University of Portsmouth researchers have published new research that declares elite swimmers could perform better in the pool by training the muscles used for breathing.
The study surrounds “inspiratory muscle fatigue” (or IMF) which causes the body to use an excess amount of blood, and the oxygen it carries, for the muscles responsible for breathing. This includes muscles like the diaphragm or the intercostal muscles.
The study, which can be read here, discusses the conflicting interest between muscles in the upper body used for propulsion as well as for breathing. When these muscles fatigue, it negatively impacts stroke technique as well as overall performance, per the study. This symptom is especially heavy in upper-body sports like swimming and rowing, much more so than sports like running or cycling, where technique and propulsion are largely driven by the lower body.
In other sports, athletes use a device that makes breathing more difficult to focus specifically on training up these muscles while working on technique. This can be a bit of a challenge in swimming, given the aquatic nature.
Dr. Mitch Lomax, the researcher who wrote the paper, is now focusing on how to best train these muscles. She believes that using low-speed training, while focusing on engaging these inspiratory muscles, will help swimmers focus more heavily on that specific set of muscles.
Note that this is a different concept than holding ones breath or hypoxic training, which has still disputed effects, but according to U.S. National Team High Performance Consultant has one primary effect: helping to reducing the urge to breathe. What this research is referring to is specifically the fatigue involved in the muscles that force the lungs to inhale.