City Physiotherapy tips on how to improve your breathing when cycling

Like any other muscle our respiratory muscle’s can benefit from training for endurance sports such as cycling.  Learning how to activate our diaphragm appropriately can also assist our performance, especially when exercising at high intensity like cycling.   Our lungs ability to supply oxygen and remove waste products via our breathing can affect your overall performance.

The diaphragm is a huge, dome-shaped muscle at the lower part of your rib cage.  We use our diaphragm automatically every day of our lives. When our diaphragm contracts and our intercostal muscles contract at the same time, it lowers the pressure in our thoracic cavity. This is what allows air to enter our lungs. When breathing out, the diaphragm relaxes along with the intercostal muscles, allowing air to exit. Air may be forced out faster by increasing abdominal pressure using the transverse abdominis muscle, which is one of our core stabilisation muscles.

A function of the diaphragm is to stabilise our core. It works alongside our internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum, pelvic floor, and transverse abdominus muscles.

In spite of the diaphragm’s important role in stabilising the core most adults do not recruit this muscle properly.

When we breathe, the diaphragm contracts, reducing pressure in the upper body so that air enters the lungs and provides tension across the top of the abdominal area. As we inhale, the stomach rises slightly as the diaphragm contracts and compresses the abdominal cavity. As we breathe out, both our chest and our stomach fall.

In a lot of adults our chest rises as the intercostal muscles contract. However, our stomach is drawn in by activation of the tranverse abdominis muscle and the diaphragm is not engaged. The result is a reduction in the volume of oxygen available to us as we have only partially expanded our lungs. This   also leads to a weaker core.

After a lengthy period of time, inhaling air this way will cause the diaphragm to weaken and our athletic and respiratory performance can suffer.

Here is a simple exercise to assist and strengthen your diaphragm.

  1. Lie on the floor face up with knees slightly bent.
  2. Place your hands lightly on your stomach. Concentrate on breathing using the diaphragm, not using the chest.  Feeling your stomach rise as your lungs fill from the lower section of the lung
  3. Let your stomach fall naturally when exhaling by relaxing your diaphragm. You can progress this exercise by placing a small weighted object on your stomach.
  4. The next stage is to stand upright and place your hands on your stomach again, feeling how you breathe. You may find this step a little more difficult initially.
  5. Finally, practice breathing this way whilst on your bicycle.

Happy Cycling from City Physiotherapy!

Consult City Physiotherapy for an individual assessment and tailored exercise and treatment plan suited to you specifically.  Give us a call on 8212 4886 to make an appointment with one of our friendly physio’s or remedial massage therapist today.