A breath of fresh air

LeBlanc, Pamela

Apparently, it’s not enough to train only the muscles we use to propel our bodies through the water when we swim.

A trio of products that target athletes-and especially swimmers-is aimed at strengthening the muscles we use to inhale and exhale. If you buy into what the manufacturers say, a few minutes with an adjustable, hand-held device can enhance your breathing efficiency, increase your lung capacity and, thus, improve your performance. Even better, you can do all that without drug inhalants or supplements.

First, a physiology pointer:

* Respiratory muscles, like the diaphragm, work in conjunction with muscles in your belly, back and sides to bring in oxygen that the heart pumps through the bloodstream to your muscles. Theoretically, if you strengthen those muscles, you’ll improve oxygen delivery and, thus, athletic performance.

Sounds simple, but it’s a tenet that went largely ignored until recently. Before, most people assumed that the heart and cardiovascular system were the limiting forces of our physical endurance and performance.

So, take a deep breath. It’s time to leam,a little more about these little pieces of equipment that some people say will make you a better swimmer.

And listen carefully. Because while the PowerLung, SpiroTiger and Expand-A-Lung all purport to improve your competitive performance, each has its own style, its own claims and its own pricetag.


With a balloon attached to a mouthpiece and a separate base unit that records and displays data, the SpiroTiger looks different.

According to Lucio Carlucci, coinventor, it’s the only device that controls carbon dioxide levels (that’s what the bag is for) when you exercise, so you don’t feel dizzy while training with it.

At $990, it’s also by far the most expensive. But it’s a multi-user product. A swim team could buy one or two base units and up to 20 additional user sets (a mouthpiece and tubing at $98 each) to bring down the per-person cost.

SpiroTiger is an endurance trainer, not a resistance trainer. To use it, you breathe very deeply and quickly into the mouthpiece for 20 to 30 minutes. It’s the same thing as if you put on jogging shoes and went jogging for half an hour, Carlucci said. It strains the muscles, they tire, and they adapt. Next time you go, they tire less.

When you train with it, the company claims, those muscles consume less oxygen, and the excess becomes available to peripheral muscles such as the arms and legs. After three or four weeks, you’re not as breathless when climbing stairs or racing. The muscles also produce less lactate, he said.

SpiroTiger is designed to improve coordination among the 12 muscle groups used in breathing. Like other endurance training techniques, it spurs the muscles to increase their number of mitochondria, which allows more efficient use of oxygen.

SpiroTiger suggests starting with two to four 20-minute sessions per week, increasing to three to five sessions a week at a higher respiration rate. It’s also recommended for athletes with exercise-induced asthma.

Why spend the money? To get faster. It’s a hidden potential you’ve never been able to leverage, Carlucci said.

For more information, visit SpiroTiger’s

website at www.spirotiger.corn.

You can also order by e-mail at ewaltert@spinalmouse.com.


It’s not fancy, says inventor, marketer and Expand-A-Lung’s self-proclaimed one-man-band Jorge Brouwer, but it does the trick.

The 4-inch device, with a clear silicone mouthpiece at one end and a black cap at the other, fits easily into a pocket. It’s the smallest of the products that Swimming Technique researched. At $19.95, it’s also the least expensive.

To use, simply pop it into your mouth, set the resistance level by turning the knob on the black cap, and inhale, hold, then exhale.

Brouwer recommends two 15-minute sets per day, gradually increasing the resistance level.

Stick with it, he says, and you’ll build stronger lungs and increase your lung capacity. Hop in the pool, and you’ll need fewer breaths, he says, to swim a 50 meter butterfly.

“At the beginning, some people may feel a little dizzy,” Brouwer said. “That’s why I recommend doing it sitting down or lying down in a well-ventilated room or outdoors.”

Brouwer, who is from Cuba, where the sport of free diving is popular, says he got the idea for his Expand-A-Lung by watching innovative free divers rig up their own equipment to train their respiratory muscles.

“Because of lack of resources, they take any pipe they can find, cap it, put a mouthpiece on it and put a pinhole through it,” he said. “Mine is no different, except it’s more sophisticated, and it’s adjustable.”

Brouwer introduced his product in April, targeting scuba divers, swimmers, runners, bikers, skiers and weight lifters. “It’s just a simple idea, and I’ve made it small, durable and economical,” he said. The product comes with a 30-day warranty.

For more information, visit Expand-A– Lung’s website at www.expand-a– lung.com. Also, see display ad, page 20.


The folks at PowerLung call it weight training for your lungs.

Breathe into the blue, green or yellow plastic device, which resembles an asthma inhaler or part of a snorkel, for three or four minutes twice each day, and you’ll breathe easier when you race. PowerLung claims it can deliver a 30 percent improvement in lung function in three to four weeks.

Introduced four years ago, it’s the only one of the three devices discussed in this article that is designed to build the muscles used both to inhale and exhale.

“It’s the only product to give you inhale and exhale threshhold resistance,” said Carolyn Morse, president of Powerl-ung. “It’s the only product that can strength-train, power-train and endurance-train your muscles for both inhale and exhale. The others may exercise, but they don’t train to do all three for both sets of muscles.”

Greg Wells, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, conducted an independent study using PowerLung. Twenty elite swimmers trained with the device; 20 did not. Those who trained with it strengthened the muscles used to breathe, especially those used to exhale. But the improvements didn’t automatically transfer into performance until the swimmers were taught how to incorporate their better breathing into swimming. Then, Wells said, performance jumped.

Powerl-ung measures 8 inches and comes in a carrying case. The resistance level can be changed with the twist of a knob.

It comes in three models:

* The Sport ($104.95) is for serious athletes and has the highest resistance level;

* The Trainer ($79.95) is for recreational athletes;

* The Breather ($79.95), with the lowest level of resistance, is for non-athletes or people trying to quit smoking.

For more information, visit

PowerLung’s website at www.powerlung.com. Also, see display ad, page 21.

Copyright Sports Publications, Inc. Oct-Dec 2002

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

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