I was asked by a Personal Trainer after speaking at this year’s CamExpo, whether Buteyko exercises could do the same as HIIT to improve V02 max output.
Q: Will Buteyko exercises improve V02 Max results?
A: The answer is yes, but not directly.
That is because V02 max and Buteyko are measuring very different things.
We (Buteyko Practitioners) rarely use V02 max, as we are measuring ability and states of health rather than states of fitness. Most of our people aren’t able to walk properly let alone get fit and only recently, a colleague in the US has been working with sport cyclists, measuring levels of fitness as a result of Buteyko, but there is a way to go on that work.
The V02 max is fine for measuring that difference between arterial O2 and CO2 as I understand it. This is great for lung efficiency measurement and the body’s ability to sustain that lung efficiency under increased states of metabolic output. I believe that is correct? I’m happy to be corrected on fitness.
Professor Buteyko set out to measure the direct relationship between reduced metabolic efficiency, cellular acidosis and retention of CO2. He was measuring; why as people got more ill did their breathing became worse. He discovered the piece of physics published in 1904 which states:
When the CO2 drops and breathing rates go up, the O2 clings to the Haemoglobin and less is released to the cells – The Bohr Effect.
His early principle exercise was a breath hold – after the exhale – to build up CO2. This was to test that bit of physics to see if the O2 would be released if there was more CO2 retained/present. It was and so he showed that more retained CO2 broke the bonds between O2 and haemoglobin > more O2 released to the tissues.
What he discovered along the way – I doubt if he was looking for or expecting this – is well explained in Patrick McKeown’s book, The Oxygen Advantage:
“Erythropoietin, often known as EPO, is a hormone secreted by the kidneys in response to reduced oxygen levels in the blood. One of the functions of EPO is stimulating the maturation of red blood cells in the bone marrow, increasing oxygen delivery to muscles. Breath holding as demonstrated by Buteyko, is an effective way of stimulating the release of EPO, allowing you to fuel your blood with increased levels of oxygen and enhance your sports performance.
Concentration of EPO can increase by as much as 24% when the body is subjected to lower oxygen levels using breath hold exercises.
A clear example of the relationship between breath holding and EPO production can be found in those suffering from sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea is a condition involving involuntary holding of the breath after exhalation during sleep. Depending on the severity, the sleeper may hold his breath from 10-80 seconds and this may occur from 5-70 times an hour. During sleep apnoea, the saturation of the blood with oxygen can reduce from normal levels of 98% to as low as 50%. The result of these reduced oxygen levels can cause an increase in EPO of 20%.”
These % quotes are from Patrick’s book and I cannot offer the source at this point. He has however published them, so expect they’ll stand up.
There is therefore a correlation between; breath holds (after the exhale) > leading to build up of CO2 in the body > increase in EPO > more Red Blood Cells (RBC) to carry more O2 > that increase in O2 can be delivered to the tissues BECAUSE of the presence of increased CO2.
This could be measured in static tests, but we don’t, as we are dealing with conditions such as asthma and COPD and those who could not do a VO2 max test without passing out.
We do our version in Buteyko, which is;
Measure retained CO2 – we call the control pause
Walking (increased state of metabolic output) > increase in speed and reduce air volume by closing alternate nostrils.
Exhale and walk quickly with breath hold until needing to breathe in and then breathing in through the nose x several times.
Re-measure the retained CO2 for the increase. This takes time for the ill, as they often have pathological lung impairment.
What Buteyko proves:
That reducing the overall volume of air flow and increasing metabolic activity at the same time will and does increase the production of CO2;
That releases O2 from the blood and blood O2 levels drop > production of EPO and > more RBCs and >more O2 carrying capacity in the blood;
By observing The Bohr effect, the exchange of CO2 for O2 in the tissues as well as the blood is guaranteed by their presence in increased amounts.
What HIIT proves: (correction accepted)
Increased metabolic activity produces more CO2 in the working tissues > loosens the bonds between O2 and haemoglobin > O2 delivered to tissues;
Feeling of breathlessness (O2 now gone from the blood into the tissue) > stimulates EPO production > more O2 uptake being possible in the blood.
The Bohr effect is the same, allowing greater exchange of CO2 for O2 in the tissues, as they are both present in larger amounts > better flow measurement?
I would state that; it is only the relative levels of possible metabolic activity of the subject person that is the variable here.
Only HIIT will work for a fit person, because of their starting point, their current metabolic and lung efficiency.HIIT would hospitalise most of the people I see. Their starting point is very low.
It is the Bohr effect that is the constant across the range of abilities. It is the base scientific principle. Professor Buteyko started his research into those who were dying and he discovered the disorder of overbreathing.
For me – and this is only my opinion – it is the same physiological effect.
Different starting points for different ability groups.
Different measurements (retained CO2 in the lungs V VO2 max)
Different reasons (metabolic efficiency V cardiac fitness).
I am always open to questions or discussion about the potential benefits of better breathing, in whatever form they take.
As the Thai say, “same same, but different”.
Declan Clark has been a therapist for 29 years. With understanding of the body, an interest in fascia, and as a Buteyko Breathing Educator, Declan brings things together to help people live better lives.