairly obscure subject of breathing. As is often the case with scientists, my interest originated from my own experience and my desire to understand what was happening and why. As a student in the early 1980s, my life was dominated by two things: my interest in human physiology and my love of competitive sport. These two interests were not unconnected. As a mediocre rower, I was always let down by the apparent inability of my breathing to keep pace with the demands of racing (or training for that matter). 

One of my crewmates once commented that I sounded as though someone had taken me by the throat at 500 meters and hadn’t let go. I felt severely limited by my breathing, but everything I’d been taught about the limitations to exercise performance told me that breathing was not a limiting factor to my performance (see Blogs 2 to find out how wrong this was).

[There are two points to note from this photo’ of my competitive rowing days, 1) I’m so old that it’s in black and white, 2) the expression on my face tells you everything you need to know about why I became interested in breathing…my lungs were in my mouth!]

For some time, I accepted the common belief that breathing does not limit exercise performance. However, my personal (mostly excruciating) experience eventually propelled me on a quest to understand more about breathing, about the conditions under which it becomes limiting, and especially about how we might overcome these limitations. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. My quest for understanding has been a fascinating journey that has led me beyond exercise physiology and into territory that has broadened my horizons. Like so much of science, the journey began as a bit of a detective story, where snippets of evidence from seemingly unrelated areas were pieced together, eventually providing that final “eureka” moment when everything fell into place. Breathe Strong, Perform Better enables its readers to share in what I’ve learned on my journey; the many tangents from my original path are reflected in the breadth of applications for breathing training that now exist (breathing muscle training is not just for mediocre, breathless rowers!). Some of these applications are medical and are beyond the scope of Breathe Strong, Perform Better (except asthma), but the number of applications in sport has amazed even me. I’ll be addressing the medical applications of breathing training in a new book that I am currently working on with the publisher Elsevier (out in early 2013).

Exercise scientists are arguably unique among scientists, because we are usually practitioners in what we study. Unlike, say, an astrophysicist who has no experience of going into space, exercise scientists know exactly what the challenges of sport competition are, because they have almost certainly taken part in competitive sport at some time. In other words, exercise scientists have the ability to view things from both sides of the fence. One of the most gratifying compliments that I ever received was from a coach who told me, “You have an excellent feel for the practical application of research to [elite] sport.” This ability is reflected in my experience of applying the knowledge and insight I have gained as a scientist to the task of providing innovative, evidence-based advice on how to get the best results from breathing training. Breathe Strong, Perform Better enables everyone to benefit from this, as well as from the feedback I’ve gained from the athletes, coaches, and other practitioners whom I’ve worked with over the past 15 years.

A bit about the contents…

Breathe Strong, Perform Better is divided into two parts. The first part explains some of the science and theory of breathing, while the second part is a practical guide on how to get the most out of breathing training. Although these sections are inevitably interlinked, it is not necessary to read the science in order to benefit from the practical guidance. The theoretical section (part I) provides information on the theoretical building blocks that support the practice (part II). Accordingly, readers can dip in and out of part I based on their need and interest. For example, coaches are quite rightly suspicious of snake oil sellers who peddle potions and gadgets “guaranteed” to improve performance. Therefore, most coaches will want to review the section describing the underpinning theory and evidence of the ergogenic effect of breathing muscle training before committing themselves (or their athletes) to putting it into practice.

The theoretical building blocks include aspects of the relevant anatomy and physiology of the respiratory muscles and other associated muscles. As a part of this discussion, the rationale for specific breathing muscle training is established. This includes a description of the respiratory system as a source of exercise limitation, as well as a description of the most common chronic condition that affects athletes—asthma. The role of breathing muscles in functional movements is also explained, because this provides the rationale for functional breathing training. Consideration is also given to breathing patterns during different exercise modalities. From this scene setter, we move on to consider how breathing muscles limit training and competition. This information is subdivided into specific sporting contexts, providing insights into the range of benefits that can be derived in these contexts. The rationale for functional breathing training is also presented, before moving on to consider how breathing muscles respond to training, which sets the scene for a description of the performance benefits of breathing muscle training in a range of sports.

The practical section of the book (part II) begins by guiding readers through generic aspects of the most widely used form of breathing training—that is, inspiratory resistance training. The general principles of training are considered, as well as different methods of training (resistance versus endurance) and proprietary equipment. Foundation training1 is described, as well as guidance on principles such as posture and breathing technique. There is also a step-by-step guide to getting started with Foundation training. Finally, there are four chapters that introduce some functional training techniques, each taking a sport-specific approach. These chapters are supplemented by case studies and narratives from advanced users that contain top tips for optimal results. The insights from these elements will help you see how creatively inspiratory muscle training can be applied.

My aim in writing Breathe Strong, Perform Better was to provide the wider public with the knowledge, insight, and confidence to tailor breathing muscle training creatively to the specific needs of their own applications. If, as a result, I have made myself obsolete as an expert on breathing training, then as the saying goes, “my work here is done.”


1. Foundation Training refers to the fist four to six weeks of specific, isolated resistance training of the breathing muscles. By using a device that can be likened to a dumbbell for your breathing muscles (e.g., the POWERbreathe®), the strength, power and endurance of these muscles can be increased. A typical training regimen consists of 30 breaths, inhaling against a moderate intensity load, twice per day. Training sessions last less than two minutes, and can be undertaken virtually anywhere, making this one of the quickest and easiest training adjuncts around.

Look out for the FREE Breathe Strong Foundation Training App on iTunes at the end of November '11.

Don’t forget to register for my Webinar on Weds November 9th"Breathing Strong, the Easy Way to Improve Performance". It starts at 1pm EST, which is 5pm UK time. To register, just follow this link – http://humankinetics.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/breathing-strong-the-easy-way-to-perform-better

If you found my Blog interesting, please come back for further articles and news, as well as my musings on all things breathing and sport related. Also, don’t forget that you can obtain more information about breathing training at www.breathestrong.com, where you can also find out about my comprehensive guide to breathing and exercise “Breathe Strong, Perform Better” (published by Human Kinetics Inc.). Scroll to the bottom of this page to visit the ‘Breathe Strong’ Amazon store.

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