Respiration Rate During Step Test

See down-thread for data/ride that Steve commented on. I posted this and via private msg Steve suggested that I do the step test starting at 100w and taking it to 350w, so his comments are about that set of data, not the one in this post.

Original post (with questions, etc)

I’d like to learn a bit more about how I can incorporate breath count into my training (be it warming up, as a training cue, etc.)

I’ll start with specific questions and maybe this will evolve:

Stages (mins) HR Power Respiration Rate Pw:HR
10 - 14 97 125 12 1.28
14 - 18 103 150 12 1.45
18 - 22 112 175 14 1.56
22 - 26 117 200 16 1.71
26 - 30 126 225 18 1.78
30 - 34 135 250 28 1.85
34 - 38 147 275 40 1.87
38 - 42 155 300 48 1.93
42 - 46 165 325 48 1.97

(Date of ride: April 7 2022)

This is a table I created based on input/suggestion from @steveneal a while ago.

  1. An interesting point happens from 18-28 Respiration Rate. That’s the first big jump. What does that tell me? How can use that in my training?
  2. I only went to that last step (sub-max). Would it be useful to keep going to failure (in terms of breath count…of course it is useful to go to task failure for other reasons). What more could it tell me?
  3. Under Pw:HR, any significance to 1.85 to 1.87? Or is this just me finding a pattern that doesn’t mean anything. Humans are particularly good/guilty of this. LOL

For reference, my bike maxHR is generally 180bpm. My LTHR is somewhere around 161-165. <–From Friel 30-min all out protocol and informally confirmed over the years with “NP over one hour efforts”. Just trying to provide context and more data.

Also, I’m intentionally staying away from terms like VT1 and VT2 because bringing those protocol specific (often lab-based) terms often make the conversation go sideways. I have certainly been guilty of this in the past, as this stuff interests me (like a lot of us). I really want some actionable input for this, though.

@tshortt Hi Tim thanks for sharing this.

Do you have the fit file that goes with this workout.

you can email to steve at stevenealperformance dot com

Nice topic and thank you for avoiding the VT definitions :slight_smile:

Having trust in our body’s ability to regulate breathing based on oxygen (and fuel) needs, the increase in breath count would indicate the number of (oxidative) muscle fibers recruited.
A big jump would then indicated a large increase in recruitment.
As the force production capabilities of fiber types differ, the big jump might illustrate the recruitment of the next type.
In your case the 20 to 28 jump is probably the start of significant use of Type IIX, but @steveneal can confirm that with a medcart test.
The 12 to 16 jump might indicate the start of Type IIA usage.

Although the increase in RR is not equal to the increase in HR, i’m not yet convinced that the RR will give you more or other info that HR.

it has been a while since biochem and physiology but it was my understanding that carbon dioxide levels in the blood directly impacted breathing rate as part of a feedback loop. So if I interpret what you are saying, is that these large fibres generate more carbon dioxide and thus increase the blood carbon dioxide concentration which then impacts the breathing rate. So breathing rate is is a proxy for the amount of carbon dioxide one breathes out as would be measured by a respiration gas analyzer. I had never thought of it this way but does that make sense?

I sent you the .fit file. However, the data from above are over a year old (I think) the above table is today’s ride, and I actually couldn’t find the .fit file (likely due to my sloppy workout labeling) LOL. I thought it would be ok to use that when I first posted to at least talk to that data.

What I have done instead is just re-do the step test. That’s the file I just sent.

ERG mode. 25W increments. Counted last 15 secs for respiration. I’ll update the above table with data so A) we have breath count, and B) since you have .fit file you can double check my work (like math class in school!) :slight_smile:

@scooter, although that may be correct, i ment it differently. I ment to say that when oxygen demand increases, the respiration rate goes up. The oxygen demand increases with increasing intensity because there are more fibers requiring oxygen. You reach a max when additional recruited fibers are of the glycolytic type.

Correct. And I personally just leave it at that. Regardless of any connection to muscle fiber type recruitment, the primary purpose of increased breathing as intensity increases is to blow off CO2. The pH in the body is very tightly regulated and the way to stay in that tight range is for the body to rid itself of CO2. You can only do it by breathing more deeply (and therefore slowly), or more frequently (more shallow).

I’m trying to nail the fundamentals first. There is way more you can get into with this stuff, but “life, goals, budget” etc. Suffice it to say, increasing tidal volume (with training) is a thing.

Part of my motivation for asking this question (besides the obvious: “hey how fast should I ride my bike, coach”) is I like to cross-reference all the simple “biomarkers”, but I have been negligent about doing it on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, I have definitely not given enough consideration to associating HR on a given day, leg soreness on a given day, lactate on a given day, etc. (plug in whatever you measure) to RPE. Matching sensations to numbers. And not just the test you did six weeks ago. The numbers you would see that day. Let that inform the training. Lots of athletes THINK they do that. But they don’t.

I am really good at determining I’m at 1-3 RPE and 8-10 RPE (who isn’t) :-). It’s the ones in the middle that take work. But that is where we spend a lot of time as endurance athletes. So ultimately (and sorry for getting off-topic), I want to start associating all these things we can measure everyday with how I feel. I’ve gotten pretty good at the measurement part, not yet so good at the “ok is this sustainable or whatever on THIS day under my current level of fatigue given my goal of X…if so, rock on, if not, need to adjust”.

@kjeldbontenbal I am not sure I am the right person for this, but I think as others help me dig deeper into what I have been doing I think we will learn more.

The one piece of this puzze I would ask is…if as we increase the intensity in a step test example, if the athlete continues to breath deeper while increase volume, there wouldn’t be a visible increase in the respiration.

So then how would we use the respiration rate increase to assume there was a change in muscle fibre recruitment?

When we get above threshold the tidal volume will drop, but it doesn’t have to drop as drastically as it does with most. If we are going to try and blow off co2, and depth is the answer, then being able to breathe both deeply and quickly above threshold is the answer.

This is also what allows us to do such things as pre-anticipatory breathing before efforts.

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@tshortt @kjeldbontenbal

Without knowing.

FEV1 and FVC it is hard to give a full answer as that is how I relate the working respiration on a bicycle.

If we look at what I see most often is a decrease in tidal volume with increased respiration rate. This doesn’t need to happen (have shown some examples in other posts). The goal would be to try and move the same volume while we increase the rate, but as many people increase their rate, they shallow their breath. This will also affect the amount of co2 that can be blown off for lack of a better word.

Some of this limitation can be found in mobility of the upper back, rib cage and low back, not allowing an athlete to be able to expand as deeply as possible especially when under stress.

The other is pure coordination of the respiration muscles.

If we relate this to cycling, many people when they start to work on higher cadence can’t quite hold the same power when they begin, but over time working on higher cadence coordination can bring power into that new higher cadence pedal stroke.

The other main reason to increase the depth of the breathing is to limit the amount of anatomical dead space air we are moving with each breath. Increasing the volume and lowering the rate will at least give us availability to more volume of air, giving us the chance to extract, once we have trained the muscles.

So improving this aspect of respiration is only one piece of the puzzle.

Many will experience lower heart rates when they focus on their breathing, I often see 5-8 beats. However, they are unable to maintain this.

Was just speaking with @ryan about this very thing this morning, which he has found in his own riding. The goal though is to make respiration something we don’t have to concentrate on to breathe deeper, we want this to be natural. Many say the respiration is natural but then why when we focus do other things change?

So training the respiration on the bike is a great start, slower, deeper without stress.

Really making big changes that will stick happen best when training respiration off the bike.

We will be doing some pretty neat things in the near future with @ryan as a guinea pig…I think that will be fun.


Here is just one example.

With this athlete also quite a famous physiologist and coach, his respiration rates are within a range I like to see. This person is pretty well know for HIIT training, and was surprised his breathing above threshold wasn’t better.

However I do strive for athletes to have a tidal volume % relative to their FEV1 between 80-85%. So I have him working on volume breathing and max expiration (to improve FEV1 ability to exhale more volume forcefully - so this can be done at higher respiration rates).

Many will have respiration rates that are too high, even at endurance pace.

Below is an example of a report. The athlete is 44, top 3 in open category (winner of a few) NUE 100 mile mountain bike races. He is also a pulmonologist at a hospital near where I used to live. He found this test very interesting and is now using respiration training with some covid patients, we are working together on this.

The different tables show current respiration, then goal respiration of increased tidal volume by breathing deeper and lowering the rate, and lastly a calculation of the % difference in anatomical dead space air being moved with the above changes.


I recall when Jan Ulrich would be shown belly breathing and that was considered a new thing, I assume that using your diaphram to increase the depth of the breath would be along the lines of increasing tidal volume but reduce the likelihood of shallow quick breathing. We know that hyperventilation can lead to carbon dioxide build up.

Correct. Hyperventilation is really fast and shallow breathing.

We can also breathe slow, or fast and have the same volume, just that many aren’t able.

Using the diaphragm will allow you to breathe into the bottom of the lungs where there is more alveoli, greater opportunity to exchange.

Hello @tshortt

below is the test you sent me.

Without more actual respiration data it is hard to be specific.

Chances are when you have the 3 steps in a row at 40 breaths, the first one is where the tidal volume starts to drop, if not before.

Below is just a partial step from me from today, and you can see a drop in TV as it relates to my FEV1.

My fat cho crossover at the moment is right around 210 ish watts, and this is where most have peak tidal volume as well.

So I would recommend for you really trying to work on lowering the respiration rates when you are riding between 220-250w and deepening the breath.

It might be interesting what you feel when you try this. When co2 builds, you will want breathe faster, when that happens is when you want to bring the focus back to deeper breaths, the heart rate should come down when you do this.

You may find it hard at first to do this for long intervals, so you might have to do 5m of breath focus and then a break, like doing intervals but for your breathing, then lengthen slowly the ON duration of focus.


Nice. Thanks so much for the feedback, @steveneal

I’ll give this a try.

Quick follow up: is the idea then that respiration rate would/could lower across the board OR that what will end up happening is (for example) 28 breaths might trend down toward 20 breaths (the 220-250w tempo area), and the 40 breath area (250-300w) more or less remains the same?

yes you have it, the 40 might come down a bit, but more room for change lower.

Below is an example of possible, keeping in mind we would want to maintain tidal volume relative to fev1 through to around 300-320w for you, which we can’t measure without…well…measuring.

But if you can get the rates more like below this is great, it is likely that the tidal volume is going up if your heart rate drops with the lower respiration rates.

Oh and when you count your respiraiton count by half breaths…in and out is one, just in or out would be half

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Thanks for this discussion. I’m learning some good stuff.

General question: since counting one’s breaths will inevitably change one’s breathing (which is probably the intent, as a biofeedback mechanism, etc.), how should this be accommodated for?

Probably only a relevant question when comparing respiration from a metabolic cart, to manually-counted breaths at a later time. And of course directionally, lower is lower and performance is performance.

Is this one of behaviours that the goal is to practice by paying conscious attention to (counting breaths), until you rebuild the neuromechanical patterns and no longer need to pay conscious attention to?


yes, people will lower the rate when doing this, but it is often consistent enough to look for change.

If someone goes from 30 to 20 breaths, power is same or goes up, heart rate comes down, there is improvment. If it is 22-20 and they are counting then it would be a maybe, but the person will be able to tell.

Now there are a lot of assumptions when just looking at rate.

This is why I always compare to FEV1 for reasons explained.

Two people can be at the same rate and VE but NOT the same relative to their FEV1, one could be in my goal range of 75-85% and the other at 54%.

One interesting test is to do a 5m respiratory time trial on a device and then try an effort on your bike…see how that goes, but you need a device to do this.

Another way is to measure FVC and FEV1 before, during and after a session, to see how much loss there is.

@ryan is doing his first test today so we will be getting started on the pathway very soon after this, so more to come.

@SpareCycles I know you are also way ahead on much of this and I think we have a common friend in Andrew Sellars?


Oh, I wouldn’t say I’m anywhere near the level of expertise you and Andrew are at when it comes to functional respiration. Especially on the individualised prescriptive basis for athletes. I’m getting a lot of good information from this thread and yeah, Dr. Andrew Sellars is another great resource out there.


:slight_smile: we have just reconnected after a long time and compared notes after about 10-15 years, what we have been doing was nearly identical.

So fun and now we live an hour apart.

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Missed this one.

Yes my goal is to have athletes be able to function at 75-85% of the FEV1 during a step test.

The other goal is to lose as little or none of the FEV1/FVC during whatever their event is.

So working off the bike to have a respiratory system higher than is required by the sport.