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.



[Photo credit – Rick McCharles at flickr.com]


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!