As a member of the North­eastern men’s hockey team, senior Dylan Wiw­char found him­self in a unique posi­tion. Not only was the phys­ical therapy stu­dent inter­ested in studying inno­v­a­tive breathing exer­cises that strength­ened inspi­ra­tory mus­cles — those that are used in inhaling — but he also had a direct link to his team­mates, who became the test subjects.

His “power play” ulti­mately paid off.

Five players par­tic­i­pated last fall in the high-​​intensity exer­cises after hockey prac­tice, twice a week for 30 min­utes. The pro­gram involved a player first inhaling as hard as pos­sible from a spe­cial­ized tube three times for between 20 and 30 sec­onds each. The tube was hooked up to a laptop, which instantly dis­played biofeed­back so the player could see exactly how hard he was breathing each time. For the sub­se­quent breathing inter­vals, the player had to main­tain a level equal to 80 per­cent of his hardest inhale — a rate that could be mon­i­tored on the com­puter screen.

Wiwchar’s phys­ical therapy pro­fessor, Lawrence Cahalin, first approached him about per­forming the exper­i­ment, dubbed the Test of Incre­mental Res­pi­ra­tory Endurance. The exer­cises target the diaphragm and acces­sory mus­cles such as the sca­lene and ster­n­oclei­do­mas­toid muscles.

Inspi­ra­tory muscle training, Cahalin said, has been used suc­cess­fully with ath­letes in run­ning, cycling and rugby, but he and Wiw­char col­lab­o­rated to test it for the first time with hockey players.

The results amounted to a “hat trick” of sorts. The players’ inspi­ra­tory capacity, max­imum oxygen con­sump­tion and skating per­for­mance all increased, Wiw­char said. The players also reported recov­ering better and breathing more effi­ciently, while some even asked to con­tinue the pro­gram once it was over.

After only six weeks, we saw some pretty sig­nif­i­cant results,” said Wiw­char, adding the ben­e­fits of breathing exer­cises for ath­letes can be easily over­looked com­pared to tra­di­tional training on the ice and in the weight room.

In follow-​​up research, Cahalin said he expects to delve more deeply into how players recover in skating tests fol­lowing the exper­i­ments, and he hopes to obtain spe­cially designed shirts that can mea­sure heart and res­pi­ra­tory rates.

The project earned an out­standing under­grad­uate stu­dent research award at the North­eastern Research & Schol­ar­ship Expo in March. The research will also be pre­sented in May at the Boston Hockey Summit and Bas­ket­ball Sym­po­sium, where pro­fes­sional and col­lege coaches among others con­verge to learn about new and inno­v­a­tive training techniques.

It’s nice to apply some­thing to the sport I love to play and my future pro­fes­sion,” Wiw­char said.