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How To Increase Lung Capacity and Endurance

Daniel Brady | April 4, 2013 in Sport
Improving Lung Capacity

Do you feel that your lungs or lactic acid build-up are holding you back? Well both of those issues can be decreased through lung training. In this article we compare various methods of improving your lung capacity, endurance and strength.

Endurance Training versus Resistance (Weight) Training

47 males training for 12 weeks showed the following improvements in the table and chart below.[1] The results were very clear, the endurance training group improved their lung power (VO2MAX) far more than the resistance training group (11.2% vs 3.3%), and the resistance training group increased their strength far more than the endurance training group (21.6% vs 4.6%). That result is as would be expected. It shows that resistance training is somewhat effective at improving lung capacity, but is not optimal.

Also notable, the resistance training group had the greatest improvement in body composition (reduction in body fat percentage), a fall of 2.5% compared to 1.5% in the endurance training group. The resistance training group increased muscle and decreased fat, while the endurance training group only decreased fat.
Resistance versus Endurance Training for Lung Capacity

Endurance and Resistance Training for Oxygen Consumption and Strength

Voluntary Isocapnic Hyperpnea Training versus Resistive Respiratory Muscle Training

Let’s refer to these two as VIHT and RRMT. They’re complicated to explain, but I’ll try to do so simply with pictures:

  • VIHT involves re-inhaling some of your exhaled CO2 to reduce the amount of oxygen inhaled. These machines are rare however, mainly existing in laboratories.
    CO2 Re-inhalation
    Isocapnic Hyperpnea
  • RRMT adds resistance to your inhaling and exhaling. This equipment is far more available to the average person, it’s even available to purchase on Amazon (Power Lung) for a little over $100.
    Power Lung

So let’s get to the results.[2] This study was done on 8 experienced runners for 3 days per week, 30 minutes per day. It included 4 weeks of RRMT then 4 weeks of VIHT after that. So don’t be confused by the chart below, the RRMT group had 4 weeks or training while the VIHT group had 4+4 weeks of training.

RRMT alone increased endurance run time by 18% while RRMT+VIHT increased endurance run time by 46%, so the additional 4 weeks of VIHT added an additional 28% to the endurance run time. VIHT looks to be somewhat superior, but RRMT was also effective. Considering their comparative availability, I’d recommend VIHT only to serious athletes with a big budget, and RRMT to other athletes.


Another study found that 4 weeks of training for 30 minutes per day, 5 times per week increased swimming endurance time by 33% from RRMT, and 38% from VIHT.[3] Considering the results are similar, RRMT is very useful for swimmers.

An alternative RRMT product to the Power Lung mentioned above is the Power Breathe for a little under $100. If you want to measure your progress over time, Peak Flow Meters are very affordable.


Personally I’d rather the respiratory resistance training devices mentioned above, but singing is also effective for increasing lung capacity. As you can see in the table below, both girls and boys who sing have 24% higher lung capacity than those who don’t. So if you sing loud and often, it will in turn improve your lung capacity and in turn your sports endurance (swimming, running, rowing, etc).
Singing Lung Capacity Chart


You probably guessed this already, but swimming leads to improved lung capacity.[4] One thing of note though is that swimming is superior to running for lung capacity, so swimming could be beneficial for runners in that regard.

Swimming for Asthma

Swimming reduces the symptoms of asthma and is less asthma inducing than other sports.[5] So not only is swimming good for lung capacity for sport, but it’s good for asthma sufferers too.

Lung Capacity Test

If you’re looking to test your lungs then a Peak Flow Meter will test your lung strength or simply blowing up a balloon with a single breath then measuring the size/diameter can test your lung capacity (make sure to use the same batch of balloons for future comparison tests).

Peak Flow Meter Balloon Lung Capacity


Simply practicing endurance exercise at a good intensity does help your lung capacity, but there are also devices available that can help you to improve even further. As with most of our articles, the goal is to help you beat the competition or improve yourself, and lung training is just one more way you can do so.

  1. The effects of either high-intensity resistance or endurance training on resting metabolic rate. Craig E Broeder, Keith A Burrhus, Lars S Svanevik, and Jack H Wilmore []
  2. Effects of Different Types of Respiratory Muscle Training on
    Exercise Performance in Runners. Hiromi Uemura, MS; Claes E.G. Lundgren, MD, PhD; Andrew D. Ray, BS, MS, PhD;
    David R. Pendergast, EdD
  3. Respiratory muscle training improves swimming endurance in divers. Juli A. Wylegala, David R. Pendergast, Luc E. Gosselin, Dan E. Warkander, Claes E. G. Lundgren []
  4. Lung Volumes and Maximal Respiratory Pressures in Collegiate Swimmers and Runners. Loren Cordaina, Alan Tuckerb, Debbie Moona & Joel M. Stagerc []
  5. Benefits of Swim Training for Children and Adolescents with Asthma. Cherri Rosimini []

Daniel has a strong interest in evidence supported fitness training, preparation and supplementation. His goal is to provide clear information that simply works. He's currently 16 kg of muscle above his starting weight (7kg in the past 12 months), and targeting a continued growth rate of 5kg+ per year.
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