The Flexible Periodization Method: Out of Sight, Out of Mind? (Part 2)

TAGS: respiratory muscle trraining, inspiratory pressure, cardiorespiratory health, Karsten Jensen, training athletes

The unexplored advantages of respiratory muscle training (RMT)

Respiratory muscle training (RMT) with specialized resistive devices is relatively new to me, so I haven’t seen any particular results yet. Therefore, the focus of this article is to show the types of questions I ask to figure out how to integrate a certain training strategy into the flexible periodization method.

I only planned for this to be a two-part series, but when I started breaking down the progression of RMT, I realized that there were more steps than I thought. So, this article focuses on the beginning stages of RMT while the next article will focus on more advanced stages of RMT, including RMT with a resistive device and RMT integrated into circuit training and endurance training.

What type of training is RMT?

RMT is interesting in the sense that we should consider it resistance training, but the effects are connected to endurance performance. RMT could be scheduled for both resistance training workouts or speed, energy systems, and cardio respiratory (SEC) type workouts or done at home. RMT should be considered strength training. However, the intensity isn't measured as a percentage of the 1RM. With RMT, the intensity is measured as a percentage of the maximal inspiratory and expiratory pressure. Thus, in the practical setting, we don’t have any immediate way of measuring the intensity of training.

Where does RMT fit into a periodized plan?

One of the principles of the flexible periodization method is to “first improve the weak link and then improve the function of the entire kinetic chain.” The respiratory muscles clearly qualify as a potential weak link. Therefore, RMT is in focus early in a macrocycle in what in flexible periodization terminology are the ISS and SIS blocks. During subsequent blocks in a macrocycle, RMT may be used in the warm-up or on off days.

When should RMT be introduced in a multi-year training plan?

Without resistive devices, RMT is introduced to the beginner (see below). After completing the progression without resistive devices—what I've chosen to call the “poor man’s” RMT—the athlete can move into more advanced stages of RMT.

What would an effective progression of RMT look like?

From my years of working, I've experienced the somewhat surprising phenomenon that progressing an athlete too fast will slow down long-term progress. When an athlete is progressed too fast, the result is that the athlete will spend time training with incorrect form. After a while, you will find yourself repeating the same cues over and over again with little or no effect.

With the flexible periodization method, any progression is broken down as much as possible (1). The program starts with easy exercises, and specific milestones are provided. As soon as the milestones are accomplished, the next exercise in the progression is offered. With many steps in the progression, the athlete builds confidence from reaching many milestones.

Step 1: Flexibility of the expiratory muscles.

One of the principles of the flexible periodization method is to develop flexibility before strength. During inhalation, the expiratory muscles must lengthen. If the expiratory muscles are tight, the ability to take a full breath will be limited. As discussed in part 1 of this article series, RMT is about training the inspiratory and expiratory muscles over a full range of motion. Thus, if there is a limitation on the inhalation, the effect of RMT could be compromised.

This simple, four-step process can be used to increase the depth of the breath:

  1. Make, what is currently, a full inhalation. Pay attention to how it feels and make a note of the approximate time it takes to inhale. Relax before proceeding to step two.
  2. Make your inhalation as deep as possible. Then, when you feel that you can’t get more air in, attempt to “sniff” in a little more air through your nose. Do this extra sniff 5–20 times. This is a stretch of the expiratory muscles that need to have the proper length for a full inhalation to occur.
  3. Exhale and relax for 10–15 seconds before proceeding to step four.
  4. Make another full inhalation and notice if the breath has gotten deeper.

Watch this video to see the four steps in action:

Perform the four steps in the beginning of each workout until there isn't any difference between step two and step four anymore. It can be as little as one workout and up to 3–6 weeks.

Step 2: Technique before strength and endurance equals breathing with two shoes.

Some authorities believe that diaphragmatic breathing is critical in breathing for endurance because the diaphragmatic breath pulls the air into the bottom parts of the lungs, which has the greatest perfusion of blood. For that reason, it makes sense to teach an athlete to use the diaphragm before beginning to strengthen it (2).

In step one, we released the expiratory muscles to allow the inspiratory muscles to work freely. In step two, we taught the athlete how to breathe diaphragmatically. Watch this video to see “Breathing with two shoes.”

Perform "breathing with two shoes" until the athlete masters the pattern. Sometimes, the athlete masters the pattern immediately. In other cases, I've had athletes practice this pattern for several weeks.

Step 3: “Poor man’s” RMT

What creates the overload on the respiratory muscles is the athlete aims to pull in the same amount of air (fill the lungs) through a smaller hole in the same amount of time. Pulling in the same amount of air through a smaller hole in the same amount of time is associated with a faster airflow and a more explosive contraction of the inspiratory muscles.

A “smaller hole” refers to two or one nostril versus the mouth. “Poor man’s RMT” refers to RMT without any resistive device. Step three introduces the RMT in focused breathing exercises, allowing the athlete to focus on filling and emptying the lungs as much as possible as well as explosively contracting the inspiratory and expiratory muscles.

Previously, the argument was made that diaphragmatic breathing is critical in breathing for endurance. However, because both the external and internal intercostal muscles are involved in respiration, the hypothesis is made that it would be beneficial to strengthen these muscles as well. Further, the hypothesis is made that both sets of intercostals are emphasized through chest breathing that emphasizes an expansion of the ribcage on the inhalation. Therefore, both diaphragmatic breathing and chest breathing are included in the progression below.

In step three, the rate of breathing (number of breaths per unit of time) isn't important but the “explosiveness” of the contractions is. Further, as previously discussed, we are looking to strengthen both the inspiratory and expiratory muscles over a full range of motion, which requires complete inhalations and complete exhalations. This type of complete and explosive breathing requires some skill. Thus, the progression initially separates a focus on a slow exhalation followed by an explosive inhalation with the reverse pattern.

Give the following instructions to your athlete(s) for the slow exhalation/explosive inhalation pattern:

“Exhale slowly through your nose. Empty your lungs as much as you possibly can. There will be a brief moment when you realize that you can't exhale more. Immediately after that moment, inhale as explosively as possible until you can’t pull in any more air. After that brief moment when you realize that you can’t pull in any more air, the sequence is repeated.”

Conversely the instruction for the slow inhalation/explosive exhalation is:

“Inhale slowly through your nose. Fill your lungs as much as you possibly can. There will be a brief moment when you realize that you can't inhale more. Immediately after that moment, exhale as explosively as possible until you can’t expel in any more air. After that brief moment when you realize that you can’t expel any more air, the sequence is repeated.”

It is recommended to alternate program A and B each training session for a total of 6–7 workouts per week. These workouts could fit well as “homework” after an initial instruction.

Program A (inhale and exhale through two nostrils)

  • A1. Diaphragmatic breathing (slow exhalation/explosive inhalation), 1–2 X 40
  • B1. Diaphragmatic breathing (slow inhalation/explosive exhalation), 1–2 X 40

Program B (inhale and exhale through two nostrils)

  • A1. Chest breathing (slow exhalation/explosive inhalation), 1–2 X 40
  • B1. Chest breathing (slow inhalation/explosive exhalation), 1–2 X 40

Allow the athlete as many 10- to 15-second pauses as needed to complete the set. As a coach, pay attention to the explosiveness of the breath and that both the inhalations and exhalations are as complete as possible When the explosive inhalation and the explosive exhalation are mastered separately, they can be combined in the same set.

Give the following instructions to your athlete(s):

“Begin by exhaling slowly through your nose. Empty your lungs as much as you possibly can. There will be a brief moment when you realize that you can't exhale more. Now the set begins. Immediately after that moment, inhale as explosively as possible until you can’t pull in any more air. After that brief moment when you realize that you can’t pull in any more air, exhale as explosively as possible. There will be a brief moment when you realize that you can't exhale more. The sequence is repeated."

When the explosive inhalation and exhalation are performed in the same set, diaphragmatic breathing and chest breathing can be performed on the same day. Perform program C for a total of 6–7 times per week.

Program C

  • A1. Diaphragmatic breathing (explosive inhalation/explosive exhalation), 1–2 X 40
  • B1. Chest breathing (explosive inhalation/explosive exhalation), 1–2 X 40

Note that because of the change in breathing pattern, the volume of the explosive contractions goes up! Now it is time to reduce the “pipe” to one nostril. While you could choose to repeat program A and B with one nostril breathing, I would go straight into program C with just one nostril.

Program D (breathing through one nostril)

  • A1. One nostril diaphragmatic breathing (explosive inhalation/explosive exhalation), 1–2 X 40
  • B1. One nostril chest breathing (explosive inhalation/explosive exhalation), 1–2 X 40

The athletes can change nostril for each breathing or perform, for example, 3–5 breaths through one nostril before changing to the other nostril. The time to go through programs A–D can be as little as four workouts if the athlete masters the exercises quickly or it can take as much as 3–6 weeks.

Conclusion

In this column, you've seen some of the considerations pertaining to integrating RMT into the flexible periodization method. Most noticeably, you saw an example of a progression of RMT without a resistive device. The next column focuses on more advanced stages of RMT, including RMT with resistive devices and RMT integrated into circuit training and endurance training.

References

  1. Jensen K. Beyond Functional Training: How to Maximize the Transfer of Training Effects Through Science-Based Exercise Selection. Two-day workshop. www.yestostrength.com.
  2. Douillard J (1994) Body, Mind, Sport: The Mind-Body Guide to Lifelong Fitness and Your Personal Best. Crown Trade Paperbacks.
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