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Lung Function(7 posts)

Lung FunctionJon Billheimer
May 21, 2001 11:46 AM
For any of you guys-or gals-with a lot of race training experience, and/or anyone with a physio- or med-dr background, my major limiter is always lung function, due to a lifetime of world-class smoking and impaired lung capacity as a result. Currently, my endurance is fair(doing 120km long rides and increasing), and my LTHR is at 90% MHR. This weekend I did a club ride in the mountains with some moderate to long climbs on 6 to 8% grades. As usual, my legs held up but I maxed out on my wind. I'm training for some 20k TTs coming up in the next few weeks. What should I emphasize, VO2 max intervals, lactate tolerance intervals/repeats? Or what? Also, any other suggestions to improve the cardio-pulmonary machine? Thanks for your input.
re: Lung FunctionKyle
May 21, 2001 12:39 PM
Interesting question. I assume you've quit smoking?

In a normal healthy person, lung 'capacity' is not a limiting factor (though it sure feels like it is.) I've never seen a study on ex-smoker athletes, though I did once read a paper suggesting that lung function returns to near pre-smoking levels after quitting for a few years. And since your lungs have excess capacity for oxygenating blood, it may be that being an EX-smoker is not a big deal (unless, perhaps,you smoked during childhood when your lungs were developing.)

Regarding your LTHR. LT is a function of genetics (slow twitch good, fast twitch bad) and training. 90% is probably close to the ideal for a human and is in excess of what Lance Armstrong has been able to achieve. If you're really there (unlikely unless it's some wierd reaction to your smoking), you probably aren't going to see a lot of future improvement.

VO2max may be your problem. Most people agree that this relates primarily to your heart's stroke volume (and not lung function, but again I'm not sure about the smoking thing) and reacts to training, though the adaptation is fairly short term (maybe.) While high intensity training seems to create the fastest (and perhaps most complete) gains in VO2, the gains you'd see from hard intervals would probably be minimal, since you're obviously already highly trained (unless you're wrong about the LTHR)and therefore won't see the quick and 'easy' gains that an untrained person might enjoy.

Having said all that, 6x 4-5 minute intervals at max are probably your best bet for quick improvement for your TTs (once per week ought to be enough.) This might bump your VO2 out a few percentage points and give you a higher sustainable power output.

Good luck and stay out of the Lucky Strikes.
ThanksJon Billheimer
May 21, 2001 1:54 PM

Thanks a bunch for your response. I'm quite sure about my LTHR and max. HR. Have done some exercise physiology course work and have been doing structured race training for about 4 yrs. now. Your answer was about what I expected, but one is always looking for improvement ( or shortcuts? or less pain?). After a thorocotomy to repair my collapsed lung, the surgeon diagnosed me with emphysema. So I guess, 12 yrs. later, at the age of 56 a 33 min. 20K TT isn't all that bad. But I REALLY get annoyed when guys ten years older than me go blowing by!

So VO2 intervals, here we come. Anyone else with any real bright ideas?
May 21, 2001 2:57 PM
might throw a wrench into the gears of my argument. This is one of the exceptions to the rule that lung capacity isn't a limiter.

Interesting experiment:

One of the things that suggests we have lung capacity to spare (if I remember right) is that maximum voluntary ventilation volume (ie hyperventilating at while sitting behind your computer) is higher than volume at VO2max.

So, if this is still true for you, we can perhaps conclude that your emphysema is not your weak link. This is based on the half-baked theory (which I just made up two minute ago) that your body would compensate by increasing ventilation frequency and depth up to your MVVV to compensate.

But hey, what are you complaining about? 22mph is pretty respectable and those old guys can be #*&!@# fast. Sometimes you're better off comparing yourself to the 20 somethings.
VO2 MaxJon Billheimer
May 21, 2001 6:00 PM
I guess in the final analysis it doesn't matter whether my VO2 max. limiter is central or peripheral, the solution lies in breathing deeper and pedalling harder. If you have any ideas about improving pulmonary function, though, e-mail me at

Thanks for your input.
Legs & lungsKerry Irons
May 21, 2001 10:27 PM
John, not too much on your breathing questions, but a general rule for TTs is that if your lungs seem limiting, shift to a higher gear, and if your legs seem limiting, shift to a lower gear. This is all aobut trying to balance yourself, and is a pretty good guide. The 3-5 minute intervals suggestion is the best training for TTs.
Legs & lungsJon Billheimer
May 24, 2001 11:49 AM

Thanks for the advice. It will be followed. I appreciate the cumulative expertise and help offered on these boards.