While a good tradesman never blames his tools, athletes are always searching for little pieces of kit that can give them a slight edge over the competition. In a sport as taxing and hard-fought as cycling, even the smallest advantage can mean the difference between making a stage-winning breakaway or falling off the back and out of contention. Some cyclists wear breathing strips on their noses in an attempt to open up their airways, an approach Team Sky’s Chris Froome has taken a step further at this year’s Tour de France by wearing a specially-designed stent called the Turbine, which is designed to facilitate better breathing through the nose.
According to its creators at Rhinomed, the Turbine allows about 38 percent more air through an athlete's nose. In doing so, the system also forces athletes to think about their breathing, acting as a bio-feedback stimulus.
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Unlike breathing strips, the Turbine actually sits inside your nose instead of trying to free up your breathing from the outside. It's also far more comfortable for athletes.
The Turbine's current design draws heavily on feedback from Chris Froome, who tested the device at last year's Vuelta a España. Froome had issues retaining the original Turbine in his nose, and athletes complained that the device was putting a lot of pressure on their septum, so it was put back on the drawing board.
Rhinomed addressed these complaints by adjusting the Turbine's ratchet system, designed to be more comfortable and secure while still giving athletes the ability to cater for asymmetry in their noses.
At rest, we rely on our noses for about 70 percent of our breathing. But when we start exercising we use our mouths a lot more, relying on our noses for just 27 percent of airflow. According to Rhinomed's head of Sport Science, Dr. Mitch Anderson, the Turbine tries to address this using the Venturi principle.
"There's a principle in physics called the Venturi principle, when you pass air through a tube and there's a hole in the tube, air gets passively intrained through the hole. If you make the size of the hole bigger, which in this case is your nose, then you can passively intrain more air," Dr. Anderson said.
"Essentially, by reducing the resistance in your airway you can get more air for less energy cost."
These benefits aren't just limited to elite sportspeople like Chris Froome. Dr. Anderson says the Turbine works well for weekend warriors too by giving them a "great awareness" of their breathing patterns.
The full benefits of using the Turbine are still being explored in a study at Murdoch University in Western Australia.
A video tutorial on how to the Turbine fits into athletes' noses is below.