Do Breathing Trainers Work? Here’s What You Need to Know
As an athlete, it’s hard to argue how critical breathing is to your performance. But with breathing trainer devices like Airofit popping up onto the market, you’re likely to have unanswered questions about if (and how well) these training devices work.
This article will break down the details of what breathing trainers can help you achieve, what they won’t help you do, how respiratory muscle training works, and help you decide if buying one is worth it for you.
- The Importance of Respiration for Athletes
- What Is a Breathing Trainer?
- What Breathing Trainers Won’t Help You With
- What a Breathing Trainer Actually Does
- Benefits of Using a Breathing Trainer
- Is Buying a Breathing Trainer Worth It?
- The Best Breathing Trainer Devices
- Further Reading Recommendations
The Importance of Respiration for Athletes
To stop breathing is to stop living. Your ability to bring oxygen into your body is the precursor to everything you need to fuel your performance as an athlete. From the physical demands for energy output to the mental requirements for sustaining focus, respiration lies at the center of it all.
How often do you think about your breathing throughout the day? Shallow breathing has become a growing issue that eventually leads to weakened respiratory muscles, improper breathing techniques (chest breathing), and even elevated stress levels that stall workout recovery.
During training, weakened respiratory muscles translate directly to decreased performance. Respiratory fatigue kicks in sooner, you feel sluggish, and you can’t quite get the rhythm right for your breathing patterns during key exercises.
But are there tools at your disposal you can use to strengthen the muscles you use to breathe? And what are the actual limitations and benefits of these devices?
What Is a Breathing Trainer?
As a form of Respiratory Muscle Training (RMT), a breathing trainer is a small handheld device designed to strengthen the muscles used for inhalation and exhalation during breathing.
Most breathing trainers are designed to be completed as isolated training (not while performing other exercises), generally only taking up to 5-10 minutes a day.
Respiratory muscle training works by providing resistance during the inhalation phase and exhalation phase of breathing. Just like weight training at the gym, the added resistance strengthens the muscles that your body uses to breathe over time.
Additionally, it helps you improve your ability to recruit the correct muscles needed for proper deep breathing. Later in the article, we’ll detail all the different muscle groups recruited in diaphragmatic breathing.
What Breathing Trainers Won’t Help You With
Sometimes marketing can get in the way of the actual usefulness of a product. So before we go on to the benefits of breathing trainers, it’s just as important that we clear up some popular misconceptions that have sprouted up over the years.
A particular branch of breathing trainers decided to market themselves as “elevation” or “altitude training” masks, leading people to believe that these devices would have the same effect as training at high altitudes.
However, research like this study from the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine doesn’t support the theory that “elevation training masks” stimulate or change hemoglobin levels in your blood cells.
The benefits of training at high altitudes for increasing oxygen-carrying hemoglobin have everything to do with oxygen saturation in lower atmospheric pressure.
Mimicking lower atmospheric oxygen isn’t what breathing trainers are designed to help you with. Even “elevation training masks” work more like an RMT device. It may have been wiser to market them as such.
Regardless, the marketing tactics caused many people in the athletic community to quickly discount the devices’ usefulness entirely. Some of that negative perception bled over into RMT devices like breathing trainers as well.
But that doesn’t mean you should throw the baby out with the bathwater on RMT devices. It’s important to separate “what they don’t do” with what they actually can help you improve.
What a Breathing Trainer Actually Does
The primary function of a breathing trainer is to serve as a respiratory muscle training device, providing varying degrees of resistance to engage the muscles involved in both inhalation and exhalation.
Respiratory Muscle Training (RMT)
There are two main areas that respiratory muscle training focuses on improving:
- Building strength and endurance in your respiratory muscles.
- Creating the brain-body connections that enhance conscious and efficient breathing patterns.
By improving the strength and stamina of your respiratory system, you can increase sports performance by achieving better oxygen delivery to your body. If you want to dive further into the details on the importance of oxygen saturation for athletic performance, check out our article on oxygen saturation and measuring Sp02 with pulse oximetry.
Using a breathing trainer also gives you the opportunity to build conscious connections for proper breathing mechanics and deeper breathing. Proper breathing mechanics are what allow you to use more of your lung capacity and more effective breathing patterns, especially during bouts of intense exercise.
We talked about shallow breathing earlier in this post. The antidote for shallow breathing is strengthening the muscles involved in deep-diaphragmatic breathing and consistent practice.
Strengthening the muscles involved in diaphragmatic breathing can actually help you use less energy while breathing. For athletes, the advantages are obvious.
Before we can discuss how breathing trainer devices help in this area, we’ll need to lay out the muscles used in inhalation and exhalation.
The Muscles Involved in Breathing
- Intercostals (Internal and External)
- Obliques (Internal and External)
- Abdominals (Transversus and Rectus)
- Neck (Scalenes and Sternocleidomatoids)
Whenever you breathe, the diaphragm contracts to expand the abdomen and lower part of the rib cage. Then the intercostals and neck muscles jump into action to move and expand the rib cage, allowing your lungs the space they need to inflate fully.
Building the strength in these muscle groups is what allows for proper biomechanics and deeper breathing. Deeper breathing means improved oxygen delivery throughout your body, which is critical for sports performance output and post-workout recovery.
Building endurance is what allows you to maintain any movement before the muscles begin to fatigue. Like every other muscle in your body, your respiratory muscles lose their ability to perform over time. Research has also shown that respiratory muscle fatigue may be a primary limiting factor in your endurance performance.
That means enhancing the endurance of your respiratory muscles could lead to improvements in your overall stamina.
Breathing trainers and RMT specifically address these areas of training. Most devices have variable resistance (independent for both inhalation and exhalation) to allow for progressive overload. And with specific training programs and apps to track your progress, you can also improve endurance over time.
Benefits of Using a Breathing Trainer
- Improving Strength of Respiratory Muscles
- Improving Endurance of Respiratory Muscles
- Encouraging Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Creating Muscle Memory and Brain-Body Connection for Proper Breathing
- Improving Oxygen Delivery
- Improving Removal of Carbon Dioxide
- Increasing Lung Capacity
- Releasing ‘Feel-Good’ Hormones Like Dopamine
Is Buying a Breathing Trainer Worth It?
After going through all of the mechanisms behind how breathing trainers and RMT works, we still have to answer the ultimate question: “Is buying a breathing trainer worth it?”
The answer to that question depends on two factors:
- The goals you’re trying to achieve
- Your current level of respiratory fitness and breathing mechanics.
If you’re an endurance athlete with proper breathing form, there’s a good chance that you’ve strengthened your respiratory muscles enough through the sheer volume of breathing during training. You might not see drastic improvements by incorporating RMT.
But if you’re an athlete in tune with your body and know that you’re breathing shallow through the chest, or feel like respiratory fatigue is a limiting factor for you. You might see fantastic benefits from using a breathing trainer.
The Best Breathing Trainer Devices
If you’ve read through this and think that adding a breathing trainer to your athletic development is the right choice for you, we’ll put a few of our recommendations in an Amazon grid for you below.
One product we’d like to highlight is the Airofit Breathing Trainer.
The Airofit breathing exercise device checks all the boxes for what you’re looking for in a breathing trainer. You can adjust both inhale and exhale resistance independently, and it is a digital device that connects to your phone – guiding your exercises and keeping track of your progress over time.
If you’re serious about improving your breathing as an athlete, the Airofit is an excellent choice.
But if you’re just curious about if breathing trainers are actually going to give you noticeable improvements, there are tons of less elaborate options at significantly lower prices. We’ll include some of those in our recommendations as well.
Further Reading Recommendations
If you came across this article because of an interest in how breathing affects your athletic performance and you’re looking to dive deeper into the topic, here are a few book recommendations that might be right up your alley:
- Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art – James Nestor
- Breathe: A Life in Flow – Rickson Gracie (Author), Peter Macguire (Author), Jocko Willink (Foreword)
If you’re interested in adding a breathing trainer to your gym bag or a new book to your library, if you use one of our links from this post, we get a small commission from Amazon (at no additional cost to you!) So if you appreciate the work we do and the information we provide in articles like this, it helps us keep the lights on. Thanks for your support!