The Power Breathe K3 describes itself as ‘the world’s first intelligent digital breathing trainer’. It is designed to increase breathing muscle strength and endurance to improve fitness and reduce breathlessness during high-intensity activity. Basically, it promises to improve your sporting performance by strengthening the muscles you use to suck in the big ones … and all by spending just a few minutes each day breathing into an automated mouthpiece.
My inner sceptic told me that this all sounded a bit too good to be true. However, the science behind the Power Breathe is solid. Inspiratory muscle training in cyclists has been the subject of a number of studies around the world. Research has shown that inspiratory muscle training can reduce inspiratory muscle fatigue and even lead to performance gains in time trialling.
Power Breathe works on the principle of resistance training. Just like you would use a set of dumbbells in the gym to strengthen the muscles in your arms, the Power Breathe acts as weights for strengthening your inspiratory (breathing) muscles. The idea is that stronger breathing muscles will enable you to push more oxygen into your body when it is working under load (like in a race). The manufacturers advise that by training regularly with the Power Breathe K3, a user can see benefits within a few weeks. If only all my training worked like that!
The way the Power Breathe K3 works is like so: the device has a calibrated valve which provides a load to breathe against. Air is inhaled through the mouthpiece, and can only be released if you use enough effort to force open the valve. Your breathing muscles – your diaphragm and chest expanding muscles – have to work harder as they move up and down against the resistance of the Power Breathe.
The Power Breathe K3 is primarily for inspiratory muscle strength training. However, the device also offers guided exercises for warming up your inspiratory muscles before a race (designed to reduce breathlessness at the start of your race) and cooling them down afterwards to dispel lactic acid.
Using the Power Breathe K3
The Power Breathe K3 is about the size of a mobile phone and consists of the handset device, removable mouthpiece and nose clip. An LCD screen provides a relatively straightforward menu that allows you to monitor your training load and results. The device is charged via mains or USB cables, both of which are provided with the unit.
The Power Breathe K3 comes with an instructional DVD and user manual, which for me was information overkill but will certainly suit all of those instruction-loving types out there.
Operating the device is straightforward. When you use it for the first time, you need to enter some basic personal details (age, weight, height and gender), which is used to estimate your predicted inspiratory muscle strength and give feedback on your data. Once that’s in, all you need to do each session is turn it on, press ‘Start’ and off you go. You are prompted to give 30 deep breaths, with the LCD screen providing a countdown in case you get dizzy and lose track (I did).
Once you’ve completed the 30 breaths, a Results menu will automatically display with data on four variables: load, power, volume and T-index:
- Load: Measures the resistance to inhalation in units of cmH20. In other words, it’s the force exerted (or ‘weight lifted’) by the inspiratory muscles during a training session. A higher load means you are training your inspiratory muscles harder and making them stronger.
- Power: Measures muscle performance as a combination of strength and speed of movement. The more powerful your muscles, the more resistant they will be to fatigue (i.e. breathlessness) and the better they will be at generating airflow.
- Volume: The average amount of air inhaled per breath during a training session. The higher the volume, the deeper your breathing, thereby training your inspiratory muscles across their full range of movement.
- T-index: Measures the effectiveness of your training session based on energy expenditure. The manufacturers recommend that you train your inspiratory muscles as hard and as long as possible in order to get the best possible training improvements.
The manufacturers recommend a regime of 2×30-breath sessions a day, which would take the average person around five minutes a day in total. It couldn’t really be much easier. They have also made it easy to scroll through results of your previous sessions, so you can track your improvement from session to session. After 4-6 weeks, your breathing muscles should have improved enough to drop to two sessions every other day.
Straightforward and Functional
I was impressed with the simplicity of the control panel on the Power Breathe K3. There are only two buttons to use so it’s hard to go wrong. That said, if you are the type who enjoys customising your gadgets to the nth degree, you can choose to override the automatic training load setting (the resistance to inhalation) and enter your own manually, if you are finding the breathing resistance too easy or too severe.
Another feature of the Power Breathe K3 is a test mode, which lets you assess your inspiratory muscle performance at any stage. The test gives you an assessment of your muscle strength, maximum rate of inhalation and volume of air inhaled. It’s a useful benchmarking tool that means you can monitor your progress and see tangible improvements.
As I mentioned earlier, the Power Breathe K3 also has modes for warming up, and cooling down your inspiratory muscles before and after strenuous exercise. I’m not sure how many people would actually use this feature, but if nothing else you would be sure to freak out your opposition if they saw you using it before a race!
Is it Worth the Money?
The price tag of the Power Breathe K3 makes it a relatively high-involvement product. If you have a need to improve your inspiratory muscle stamina, or have a medical condition like asthma – and have the cash to splash – this device is great. It won’t give you a magic bullet or a new set of lungs, but it will help you to make the most of the lungs you have, and relatively easily for the amount of training involved. The manufacturers say that with correct use, you can shave three minutes off your time in a 40km time trial! That sounds a bit optimistic, but I’d believe that strength and capacity gains are possible for most people by using the device. It is easy to use, provides an efficient and targeted workout and you certainly feel better after using it. If your budget can’t stretch to the K3 (which is Power Breathe’s top-shelf model), Power Breathe make several other models of breathing resistance trainers that would also be worth considering.
Distributed by HaB Oceania Pty Ltd