I've been an athlete for most my life. I've played soccer since I was five years old and only stopped playing competitively since I've graduated college. Over the last year I've seen a gradual decrease in my VO2max, which is expected. However I would like to stay physically fit and keep my VO2max as high as possible without having to running 3-5 miles a day like I did during soccer practice. I've noticed that there is a product called PowerLung which provides resistance training for your lungs. I was curious if this product was useful for improving your VO2max? And if so how much gain could you expect?
The independent scientific literature from peer refereed journals seem to be mixed, at best, in reporting the efficacy of inspiratory muscle training.
Medline abstract links:
- Inspiratory muscle training fails to improve endurance capacity in athletes.
- Effects of inspiratory muscle training on time-trial performance in trained cyclists.
Understand these studies were adding inspiratory muscle training to their normal aerobic conditioning training program.
VO2 max used to be though of as being determined of almost entirely by the conditioning of the heart and lung. Actually, VO2 max has both central and peripheral factors. The 13 fold increase in whole body VO2 max is accomplished by 3 major responses:
- Cardiac output (hence blood flow)
- Oxygen extraction by the muscles (via increase of muscle cell mitochondria and capillary density)
This peripheral adaptation is specific to the muscles used in the activity we are attempting to accentuate, or in your case, maintain. For example, by swimming, you would not be very effective in maintaining your VO2 for running since you would be training different muscles in a different fashion than you are when you are running.
With several weeks of aerobic training, VO2 max can increase from 20% to 40%. While cardiac output and peripheral transport of oxygen increase, neither pulmonary gas exchange, nor ventilatory capacity vary that much from pretraining values in terms of oxygen transport.
Certainly, inspiratory muscle training would not be a substitute to your normal cardio conditioning. You may want to reexamine the objectives behind your cardio goals. For example, if your goal is to maintain your health, you may easily achieve this goal by far less training as you were required to do when you were an athlete. If this were the case, perhaps you could consider brisk walking, cycling, or even certain other recreational sports to reach your objective.
On the other hand, if you are attempting to maintain sports performance for soccer, you may be better off customizing your running program to be more sports specific. Consider the type of running you actually performing when you play soccer. Tailor your workouts accordingly. Perform sprints with similar speeds and work / rest ratios. During alternative workouts, perform sprints and agility drills with greater intensity and longer rests between bouts. Finally, include a long run workout only once a week or perform some sort of fartlek training. See Sports Conditioning Program. In addition, include a flexibility and a muscular conditioning component to your program. Periodize your program and certainly consider cross-training as a supplement, but not a replacement to your sports specific training.
Wagner, PD, (1991) Central and peripheral aspects of oxygen transport and adaptations with exercise, Sports Medicine, 11 (3): 133-142