Athletic work of breathing

Sports people breathe rapidly. For the majority of match or training scenarios, they are either working hard or recovering from working hard. Injured or unwell players may also be breathing rapidly. At rest, most people will breathe around 15 breaths per minute and each breath will be roughly of the same depth and duration.

Normal quiet breathing involves the diaphragm, a thin muscular sheet that goes across the body separating the chest from the abdomen. The diaphragm goes up and down as we breathe, helping draw air into the lungs. The muscles between the ribs (intercostal muscles) also help make the chest larger to suck air in and out as we breathe.

As people breathe faster, the rate increases and more chest wall muscles are involved. This effort is called the work of breathing. As well as breathing quickly, you may notice their tummy muscles (abdominals) rib muscles and even neck muscles working to assist breathing. As long as the work of breathing is decreasing with time, then this is reassuring. If, however, the rate and work of breathing is persistently high or increasing, this is a worrying sign and help is urgently needed.