PowerBreathe and Cycling Efficiency

Breathe your way to the podium – Zach Weston

How hard would you need to train to shave 4.6% off your 40k cycling time trial?  A study in trained cyclists using a double-blind, placebo controlled design (mean VO2=65 ml/kg/min) demonstrated an improvement of more than 3 minutes off a 40k TT after only 6 weeks.  The study was published in the Journal of Sport Sciences and had participants training with the PowerBreathe inspiratory muscle trainer twice daily for a total of 60 breaths or approximately 4-5 minutes per day.


How it works:

When you exercise at or above your anaerobic threshold, lactate begins to accumulate and is buffered through several mechanisms ultimately producing carbon dioxide which we exhale. To handle increasing amounts of CO2, blood flow is distributed increasingly to the diaphragm to enable the increased work of breathing.  Athletes trained with the powerbreathe demonstrate improved economy of breathing and are able to achieve increased breath performance without sacrificing critical leg blood flow.  The extra leg blood flow and oxygen delivery makes the difference between simply finishing and placing on the podium.


PowerBreathe Clinical Trial Evidence

The Powerbreathe has been extensively studied in Europe with many clinical trials in athletic and medical situations.  Some of these benefits include the following:

Improved inspiratory muscle strength by 31.2%

Improved inspiratory muscle endurance by 27.8%

Accelerated recovery during repeated sprints by up to 7%

Enabled participants to cycle for 33% longer and with lower sense of effort

Reduced consumption of medication of up to 79% in asthma patients

Showed an improvement in asthma symptoms by up to 75% in 3 weeks

Increased swimming performance by up to 3.5%



What limits your performance? Fitness or technique?


Cyclists routinely measure power, speed and distance and some wise athletes also measure heart rate while training and racing.  But what really limits you from going faster?


Cycling efficiency is a variable that can differentiate novice from amateur and elite riders.  The magnitude of significance can be expressed as a result of 40k time trial performance.  


For example: if two athletes had identical VO2max, threshold power and anaerobic fitness but one athlete was 1% more efficient than the other, the mechanically more efficient rider would finish a 40k time trial 1 minute faster if they both worked at the same perceived effort level.  


Improving mechanical cycling technique for those whose VO2max and anaerobic threshold are very high will improve road speed. 


Another variable to consider is Threshold Watts/kg which is essentially the maximal power that can be sustained for approximately 1 hour divided by body weight in kg.  Improving mechanical efficiency or VO2max and anaerobic threshold fitness will improve Watts/kg.  The trick is to know where to emphasize your training? Fitness or technique, or how much of each?  


Included below are some sample reference ranges for cycling efficiency scores, VO2max and threshold watts/kg.  There are many ways to measure these on your own but the gold standard is in the exercise physiology lab.



VO2max Evaluation    Men    Women

World Class        75+    65+

Elite            70-74    60-64

Amateur/Excellent    60-70    50-60

Competitive/Good        55-60    45-50

Recreational        50-55    40-45

Fair            40-50    35-40

Needs improvement    <40    <35

Avg Canadian (40-59 yrs)    34    26


Efficiency Evaluation

Elite            <27%

Excellent            25-27

Good            23-25

Recreational        21-23

Fair            20-21

Needs improvement    <20


Watts/Kg Evaluation    Men    Women

World Class        6.0+    5.0+

Elite            5.2-6.0    4.5-5.0

Excellent            4.6-5.2    4.0-4.5

Very Good        4.1-4.6    3.5-4.0

Good            3.5-4.1    3.0-3.5

Moderate            2.9-3.5    2.5-3.0

Fair            2.4-2.9    2.0-2.5

Needs Improvement    <2.4    <2.0


For more info on cycling performance we recommend “High Performance Cycling” by Asker Jeukendrup published by Human Kinetics.



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