The diaphragm is the body’s largest inspiratory muscle. It’s a flat sheet of muscle that spreads across your insides. Its movements create suction pressure on the lungs, which results in your inhalation.
In a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, investigators wondered if warming the diaphragm up like your other muscles would be of any benefit.
Because the diaphragm is a kind of skeletal muscle that you can control fairly easily, it also responds to training, much like the muscles you work directly when you exercise. In theory, this could also result in improvements in performance.
In this study, ten rowers completed two different rowing sessions. The researchers chose rowers because the typical rowing warmup wasn’t considered intensive enough to warm up the inspiratory muscles. Thus the researchers believed the warmup done in the second group could be beneficial. Before the first session, the rowers did their typical warmup. Before the second session they did the same warmup, but added inhalation-specific drills.
The inspiratory warmup involved two sets of thirty reps of deep and fast breathing. The researchers had measured the maximum pressure at which each athlete could inhale, and they set these repetitions to forty percent of that maximum. These reps were much more intense than normal breathing, although not particularly taxing.
The effects of the warmup were small, but they were there. After warming up with the breathing drills, the athletes experienced increased breathing frequency. As a result, ventilation also increased by approximately one percent, but only trended toward being significant. Despite more breathing and more air intake, heart rate trended toward being slightly lower. If this difference had been found in a larger group, it would most likely mean that efficiency had improved.
The researchers pointed out that in the previous literature, the result of inspiratory muscle training was primarily positive but modest. The ability to take in oxygen is rarely a limiting factor in exercise, so this makes a lot of sense. In the new study, although a single warmup session that worked these muscles didn’t lead to major effects, there were still changes.
At the elite level, small changes over time can make a big difference. And although the study discussed here was conducted on rowers, for athletes whose sports involve chest and stomach pressure, such as swimming, improvements in diaphragm muscle function would be even more important. In this short study, using an inspiratory muscle warmup didn’t show significant benefit. It might be worth personal experimentation, though, as these small effects might add up to useful differences over time.
1. Mati Arend, et. al., “The Effect of Inspiratory Muscle Warm-Up on Submaximal Rowing Performance,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000618
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