Continuing on the subject of breathing this month, let’s talk about how to make your respiratory system stronger by strengthening your breathing muscles.

What is Respiratory Muscle Training (RMT)?  

RMT includes inspiratory and expiratory muscle training (IMT & EMT).  You can begin strengthening your breathing muscles by working on the muscles that help you inhale or exhale, but not both at the same time.  Both IMT and EMT have benefits but IMT is the best place to start for most people.

What are the benefits of Inspiratory Muscle Training?  

Research shows that IMT improves respiratory capacity and fitness level. IMT has also been shown to reduce low back painThis study is one of several that have shown that IMT improved back pain and proprioception in the back muscles (muscle and joint sense, associated with balance and postural control).  IMT can assist with other issues such as pelvic floor weakness, core weakness, reflux, and asthma. Having more respiratory capacity may also help in the event of a respiratory illness. Watch the video below for details on how to use The Breather. Strengthening these muscles is just like any others; you will progressively add resistance (intensity), and reps. If you have ever had surgery and have had an incentive spirometer post-op, you might be familiar with breathing exercises. But incentive spirometry is not as effective as IMT, and should you have surgery again, research shows that using an IMT device like The Breather is more effective.

Where can I purchase The Breather?  

You can purchase The Breather on Amazon.*  The Breather is a great tool because it can be used for IMT and EMT.

Does it matter how I breathe in?  

It is really important to know what your breathing pattern is before you start, and know what muscles you are using/training. Typically you would want to strengthen the ideal breathing muscles:  the diaphragm and intercostals. First see my previous blogposts here and here for more information on breathing.  Then consider whether you are breathing with your upper chest primarily rising and falling, or if you are using an umbrella pattern (diaphragm rise/abdominal rise with lower ribcage expansion up and out). Watch this video for a visual guide, then practice and improve the umbrella pattern. Be sure to watch for neck muscle activation: try to avoid recruiting the neck muscles. That might indicate that the resistance is set too high for your strength level or coordination of the pattern.  There are reasons to strengthen an upper chest breathing pattern, typically for individuals with neuromotor impairment or for specific functional activities, under the care of a physical therapist with a breathing specialty.

How much should I use The Breather?  

Research shows that if you can do this for at least 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, you can experience a significant gain in the strength of your breathing muscles which means improved respiratory efficiency and fitness.  See the written protocol below.

What can I expect from trying IMT?  

If you have back pain, you may see a decrease! If you are a runner, you may experience ease of running! Some individuals with asthma report improved respiratory function.  The benefits are significantly more than I can cover in a short blog post. Give IMT a try and let me know how it goes!

If you have any questions about your breathing pattern or if you have difficulty with the exercise, reach out to your PT for assistance.

The information in this post and video is intended as educational advice and not medical advice. See your physical therapist or physician for details about your own healthcare.