How should breathing sound on the limit? (Vocal cord dysfunction / EILO)

Weird question, I know, but how should breathing sound on the absolute limit? E.g., what does a WT pro with a huge VO2 max sound like when they are on their absolute ragged limit fighting for a mountain top finish? Are there any good examples on YouTube?

I ask because I suspect I might have some sort of airway issue that hampers my performance, but I don’t have a point of reference to know what is considered normal versus what is pathological.

I sound downright unpleasant to listen to at anything over threshold (my breathing gets very high pitched, but not wheezy, and I often have to hack out phlegm) and will basically cough for an hour after a TT, but I have a decent lung capacity and the doctor says I don’t have asthma. He couldn’t do any tests for exercise-induced asthma, stridor, etc., though.

Edit: I strongly suspect the issue I have is exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction, a form of vocal cord dysfunction. Info here:

Lots of YouTube clips. It’s quite quiet though. You probably wonder if the Mic is far away though. Search for the VelonLive on board camera stuff. Next time it is noisy record a video on your phone ( with a comparator sound) and show your doctor. He/she will be able to tell you if it’s normal.

1 Like

There are lots of YouTube videos of races, but most seem to have the audio covered up in music or commentary. One of Phil Gaimon’s earliest KOM videos might have had audio, come to think.

A ramp test of a properly miced up pro would probably be most helpful.

I had considered making a video. Maybe of my next ramp test…

I’ve noticed in VO2 workouts my position affects my ability to breathe smoothly. When the going gets tough and I’m on the brink I sometimes hunch up and somehow the walls of my airways aren’t as fully open as it can be. It’s audible in my head as there’s more wind noise and then as I relax my shoulders and focus on driving all my power into the legs, my airways open up. Remembering to forcefully expel air, going for the full gas exchange, and getting those deep breathes makes those intervals possible. The little coach chad texts during the workouts helped me realize this. Maybe tongue position also has something to do with how your breathing sounds?

Watch some of the Vegan Cyclist’s Zwift races on youtube. You will definitely hear what breathing on the limit sounds like.

Avoid shallow, quick breaths. Draw breath from your gut and exhale everything, fully and properly, every breath.
I also thought I had asthma. It was just poor technique.

I do use belly breaths, I just feel like my airway puts a hard limit on how much air I can move without even maxing my breathing muscles.

That said, I don’t know what level of breathing noise is normal at the absolute bleeding edge of respiratory rate (above Vo2max).

I totally will, bro. Hehe.

Neck position definitely has an effect on breathing, which is why Froome says he’s always staring at his stem.

In terms of forcefully expelling air, using my breathing muscles at their maximum tends to create horrible sounds (breathing out) OR it causes my windpipe to basically close off (breathing in) so I found there’s a rather low upper limit to just how forcible I can breath in and out.

I should probably go see an ENT about my nasal congestion so I will be able to breathe through the nose at a higher effort level.

That sounds a bit like your muscle coordination when breathing heavily isn’t quite right. You shouldn’t close your windpipe off when breathing in! Maybe go to a yoga class that focusses on breathing? If yoga isn’t your thing, singing lessons or trumpet playing maybe? :grinning:

When I say my windpipe “closes off” I mean that the negative pressure caused by breathing in as hard as I can, combined with the extra phlegm in my throat that is produced around and above VO2max, makes it feel like my windpipe is closing off completely (although I pretty much have to make it happen on purpose).

I’m not sure if that is actually what is happening, or whether you should even expect to be able to breathe in as hard as your diagram will let you, but it feels like a limitation.

Edit: It sounds quite a bit like this, but not quite as bad:

I did that test a couple of months ago. There was nothing wrong with me. However, when going full gas for prolonged periods of time, and not breathing slowly and fully, I can provoke that sensation of being strangled, coughing mucus afterwards.
As a former competitive swimmer, now I just imagine that I’m swimming, breathing fully every other stroke, instead of rapidly gasping for air (panic attack), and all is good. Asthma medicine did nothing for me.
But of course, as my specialist doctor said, if you want that last percent of performance, most (if not all) can benefit from medicine. It’s not worth it if you’re not racing for a living (nordic skiers, pro cyclists and so on).

Ooof, being unable to breath as much as I want is one of the reasons I don’t particularly enjoy swimming. I think I may have been accidentally doing two of the three techniques the guy came up with. But I haven’t been able to find much detail about it.

Swimming competitively forces you to breathe fully. When cycling or running, you can pant quickly like in a panic attack and cause all kinds of problems.
Next time you begin to struggle, try breathing slower (!), deeper and exhale fully, even if you feel like you’re dying. Some struggling should go away within seconds, and the irritation that causes mucus and coughing afterwards should also lessen.

My advice is to keep practicing. Within a couple of months it should feel natural, without you having to think about it. My perceived effort went down immediately, while maintaining power.


The only thing that helps me is to breath with my mouth partially closed, which I suspect prevents my vocal cords from constricting due to physics reasons (turbulence and so-on), but it also makes breathing require much more effort and concentration.

I don’t know. I can’t hear with Iron Maiden blaring in my ears. :metal::rofl:

1 Like

When I overdo dairy intake, my breathing is a little different. Something to consider regarding phlegm.

I have been drinking much more milk than usual lately… but I think I have always had not-asthma-but-like-asthma symptoms since I was a kid. That may have been why I quit the track team after one day in middle school haha.

Gaimon has a handful of relatively unedited first-person videos of his KOM attempts. By the top of the segment he sounds like death.

Hmm. I could have sworn I had skimmed through all of them as they came out, but none of the “full effort” videos had any audio. You can sort of hear him breathing in one of the early one but it doesn’t sound anywhere near as horrible as I do when I am seriously hurting.