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Climb Better Off the Couch with this Science-Backed Training Device

Ditch the treadmill. The Airofit respiratory trainer will boost your cardio for your proj. 

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Imagine this scenario:

You’re just a few moves from the chains. Your heart is pumping, and you’re so out of breath your eyes are popping out of your skull like ping-pongs. You lunge for the final crimp, your body crumples, and you fall. Lowering back to the earth, you’re desperately gasping for air, and you think: 

I should really do more cardio. 

Cardio is great for climbers. In addition to lowering your resting heart rate and boosting recovery, cardiovascular fitness increases metabolic efficiency and helps you do more physical work while expending less energy. Plus, climbing is a full-body sport, so no matter which form of cardio you choose—treadmill, biking, or high intensity interval training—there will be crossover benefits in the neuromuscular system. 

In addition to cardio, you can go to the root of the source: your respiratory and expiratory muscles. Using a breath restriction trainer, you can put pressure on your respiratory system to make positive adaptations for deeper, more powerful breathing, all from your couch.

The Airofit

I’d heard of breath restrictors before, primarily from my studies in college, where I studied health and exercise science. Then I found out my boyfriend’s sister, a professional dancer, had used a breath restrictor to rid herself of asthma, which had developed post-Covid. My interest piqued. 

After a quick google search, I came across the Airofit Pro, a breath training device that connects to an app on your phone, which acts as a personal breathing coach. The app offers various breathing protocols, for everything from enhancing power to reducing anxiety, and it tracks your progress via a few measurable indicators. 

I tested the Airofit for about three months to see how it affected my climbing and general health.

Weights for Your Lungs

The Airofit is a completely customizable mouthpiece. You turn dials on either side of the apparatus, adjusting how much air you can inhale and exhale. It tracks airflow, sending data to your phone. After charging the Airofit, the app will instruct you to do an initial lung test, which measures your accessible lung capacity, max inspiratory pressure and max expiratory pressure. That data, combined with your age, gender, height, and weight, is used to generate your personal training program. 

The Airofit app will instruct you to do an initial lung test, which measures your accessible lung capacity, max inspiratory pressure and max expiratory pressure. That data, combined with your age, gender, height, and weight, is used to generate your personal training program. (Photo: Courtesy of Airofit)

Accessible lung capacity, or vital lung capacity, is the amount of air your lungs can actually take in and push out—bigger vital lung capacity ultimately means more circulating oxygen, which has a host of benefits. Vital lung capacity is influenced by the strength of your diaphragm and intercostal muscles (the muscles between your ribs). Diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may drastically reduce it, as can age. 

Max inspiratory pressure, as the name suggests, is an indication of respiratory strength, or the amount of air you can draw in. Increasing this means you can take deeper breaths, thereby using less energy to take in oxygen. Max expiratory pressure is just as important, as increasing this will allow you to expel more carbon dioxide with a single exhale. 

You can positively affect your vital lung capacity, along with inspiratory and expiratory pressure, by training your lungs and the surrounding tissue just as you would any other muscle in the body. Respiratory training devices, such as the Airofit, are like weights for your lungs—they make breathing much harder, and thus promote adaptation.

A trained classical singer, Christian Tullberg Poulsen originally designed the Airofit to help him in his craft. After having three sons, all competitive swimmers, he began to see the potential benefit of his device for athletes. After qualifying for the Junior Nordic Championships, his oldest son trained with the Airofit for three months, and then won his age group. Poulsen then worked with a team of scientists to modify his breathing device, making it compatible with a smartphone app.

Today, Airofit is used by swimmers, runners, cyclists, golfers, crossfitters, people seeking to recover from diseases affecting lung health, and people who just want general benefits like better sleep and improved mental health.

Science-backed

Ambu International, a company that develops and tests diagnostic and life-supporting devices for healthcare professionals, conducted a study in 2012, published in the journal of Sports Medicine. The study measured performance effect via a standard 12-minute running test, conducted before and after the two-month trial. Participants were divided into one of three groups—a control group, group “2” using the Airofit with moderate resistance training settings, and group “3” using the Airofit with high resistance training settings. The control group improved by 0.5 percent. Group 2 improved by 8 percent and group 3 by 33 percent, demonstrating that the higher the intensity of the training using Airofit, the better the performance outcome in running.

In a 2001 study, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 14 competitive rowers were divided into two groups: a control group and an inspiratory muscle training group. The latter performed better than the control in a six-minute all-out test at four weeks (a 3.5% improvement vs. 1.2%) and in a 5000-meter test (the inspiratory training group’s times decreased by 3.2%, while the control decreased by .96%). 

(Photo: Courtesy of Airofit)

Similarly, as detailed in a 2013 study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, a group of healthy, well trained swimmers were divided into a control group and respiratory muscle endurance training group. At the end of the eight-week trial, respiratory strength and endurance and competition performances improved only in the respiratory training group. 

Zooming out, there are a handful of systematic reviews and meta analysis that confirm the benefits of respiratory training. In “Effects of Respiratory Muscle Training on Performance in Athletes,” published in 2013 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the authors concluded that inspiratory and respiratory muscle training increased athletic and sports performance, as reflected by respiratory muscle strength and endurance and timed trials.

Not Just for Your Climbing

Some training protocols on the Airofit are designed to assist with non-sport centric goals. For example, there’s sessions for mindfulness, concentration, and mind-body connectivity. 

Studies back it up, as does tradition (think about how long people have meditated while using specific breathing patterns). Focused, rhythmic breathing may increase a sense of presence and enhance energy. In “How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing,” published in 2018 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the authors discussed how slow breathing techniques act on the nervous system to promote psychological well-being. 

How to Use it 

The Airofit team recommends using the devices for around five to 10 minutes a day. I preferred to use mine when: my mind needed to be cleared from work, right before leaving for the gym, before warming up at the crag, and occasionally to wake up. The training sessions are at set lengths, and then you can continue your training by picking from a range of targeted exercises. My training tended to last for six minutes, although I occasionally did longer bouts.

Our Thoughts

I tested the Airofit for several months. During  that time, I got sick with COVID, I lost a loved one and saw another through a life-threatening accident. Despite the interruptions in my daily life and normal training activities, I still made small advancements in vital lung capacity, inspiratory pressure, and expiratory pressure. Plus, quite frankly, using the Airofit was a nice way to calm my nerves. 

Admittedly, it did take some time for me to get used to using the Airofit. Even as an athlete, I scored poorly—well below average—when I first picked it up. It was hard, especially during the first week. But eventually, like with any new form of training, I got used to it. 

On the treadmill, I actually felt able to take deeper breaths and, consequently, keep my heart rate down. On the wall, I still get out of breath at times, but I’ve felt better able to take quick, sharp breaths in between powerful movements.  

There’s one more thing: I have asthma. I have had it all my life, and in the last few summers, overlaid with smoke from local fires, my symptoms have only been exacerbated. Since using the Airofit, I’ve felt more in control of my breath, and less reliant on my inhaler—a major win!

The Airofit is not particularly cheap : $379 if you go for the Pro, as I did, since I wanted the Bluetooth connectivity and personalized in-app training sessions. (The Airofit Active is only $129 but there is not bluetooth connectivity, and the app offers only basic training.) Much like other expensive training and recovery devices that I own, I use it most days and consider it a worthy investment. I still do cardio—I love a quick run on the treadmill—but I’ve found the Airofit to be a helpful addition to my training arsenal. And I love that I can train from the couch.