Saturday, after my 10 mile, no warm-up, supposed to be a recovery pace ride, all-out time trial to see my mom race, I rode over to HSP to see a physiology workshop by Juerge Feldman. I knew going in that Juerge is a big promoter of Spiro Tigers, which are apparatae for training your respiratory muscles. Since my coach, Dr. Michael McMahon, was part of the group in Switzerland that did the original studies on Respiratory Muscle Training (RMT), I thought it would be pretty interesting to see what new studies have found, and hear a lecture from another person very familiar with a relatively new training technique.
Now, basically, the Spiro Tiger is a bag that you hyperventilate into and it measures the volume of air you breath and at what rate over the duration of the exercise. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well with a price tag of about $1000, there is probably more to it than that. It does have a cool 1980’s looking computer that beeps a lot, and a few equally retro buttons that do things that I’ve not taken the time to learn, but I think the price comes down to the fact that Spiro has the patent on RMT devices, and enough money (from selling $1000 bags) to hire a good patent attorney.
I’m oversimplifying because I’m a little sick of everything in this sport having a huge price tag, and in fact, RMT does seem to have beneficial effects on endurance athletes, and Spiro Tiger is definitely the best way to train your respiratory system in isolation (meaning you can train your lungs without adding miles to your leg muscles).Still, before shelling out a grand for a rubber bag on a computer, I wanted to be convinced. I’m surrounded by people that believe in the effects of RMT. The Institute of New Medicine, HSP, Dr. McMahon… So why I wanted to hear it from a Swiss physiologist living in Canada, I’m not sure.
The lecture started at 2pm, but I showed up at 12:30 so I could ask some pre-lecture questions about lactate testing, nutrition, and how to pick a good set of cross-country skis while they’re on sale (Juerge coached the Swiss National XCountry Ski Team). I’m glad I came, because even after 90 minutes with Juerge to myself and his nearly four hour lecture, I still had questions that I wanted to stay to ask. Honestly, Juerge is a smart guy, but he tried to fit a full semester of material into a one day seminar. I now have more questions than I started with, and I’m seriously thinking of signing up for his week-long training camp in the fall.
So what did I learn about the Spiro? Basically, when you train, it’s the weakest part of the system that gets the most training, so how much you are able to train everything else is limited by that weak link. Also, training any part at full capacity all the time does not allow it to recover and adapt. Thus if your respiratory system is the weak link, and every time you run, bike, or swim you work the respiratory system to it’s maximum, then your training is limited by how much your respiratory system can improve while working out. Furthermore, when you’re thinking about your legs or arms or the car braking in front of you, you can’t really focus on quality breathing, and your respiratory system doesn’t improve as much as it could if it were the focus of attention. By using the Spiro Tiger regularly Juerge’s athletes have shown over 50%improvement in the amount of air they can breath during a VO2 test, and they also breathed more slowly. Meaning that their lung capacity grew. The other cool thing was that before training, the athletes were unable to breath a greater amount of air without exercising (meaning using the Spiro Tiger). For instance, one athlete could breath 122 L/min during a max effort test, but could not breath any more air without exercising. So were the muscles the limiting factor, or the ability to breath? After the doing RMT for five years, however, the same athlete breathed 180 L/min during the VO2 max test, but could breath 220 L/min without exercise. After RMT the athlete still has a weakest link, but it’s not his lungs.
The seminar was pretty convincing. I’m not sure when I’ll have $1000 to shell out for a Spiro Tiger, but I’m putting it on my wishlist, right after a Garmin Edge 705, a Garmin Forerunner 405, and a Quarq CinQo.Â Actually, now that I look at my wishlist, I’m noticing a trend. The Spiro Tiger is the only thing that actually changes my training (we may even say it “improves” training), while the others “improve” training by giving objective feedback on the work I’m already doing (plus telling me where I’m doing it, what the street names are ahead, what the weather is, how strong the wind, how to get back to where I started, how to get to where I’m going… ). Once an engineer, always a nerd.