Q&A;: Maximizing lung function

- from a post on the USENET newsgroup rec.sport.triathlon

Q:

I recently had to have my chest x-rayed (my doctor thought I might be contracting pneumonia) and the technician asked if I was a swimmer. I'm not, but am a duathlete (biking/running). She told me that my lungs looked like a swimmer's because they were so large they didn't fit on the x-ray.

Can anybody tell me if (a) the tech simply doesn't know how to take x-rays?

A:

She may know how to take X-rays or she may not. People come in all shapes and sizes. Certainly, some have wide upper bodies and a large thoracic cavity which would look like "big lungs" on a chest X-ray. Realize, though, that the chest x-ray is only a 2-D static representation of your chest. The question is, what is the functional ability of your pulmonary system? There are certainly tests to help quantitate pulmonary function, but even knowing this, the lungs are only part of the equation determining athletic performance. The rest is determined by your heart, blood vessels, and muscles (an oversimplification I know)

Q:

or (b) if she's right, how can I maximize these mega lungs of mine? I am a woman with good upper body strength and am a strong cyclist. Any material out there on maximizing breathing technique during cycling/running?

A:

Sure. Watch some of the elite endurance athletes (runners, cyclists, swimmers). There are a few things that they employ;

Note:

the lungs have two functions;

  1. oxygenation -- putting oxygen into the red blood cells
  2. ventilation -- removal of carbon dioxide

This is by no means an exhaustive list or an in depth discussion but it is a start. Many of these techniques just come naturally and you can really confuse yourself if you try to force it. Many times a good athlete is just not aware that he/she is doing these things. It just feels right. Your body is pretty smart. ; Rhythmic breathing is a good place to start.

 

jenky@rice.edu

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