How Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT) Could Improve Your Performance

We all breathe, this is a physiological fact, if you’re living then you’re breathing…so we’re all pretty well rehearsed at performing this vital function right? In fact, breathing is a subconscious action that we do without even thinking about it, this being said, we do have the capacity to control our breathing in order to suit certain situations. Breathing can be trained so that the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange becomes more efficient. Conventionally this is achieved by running, swimming, rowing or performing high intensity weight training, generally anything that elevates your heart and breathing rate.

Inefficient Breathing

How many people do you see lifting weights with poor form in the gym? Poor form and inefficient weight lifting is common place in a gym environment, and it stands out like a sore thumb, but how many of you notice the guy over on the treadmill running with an erratic gate, tight shoulders and stiff arms? Now take a look at his breathing, chances are it’s shallow, irregular and somewhat of an erratic rhythm. Now as inefficient as lifting a weight half of the rep range may be, or only getting 2 reps out on a weight that is clearly too heavy, running and breathing with poor form/technique is equally uneconomical and may be starving your muscles of the much needed oxygen they need!

Inspiratory/ breathing muscles

The muscles involved in breathing are vast, and for many of you some of the key players may well come as a surprise.

The Sternomastoids and scalenes are neck muscles, yet these play a key role in lifting the sternum in turn helping you to breath. The abdominals are involved in the breathing process, particularly the obliques, so it pays to understand that when our muscles become fatigued, our breathing becomes erratic, and similarly as our breathing becomes erratic, the delivery of oxygen to our muscles is hindered!

One of the leading Inspiratory Muscle Training experts is Professor Alison McConnel of Brunel University London.

How breathing controls your balance & Performance

Yes, how you breath can drastically influence your balance, posture and ability to perform physical activity! The diaphragm is important in core stabalisation because of its ability to generate pneumatic pressure. So when we breath in, the tranverse abdominals (TVA) and obliques contract to allow air into the lungs, as well as increasing pressure in the abdominal region. This pressure needs to be opposed in order to prevent the air from dissipating away, this is regulated by the diaphragm. If the pressure was allowed to dissipate then intra abdominal pressure would be inadequate leading to reduced stability. This lack of stability is exacerbated when we perform exercise, so the hunched position we adopt when rowing and the unstable trunk when running further inhibits your breathing capacity and stability. Actively controlling your breathing will help to maintain core pressure and stability, as well as economising your respiratory processes.

Training your inspiratory muscles

As mentioned earlier, the muscles that control your breathing can be trained to become more efficient. There are a plethora of ways that you can train your inspiratory muscles including running, swimming, cycling, as well as a variety of sports and aerobic events. However all of these require time and significant amounts of effort, needless to say we’re not averse to effort, but sometimes your body gives out before your inspiratory muscles do meaning there is an inadequate stimulus to induce progression.

Cardiovascular like exercise techniques are the bread and butter of inspiratory muscle training, regular bouts of interval training, sprints and regular endurance exercise is the gold standard for inspiratory muscle training. As well as the abovementioned whole body exercises the athletes can perform isocapnic hyperpnoea exercises which require the individual to breathe at an increased volume of ventilation for extended periods. Athletes may also perform threshold loading whereby athletes breath for short durations against resistance…similar to the breathing techniques adopted when performing resistance training. More recently, experts such as Alison McConnell endorse the use of breathing apparatus such as Breathe Strong, which applies a small, controlled amount of resistance to the inspiratory muscles when breathed into. What makes this equipment unique and exciting is that they potentially increase breathing potential through performing just 5 mins of active breathing a day. Many think this is too good to be true, whilst many leading experts would beg to differ!


Pine, M & Watsford, M. (2013). Specific respiratory muscle training for athletic performance. Australian Government: Australian Sports Commision. Sports Coach. Retrieved 28th Novemeber, 2013, from

Romer, LM, McConnell, AK and Jones DA 2002. ‘Effects of inspiratory muscle training on time-trial performance in trained cyclists’,Journal of Sports Sciences, 20(7):547 – 62.

McMahon, ME, Boutellier, U, Smith, RM and Spergler, CM 2002. ‘Hyperpnea training attenuates peripheral chemosensitivity and improves cycling endurance’, Journal of Experimental Biology, 205(pt 24):3937 – 43.

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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