Alternative to Doping for Improved Sports Performance
Patrick McKeown MA
The incidence of doping in sport shows no sign of abating. The number of detections, high profile reports and investigations into doping suggests a self fulfilling prophecy where many clean athletes succumb to the pressure to dope in order to compete, ironically, “on a level playing field”. If the margin of improvement to performance was small, fewer athletes would risk incurring the suspensions and shame that follow a failed drugs test. However, the prevalence of doping in sport suggests that for many athletes, it is clearly a risk worth taking. Therefore, to win the war on doping, it is a matter of urgency for anti-doping agencies and sporting organizations to prove that clean athletes can compete and have just as good a chance of winning against the dopers. For sport to win this battle, clean athletes should be afforded every possible assistance to compete and win against their drug taking competitors.
Of course, athletes would be far happier not to have to consider taking performance enhancing drugs or doping techniques. After all, they live and lead far healthier lifestyles than the general population – drinking less alcohol, eating good diets, abstaining from smoking and staying physically fitter than their non-athletic counterparts in society. Doping seems to go against everything they practice (and often preach)so the question is why do they risk their health and reputation by doping or taking illegal substances such as EPO? Why do athletes go to extremes and put their health at risk of blood clot or stroke by taking EPO?
Doping improves oxygen carrying capacity and increases the delivery of oxygen to working muscles to increase VO2 max and thereby performance. It serves to improve only one of the many parameters responsible for winning. For example, running performance is based on many physiological parameters including psychological preparedness and the ability to withstand fatigue, as the great Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi referred to when he declared: “Mind is everything. Muscles = pieces of rubber.”
While mind and body are interconnected, it is ultimately the mind that rules the body and determines its limits. Races are won and lost not by muscle fatigue and soreness but by the ability of the brain to cope with effort.
The relationship between the mind-and-body and exercise performance is at the heart of the ‘central governor theory’ put forward by South African physiologist Dr. Tim Noakes. In explaining the limitations of human performance, Noakes writes that a ‘governor’ located in the brain sets the limit on exercise intensity in order to protect the heart from overworking. The theory is based on the premise that a governor monitors the state of oxygenation of the heart and other organs including the brain and diaphragm. When oxygenation levels approach what the brain determines as being too low, messages are sent from the brain to restrain working muscles and fatigue is experienced to slow down and preserve the athlete. In other words, it is the brain that sets the limitations of the body.
If the governor in the brain could be trained to cope with increased demands from the body, athletes would be able to push themselves harder, further and faster without the need to dope. A major part of this is psychological as athletes who have the confidence to know how far they can push themselves have the greatest chance of winning.
High Performance Breathing Technology (HPBT) is an extensive program which offers athletes an alternative to blood doping. Developed by Dr. Martin Denbar and Patrick McKeown, HPBT delivers improved airway functioning and addresses dysfunctional breathing patterns in athletes. It also works as a simulation of high altitude training by breath holding.
The breath holding component of HPBT is interesting in itself as it is a departure from the traditional breath hold exercises that have been used by athletes since the 1960s. As opposed to breath holding following an inhalation, HPBT involves breath holding following a normal exhalation. The result causes a significant decrease to blood oxygen saturation and increase to carbon dioxide while simultaneously generating intense feelings of breathlessness. In other words, HPBT exercises add an extra load to the athlete which they would not experience during normal training. This teaches the brain to adapt to greater demands, to tolerate lower oxygen levels, higher carbon dioxide and higher breathlessness which ultimately delays fatigue and improves performance. Numerous research studies have shown that breath holding following an exhalation, as taught by HPBT, improves many of the physiological parameters involved in running performance. HPBT helps:
- increase the natural production of EPO (Erythropoietin) safely and legally
- improve VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake)
- improve running economy
- reduce breathlessness during physical exercise
- improve delivery of oxygen to organs and working muscles
- delay the onset of fatigue and lactic acid
- prevent exercise induced asthma
- maintain focus and concentration during competition; and,
- maintain fitness during rest or injury.
In addition, HPBT doctors examine nasal patency, mouth breathing, abnormal swallowing patterns, resting tongue position, head position and more. This phase of the program maximizes the athlete’s airway to allow Breath Holding to develop optimum performance. HPBT not only optimizes sports performance, but also provides lifelong benefits in terms of improved airway functioning essential to sleep and good health. It is also extremely important as a natural – and legal – alternative to doping that risks not only the health of athletes, but the very future of the sport itself.