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How to train your lungs for crossfit and marathons

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Apr 8, 2015 1:21:00 AM

How to train your lungs for marathon and crossfit

How to train your lungs for crossfit and marathons

If you are serious about training you will do everything possible to enhance your performance for the long distance runs and metcons you will perform. Apart from loading your muscles with enough iron, vitamin d and protein and training them until they burn, you can also train your lungs to take in more oxygen and stimulate your blood stream to take up more of the same.

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The breathing mask scam

Of recent altitude training masks have become more popular. The manufacturers of these masks claim, that the mask simulates the conditions up in higher altitude to have the same effects for training in lower altitudes. This is a common misconception, but still these masks have their use.

In normal altitudes the air consists of 21% oxygen. In higher altitudes this percentage drops (the higher you are the thinner the air gets, therefore oxygen masks in planes in case of emergency) to 9 - 14%. Training in high altitudes has the following effects:


-improvements in oxygen uptake, transport and utilization.

-production of neuroendocrine hormones that can have an anabolic training effect.

-improvements in immune system strength.

-increased activities of antioxidant enzymes in the brain, liver, heart and other organs (assuming you don’t overdo it, in which case you actually get suppression of normal antioxidant processes).

-as you’d probably guess, increased production of red blood cells, resulting in an increased oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.

To understand which benefits you really get from training with a mask, you have to understand the different types of exercising your lungs.

Hypoxia, Resisted and Restricted breathing

The altitude effect that most masks claim to provide is called Hypoxia. You can only achieve this effect be changing the composition of the air you breathe. You either have to drive up the mountains to do your exercises or have some kind of machine changing the composition of the air you breathe. A home application are the tents and machines of Hypoxico.

Resisted training is a bit like weight training for your lungs. Breathing through a straw or through most of the altitude masks falls into this category. 

Restricted breathing occurs when you limit the actual inflow of oxygen by holding your breath. For example when you swim that you only breathe on every 5 - 7 rather 1 - 3 stroke. 

In total the altitude training is the best of these method to attain those effects. However if you are not already living in the alps, Colorado or Himalayas it is quite unpractical and expensive.

How to train your lungs for crossfit and marathons

The easiest option is to go to your local pool, do your cross training if you are a marathoner, or your scheduled endurance work in the pool and play around with your breathing. To finish off do 10x25 meter lanes without any breathing.

You can also experiment with restricted breathing by holding your breath in the deep end as long as you can. 

The other option is to wear a "altitude breathing mask" which in reality is a restricted breathing device during an interval run or a cycling session.

Whatever you do keep safe. We don't want you to faint and drop a barbell on yourself or float in a pool.

Further reading

Topics: Crossfit Equipment