Hyperventilation to Improve Running Performance?

Hiker in Mountains

I’ve been doing some controlled hyperventilating to see what effect it has on my performance on the long stair climbs and on the mountain peak trail I climb often. Here’s how I go about it…

I don’t use this ventilation technique frequently, but just when I am putting out an extra hard effort and I think it may help. I am usually 20-30 minutes into a climb when I’ll be approaching a steep section of trail or steps. As I approach the section I start forcibly hyperventilating – breathing fast and shallow for about 30 seconds.

My experience is that I feel like I have more energy for 30 seconds to 1 minute after the steep section starts. I feel like I have more energy than what I would have had without having done the forced breaths.

I used it today on the mountain during an extra steep section, and once the effect wore off I did it again in the middle of the hard section and I felt like I was able to finish with more energy and speed up that difficult section of mountain.

Again, I don’t do this often enough to really get a feel for whether or not it is definitely helping. But, I would guess it is helping me by giving me somewhere around 15% more power for a short time.

Does that make sense to any of you that routinely push your bodies past the limit?

Can some of you try this and see what you think?

I am not sure whether the body is able to inhale enough oxygen during peak efforts (90%+ of max heart rate) to give the muscles all the oxygen they need. If so, then this technique is probably worthless. However, if there is some bottleneck at the lungs where the lungs just can’t get enough oxygen in to fuel the muscle contractions – then maybe this does work.

I am guessing that it works – it sure feels like it does. But, it could be due to my expectation of it working – and might not really be a true benefit at all.

You know how the mind works! It’s powerful beyond measure. It could definitely trick you into thinking whatever you’re doing – has some effect.

Curious if anyone out there is doing this. Let me know in the comments if you would.

Cheers,

Vern

[Photo credit – Rick McCharles at flickr.com]

UPDATE –

I just found something by a guy that may know what he’s talking about. It directly contradicts my idea of hyperventilation providing some benefit before exercising very hard.

Here’s his answer:

Chris Larson, Post-doc/Fellow Laboratory of Genetics
Area of science: Biochemistry

First, there is no benefit to hyperventilation. Hyperventilation, which consists of taking short, quick breaths in rapid succession, seems like a way to get more air in your lungs. However, researchers have shown that (i) you take in a smaller volume of air than when you breath normally, and this leads to (ii) an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide and decrease in the concentration of oxygen in both your lungs and blood. Certainly hyperventilation before any exercise is counterproductive, and after exercise athletes are encouraged to take as deep of breaths as possible since this will speed the exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen.

I’ll keep looking to see if I find anything to contradict this. If true, it makes me marvel even more about the power of the human brain as we exercise. Here I am, definite that I feel a benefit to breathing hard and fast for a while before a major effort. As it turns out, it may actually be counterproductive!

4 thoughts on “Hyperventilation to Improve Running Performance?

  • October 31, 2013 at 1:39 am
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    Randomly i was out on a long sunday run last weekend when i approached a section (strava segment) that i wanted to try and run hard on. I tried hyperventilating on the approach (well actually hyperpnea breathed as wikipedia tells me which is more deep breathing focussed) and i swear that it helped me run faster and stronger, as i was anticipating it was.

    This lead me to do some research and here i have found your post.

    My non-medical theory (after 30 miuntes of googling) is as follows:

    1. Your body needs oxygen.
    2. The harder your body works the more oxygen it needs hence you breath faster to take in more oxygen.
    3. Hyperpnea doesn’t result in more oxygen in your blood, your brain controls intake levels, it 1)reduces the CO2 concentration and 2)in my opinion proactively provides oxygen to your lungs excess to your requirements(even though it isn’t used).
    4. My conclusion is that if you hyperpnea breath prior to upping your exertion levels, as your co2 levels are low your body will be able to produce co2 without having to try and get rid of it at the same rate, meaning you need to breath less/feel less exertion, and also the oxygen is there in your lungs to take in as required.

    This is as opposed to not changing your breathing and waiting for your body to reactively tell you to breath harder…

    On my run, i felt like i ran faster and easier at least for the first 30 seconds until my bodys blood levels finally rebalanced and then i was breathing as hard as i could just to keep up…

    Reply
    • October 31, 2013 at 1:52 am
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      Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad someone shares my idea of it ‘feeling like’ I have more energy initially, than I would have if I didn’t do some deep fast breathing before the extra-hard effort. It could be in the mind, but that makes it feel real enough! Another friend has commented at Facebook about this technique and he also said he feels like it works – though he is doing more of a fast deep breathing, not shallow breaths. So, I don’t know whether it really does help on paper, but it does provide a needed mental boost that is welcome in the middle of a hard hill run where I’m about to start a steep ascent. Now, whether it actually hurts later after that effort is done – I don’t know. Guess I will have to do a long experiment over the whole 3.7 km run and see what happens. Maybe I set a PR, or maybe I die at the end after doing this technique too many times. Will be interesting to find out.

      Reply
  • October 9, 2015 at 12:09 pm
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    hey guys. im a trauma nurse of 10 years and can provide a little bit of info on this subject. this is actually a complicated subject but ill try to keep it simple and skip the science jargon.

    Whenever you do some kind of physical activity, you feel the urge to start breathing hard and fast. this is for 2 reasons. one is obvious-you need more oxygen. the other one is less obvious- you need to blow off CO2 to balance the pH in your blood. usually people talk about the oxygen part but- believe it or not, the CO2 part is even more important. here is the proof.

    Here is a little experiment you can do at home. make sure you are sitting on the floor for this one. start breathing as hard and as fast as you can while sitting down. try to do it for one minute. spoiler alert….. you wont make it. you will get light headed and, if you continue to breath hard and fast- pass the fuck out before you even get to 30 seconds.
    why would you pass out though? are you getting too much oxygen? No, the answer is- you blew off all your CO2 which caused your pH in your blood to skyrocket. this caused the arteries in your brain to get super small to the point where you lose consciousness. the science behind this is pretty cool stuff.
    back to your question. with a LITTLE hyperventilation, you may be able to improve your performance since you are actively improving the pH of your blood. but be careful how hard and fast you breath- you may end up passing out, falling off a cliff, and exploding at the bottom.

    look up wim hof the iceman. he does some forced hyperventilation program that looks cool.

    cheers. hope that helped.

    Reply
    • October 12, 2015 at 5:16 am
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      I guess it helps as far as the education side of it – but, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! lol… SOmething about the blood vessels in the brain getting smaller – and possibly causing a stroke has me worried.

      Reply

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