Respiratory muscle fatigue during exercise: implications for performance


Section Editor(s): Powers, Scott K.; Dempsey, Jerome A.

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
Basic Sciences/Regulatory Physiology: Symposium: Exercise and Respiratory Muscles

Heavy whole-body exercise, requiring a 10- to 15-fold increase in minute ventilation, encroaches on the capacities of the respiratory muscle system to respond. Recently, using the technique of bilateral phrenic nerve stimulation, it has been shown that heavy endurance exercise (>85% of˙VO2max) lasting >8-10 min causes diaphragmatic fatigue (15-30% reduction in transdiaphragmatic pressures when electrically stimulated at low frequencies [1-20 Hz] supramaximally). The fatigue appears to be due to an interaction of diaphragmatic work (i.e., pressure production) combined with effects related to exercise intensity (i.e., increased blood flow competition with the locomotor muscles and increased production of metabolic by-products) and requires >60 min for recovery. Fitness (i.e., as implied from˙VO2max) appears to allow greater diaphragmatic work for a similar degree of fatigue. Unloading the respiratory muscles (with helium/oxygen gas or using a pressure-assist device) during heavy exercise <90-95% of˙VO2max does not appear to alter exercise time, ˙VO2max, or minute ventilation, implying that respiratory muscle fatigue plays little role in altering human performance at these work intensities. However, unloading the respiratory system with helium at work intensities >90-95% of˙VO2max has been shown to improve exercise time. This would imply that respiratory muscle fatigue may play a role in limiting human performance at the extremes of human performance or that other factors related to the respiratory system (i.e., alterations in the sensation of dyspnea or mechanical load) may play an important role.

Author Information

Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic and Foundation, Rochester MN 55905; and John Rankin Laboratory of Pulmonary Medicine, The University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53705

Submitted for publication August 1995.

Accepted for publication October 1995.

The authors thank Dave Pegelow for his technical assistance in several of the cited studies and Cathy Nelson and Audrey Schreoder for preparation of the manuscript.

Present address for Elizabeth A. Aaron: Department of Biology, Mount Mary College, Milwaukee, WI 53222. Present address for Mark A. Babcock and Jerome A. Dempsey: John Rankin Laboratory of Pulmonary Medicine, Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53705.

Address for correspondence: Bruce D. Johnson, Ph.D., Cardiovascular Health Clinic, Baldwin 2B, Mayo Clinic and Foundation, 200 SW First Street, Rochester, MN 55905.

©1996The American College of Sports Medicine