Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Swimming & POWERbreathe

I only needed to read one of yesterday's posts on the POWERbreathe facebook page to remind myself of the potential benefits of using the a POWERbreathe device to improve swim performance:

“Increased swimming performance by up to 3.5%
Improved inspiratory muscle strength by 31.2%
Improved inspiratory muscle endurance by 27.8%
Reduced whole body effort during exercise
IMT improves 100m(1.7%) & 200m(1.5%) swimming performance*”

Its not to say that I haven’t put in a good deal of work to my swimming this year. In fact I’ve swum a lot (by triathlete standards), consistently hitting 15km+ a week for the 6 weeks leading in to the race, which culminated in 55.28 near-solo, traffic ridden swim split at Roth. Nothing unbelievable, but enough to place me in the top 5% of the men (inc. pros) at one of the most competitive Iron distance races on the calendar, something I am certainly proud of, and am sure that many of my quicker cycling and run-discipline tri-colleagues would want ;-). Anyway, this post isn't to brag, I just want to talk a little about my experiences with how POWERbreathe has helped my swim training.
Swimming in Zug lake
I'm not for one moment suggesting that my swimming hasn't been influenced by an immeasurable variety of factors, but in line with the extant research, I would certainly suggest that there has been a  improvement in my swimming that co-incided with a focused regimen of inspiratory muscle training (IMT). After about 3 weeks of training I began to notice how:
·      Sets with fins were noticeably easier, in particular dealing with the underwater fin-kicks off my turns. Normally managing at best a couple of kicks at best at full throttle, I comfortably began to manage 3-5.
·      My breathing and perception of effort also decreased across the fins sets (where I most noticed breathing discomfort), off the same or faster times at which I had previously plateaued.
·      For the first time in my swimming it felt like my breathing had ceased to be the major limiting factor to my speed and effort level.
The rationale for Inspiratory muscle training (IMT) training to improve swim performance is three fold.

First, improved inspiratory muscle strength and endurance mean that you can fill more rapidly and maintain lung volume, thereby enhancing one’s buoyancy in the water.

Second it also helps you to keep more stable trunk for longer, which further minimizes the disruption to body alignment. Both the added buoyancy and ability to maintain posture (with good technique) will decrease drag.

Finally, the more generic benefits of reduced breathing effort from IMT also hold true; through decreased activation of the metaboreflex, you can continue to send blood to the muscles under exertion - the normal reflex being when oxygen deprivation is detected, the brain will restict blood flow to the limbs, to enable you to slow down, use less oxygen and recover – no wonder exercise feels hard ;-)

Leading out the swim at Hercules triathlon
I am certainly aware that in the context of my training that the measurable performance benefits that I can entirely attribute to my IMT are all but impossible to prove. Qualitatively however, I feel that both my enjoyment and confidence in the water has noticeably increased, and for me, my POWERbreathe training has undoubtedly been a part of that. If you struggle with your breathing during swimming, as I think many do, I would strongly recommend IMT.  If you don't, no reason not to swim faster :-)
Having now completed a solid foundation phase of IMT training (8 weeks), and a short respite around Challenge Roth, I am now looking forward to incorporating IMT into my functional strength work that specifically targets my running in the lead up to transalpine. Again, the run-specific benefits I won’t be able to accurately measure, but that doesn’t mean I won’t continue to accrue the psychological, physical and physiological benefits associated with knowing that I am putting in the hard (and smart) yards!
And hey, even if you don’t believe me, the training is so minimal, why wouldn’t you give it a try?
*See Breathe Strong, Perform Better (McConnell, 2011) for critical evaluation of data

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