What Is Respiratory Strength And Can You Improve It?

According to theĀ American Lung Association, the job of your lungs is to distribute fresh air throughout the body and get rid of waste gases. Naturally, when you think of breathing, the lungs are probably the first organs that come to mind. Because lungs don't have skeletal muscles, Merck Manuals says the actual act of breathing is performed by the diaphragm, the intercostal muscles between the ribs, the neck, and the abdominals.

Sometimes surgery and certain diseases can weaken these breathing muscles (per Duke Health). As a result, not only does it become difficult to breathe, but speech, swallowing, and physical activity can also be negatively impacted. When this happens, respiratory muscle training can help.

There are two types of respiratory muscle training that utilize a device. Inspiratory muscle training involves a small, handheld device that provides resistance as you inhale forcefully. Expiratory muscle training is similar, only it provides resistance as you exhale. If you believe you could benefit from respiratory muscle training, you can perform the exercise manually without a device.

How to practice respiratory muscle training

Breathing expert Patrick McKeown told MindBodyGreen that utilizing respiratory muscle training in the form of breath holds to improve respiratory strength is easy and safe, so long as you're not pregnant and don't have any medical conditions. The practice is relatively simple and only takes a couple of minutes, but has the power to significantly increase respiratory strength. "You take a normal breath in and out through your nose, pinch your nose, and hold," he instructs. "Then start walking with the breath-hold and go into a jog. Keep going until the air hunger is quite strong, and then let go."

The point of the exercise is to minimize the body's sensitivity to carbon dioxide, which is hugely important for respiratory strength. By holding your breath, you increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood and reduce your sensitivity to it. McKeown said this practice opens the nose and lungs and increases blood flow to the brain. Additionally, it causes the spleen to contract and improves the blood's ability to carry oxygen. McKeown adds that this practice is especially beneficial for athletes.