The Impact of Athletic Training on the Respiratory System

Athletic training has changed a lot in recent years. Athletes now follow tough schedules that require them to do many hours of hard training every day. This kind of dedication causes big changes in different parts of their bodies, like their muscles, heart, and lungs.

The Physiology of Athletic Training

In every sport, muscles need to work hard, using up energy. This energy comes from high-energy phosphorus bonds. When these bonds are used, the body needs more oxygen to keep the muscles moving, especially under aerobic conditions. This is where the body's oxidative mechanisms kick in, helping to provide more oxygen, rebuild energy stores like ATP and creatine phosphate, and manage lactic acid that builds up during intense, anaerobic muscle work.

The heart and lungs play a critical role in this process. They work harder to meet the increased need for oxygen and energy. For example, the respiratory system has to work much harder during athletic training. Normally, we might breathe in about 6 liters of air per minute, but during intense exercise, this can skyrocket to more than 150 liters per minute. This huge increase in breathing, known as ventilation, has both immediate and long-term effects on athletes.

Short-Term Effects of Athletic Training on the Respiratory System

When people do athletic training, like running or swimming, it can affect their breathing for a little while. These effects are not long-lasting, and they happen during and after the exercise.

One thing that changes is the amount of air left in the lungs after taking a big breath out. This is called the residual lung volume (RLV). Research shows that RLV goes up right after intense exercise, and this change is more significant in the short term. For example, just 5 minutes after finishing exercise, the RLV goes up by 25%. After 30 minutes, it's still higher, but only by 18%, and after an hour, it's up by 15%.

But here's the thing, these increases don't stick around for long. After 24 hours, the RLV goes back to its normal level. So, these changes are temporary and only last for a short time.

Long-Term Effects of Athletic Training on the Respiratory System

Long-term athletic training can have lasting effects on the respiratory system, which is how we breathe and get oxygen into our bodies. One important thing to look at is something called Vital Capacity (VC). VC tells us how much air we can take in when we breathe in as much as we can and then breathe out as much as we can. This number can be different depending on your age, sex, and how big your body is. But, when people train and become athletes, their VC often increases.

There are other long-term effects as well. When you train your body through exercise, your breathing muscles, which help your chest expand when you breathe in, also get better. During really intense workouts, these muscles can get tired, making it hard to breathe effectively. But with training, these muscles become more resistant to fatigue, so athletes can keep up high levels of performance for longer periods of time without getting as tired.

In simple terms, athletic training makes your lungs and breathing muscles stronger, which allows you to breathe better and perform at a high level for a longer time. So, if you want to improve your respiratory system, regular exercise and training can be a great way to do it.

The Role of Respiratory Muscles in Athletic Performance

Training of the respiratory muscles also leads to a decrease in their concentration of lactic acid at the end of physical exercise and an increase in their aerobic capacity. This means that trained individuals experience less fatigue (shortness of breath) for the same amount of time, a phenomenon well recognized not only among athletes, but also among opera singers who rely heavily on their respiratory muscles.

To compensate for the muscular fatigue associated with breathing, athletes often adopt a posture that facilitates respiratory mechanics. This typically involves flexing the torso forward, bending the neck forward, and opening the mouth to bring the jaw parallel to the ground. This position is commonly observed in long-distance running events and appears to facilitate the mechanical work of lowering the diaphragm and raising the ribs, as well as promoting venous return to the heart.


In the realm of athletic training, the respiratory system, once considered untrainable, is now recognized as a crucial component that can be strengthened to improve performance. The adaptations it undergoes as a result of rigorous training can contribute to an athlete's performance, demonstrating that the "extra breath" provided by a well-conditioned respiratory system can indeed be a game-changer in achieving remarkable athletic results.

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