Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Talk Test.....and nasal breathing

For my own purposes I just wanted to gather some links on the use of the "talk test" and nasal breathing as methods of ensuring that exercise remains aerobic / predominantly burning fat.  (A key source for these ideas is Phil Maffetone - check his articles here and particularly  What it means to be aerobic,   Want Speed Slow Down and Healthy Hiking)

{ I need to add context here to avoid confusing you.  I am writing a magazine article about pacing for hillwalking, where you have to go out and walk for 5-10 hours. You need to stay aerobic, burning predominantly fat or else the limited glycogen will be exhausted. I am recommending keeping to a moderate pace as dictated by the talk test or nasal breathing to stay in that aerobic zone.

This is not about weight loss or fat loss or whatever.   And there are also other approaches like training fasted which could be used although my piece is a bit more generalist.  I also think that HIIT / tabata can effect changes to the muscle cells which mean you can remain aerobic at higher intensities, but that is a different subject

Talk Test

  1. Talk Test and Ventilatory Threshold - PERSINGER, R., C. FOSTER, M. GIBSON, D. C. W. FATER, and J. P. PORCARI. Consistency of the Talk Test for Exercise Prescription. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 36, No. 9, 
  3.  The Talk Test and its relationship with the ventilatory and lactate thresholds.

 Nasal Breathing

Matt Metzgar on nasal breathing for running:

Next, I found this article where a coach prescribes long, aerobic barefoot runs with nasal breathing as a complete training program.  There are also a couple of related articles by the author at this website that are of interest.  The author believes that nasal breathing is a major key to keeping the heart rate down, which will make a run truly aerobic.

From here: 

When you work out aerobically, of course, the whole point is to find ways to get more health benefits from your workout. Here are some questions you might ask yourself. Would you like to burn more fat during your workout? Would you like to reduce exercise-related fatigue and injury? Would you like to increase your endurance and stamina? Would you like your aerobic workout to help improve your breathing?

If your answer is "yes" to any or all of these questions, and it no doubt is, then there is one simple thing you can do: don't let yourself become "breathless" at any point during your workout. When you become breathless, you undermine your breathing coordination, burn sugar instead of fat for fuel, become tight and tense (which can promote injury), and, in general, undermine your endurance and stamina.

The simplest way to know whether you are exercising too intensely and becoming breathless is to try to speak several sentences out loud while you're working out. If you can't do it without gasping for breath, then your workout is no longer "aerobic"--it is, or is about to become, "anaerobic," which means that it is proceeding without oxygen and you are no longer burning fat for fuel. Another way to look at what has happened is that you are hyperventilating, which means that you won't get oxygen where it needed in your brain and body and you will feel as though you are out of breath, even though you may have plenty of oxygen in your blood.

A simple way to ensure that you are working out at a level that will not make you breathless is to inhale and exhale only through your nose. If you try this you will quickly discover, especially at the beginning, that you will have to work at a slower or less-intense rate during your workout. Gradually, however, your breathing coordination and blood chemistry will improve and you will be able to do more and progress more rapidly, eventually going well beyond your previous limits. You can also, if you wish, breathe out slowly through pursed lips, as I already mentioned.

Nose breathing technique will limit you to running at the top level of your aerobic zone which is about 80% of your maximum heart rate and the most efficient level to do most of your training at for distance running.  


    Scott Pierce said...

    Where does HIIT and/or Tabatas fit here? Not way I'm breathing through my nose through those.

    Chris said...

    Sorry, this needed some context. I am writing a magazine article about pacing for hillwalking, where you have to go out and walk for 5-10 hours. You need to stay aerobic, burning predominantly fat or else the limited glycogen will be exhausted. I am recommending keeping to a moderate pace as dictated by the talk test or nasal breathing to stay in that aerobic zone.

    This is not about weight loss or fat loss or whatever.

    Chris said...

    Indeed I think HIIT and tabata have a role in enabling you to remain aerobic at higher intensities, but that is a different topic.

    Unknown said...


    I thought this was fascinating. For the last 4 weeks, i have been running and performing Battling Ropes while trying only to breathe through my nose. I have felt like I can run effortlessly sense I started doing this. I've even found I can do this while training velocity with the Battling Ropes.

    Good stuff. Can't wait to read your article.


    Rich Gift Of Lins said...

    Even if we are working at 100% of our upper aerobic threshold (UAT) (not something that the majority of people are sufficiently trained to be able to do), we don't suddenly stop burning fat. A I understand it, it's the "proportion of fat v carbs" that changes as our bodies switch towards utilising carbs for energy delivery. I think that there is a of misinformation about this point, because the amount of energy required for an hour at 100% is much greater than say at 70% UAT. So whilst the fat burnt proportionally at 70% is higher than at 100%, the absolute number of calories can still be higher. I know that that from my own experiences that 2 or 3 weekly workouts at 95% UAT threshold minumum causes me to loose more wait than pootling along for hours at 60-80% UAT. As far as hillworking is concerned I agree with what you write. Every time we might go anaerobic we use up one of the matches in our matchbook of daily reserves and on a long day out they are best conserved.

    Chris said...

    Hi Colin

    thanks for the comment. I agree with you.

    In the TGO pieces I am starting to link to some research so am posting it here so I can link back there.

    As you say, none of this is absolute which is why I said "predominantly" burning fat.

    I tried to add the context that this is not about fat loss, but about getting a pace that will let you keep going for longer. I am also aware that this stuff is very complicated and I am trying to simplify it forTGO, perhaps oversimplifying?


    Rich Gift Of Lins said...

    Hi Chris,

    I just have a problem with the misinformation that is around concerning "fat burning zones", much of it promoted by suppliers of heart rate monitors that want us to think that we can't do without their devices! Simple fact is, if you are fit enough to exercise at a higher exertion level for a sustained period, you will burn more calories and loose more weight. What you are explaining is linked to physiological load which has a duration v intensity relationship where the higher the intensity is, the shorter the time we can sustain it. However, if we make any number of shorter efforts above (say) our upper aerobic threshold, dependent on the combined number, intensity and duration we reduce our ability to continue. So, to put it into context of your thoughts, when I'm climbing a Munro I make sub-conscious effort to pace myself uphill. Fortunately, because I've done a lot of very high intensity training in the past, I'm very much in tune with my body and find this easy and automatic. When I'm with other people though, I am very much aware that they often don't understand or accept the sensations of exertion, or even realise what's happening, that it's OK and that we can regulate and control it. If you aren't working out and just want to enjoy a good day in the hills, pacing is SO important. I know you are as familiar with this as I am!

    As an aside, I'm off to Laggan in a few days and since my last trip in May I have committed myself to your training philosophies with running intervals (that required a major leap in faith I might add). Last Saturday I completed a "breakthrough" fell run, the first time I've ever run 10 miles, 2000 feet of ascent and in 1hr 39mins; not good I know, but I didn't start running until June! I'll let you know how I fair on the hills as I've not done any of the long Leicestershire walks that I normally use for preparation.

    Chris said...


    not good? 10 miles and 2000 feet of ascent in 1hr 39mins is bloody superb!

    you have picked up what I am getting at. I am not talking about calorie burn but about staying in an energy pathway that will fuel you for hours not minutes.

    Where are you heading for in Laggan? Monadliath or the hills south of Creag Meagaidh? A nice area whatever you pick.

    Rich Gift Of Lins said...

    Thanks for the confidence boost Chris; I should add though that it took me 48 hours to recover! It was around Bradgate Park near Leicester, you might know it.

    Yes I understood what you meant, you are wanting to stress the importance of training so as to make the body utilise fat which is a more efficient source of energy. If you don't train sufficiently well, the body tends to rely more heavily on carbs which run out sooner. I spent hours and hours of LSD on a bike before I learnt about better training methods!

    We've a week at Laggan Bridge (been to the same cottage a couple of times before. Hope to do Monadliath , Creag Meagaigh and maybe a couple of northern Cairngorms. Second week we are stopping in Glen Nevis to pick some more Munros off, weather permitting. But as you say, it's fantastic whatever the weather!