Why Do Pro Cyclists Block Their Noses: Learn the Secrets

robert dellert

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In the pulse-pounding arena of professional cycling, where split-second decisions can define victory, the seemingly peculiar practice of pro cyclists blocking their noses has captured the fascination of both enthusiasts and scholars. 

This cryptic strategy, observed amidst the adrenaline-fueled pelotons of high-stakes races, beckons us to delve into the depths of elite cycling. 

Unraveling the layers of this intriguing phenomenon requires a journey into the intersection of physiology and performance optimization. 

From nuanced respiratory adaptations to tactical advantages, the intentional act of nasal blocking reveals itself as a carefully crafted component in the arsenal of elite cyclists. 

Join us as we navigate the winding roads of pro cycling’s hidden strategies and uncover the secrets concealed beneath the surface of this peculiar yet purposeful practice.

Why Do Pro Cyclists Block Their Noses

You must be confused about why do cyclists put cotton in their nose. Professional cyclists may block their noses for various reasons during a race or training. 

One common practice is known as the “Nasal Dilator” technique, which involves the use of devices or methods to partially or fully close the nostrils. 

Here are a few reasons why cyclists might do this:

Increased Oxygen Saturation

By partially blocking the nose, cyclists aim to increase the air pressure in their lungs, which can lead to better oxygen saturation in the blood. 

This technique is thought to improve respiratory efficiency and potentially enhance performance, especially in high-intensity situations.

Controlled Breathing

Blocking the nose can help cyclists control their breathing patterns. 

By regulating the airflow, athletes may be able to synchronize their breathing with their pedal strokes or optimize their breathing rhythm for specific race conditions.

Reduced Aerodynamic Drag

In some cases, cyclists might use nose plugs or other methods to reduce aerodynamic drag. 

While this might not be a common practice, even small adjustments to airflow around the face can impact a cyclist’s overall aerodynamics.

Adaptation Training

Some cyclists use nasal breathing exercises as part of altitude training or to simulate reduced oxygen conditions. 

Training with restricted airflow can potentially help the body adapt to lower oxygen levels, leading to improved performance at higher altitudes.

Nasal Breathing for Endurance

Nasal breathing is believed by some to be a more efficient way to breathe during endurance activities. 

It can help filter and humidify the air, reducing the risk of respiratory issues and providing a more controlled intake of oxygen.

It’s important to note that while some cyclists may experiment with these techniques, the effectiveness and safety of such practices can vary among individuals. 

The science behind some of these methods may also be subject to debate, and athletes should consider consulting with sports science professionals or coaches before incorporating unconventional breathing techniques into their training or racing routines.

Basics of Cycling Nose Breathing

Basics of Cycling Nose Breathing

Nose breathing during cycling involves inhaling and exhaling through the nose instead of the mouth. 

While both nose and mouth breathing play essential roles in respiration, some cyclists and athletes advocate for the benefits of nasal breathing, especially during certain phases of training or in specific conditions. 

Here are some basics of cycling nose breathing:

Nasal Breathing Mechanics

  • Inhalation: When breathing through the nose, air passes through the nostrils, where it is filtered, humidified, and warmed before reaching the lungs. The nasal passages also produce nitric oxide, which can enhance oxygen uptake in the blood.
  • Exhalation: Exhaling through the nose helps control the release of carbon dioxide and regulates the airflow, potentially improving the efficiency of gas exchange in the lungs.

Benefits of Nasal Breathing for Cyclists

  • Improved Oxygen Uptake: Nasal breathing may enhance oxygen uptake by optimizing the air entering the lungs. The nasal passages help filter out impurities and regulate the temperature and humidity of the inhaled air.
  • Reduced Dehydration: Breathing through the nose can help reduce dehydration, as the air is humidified before reaching the lungs. This can be particularly advantageous during long rides or in dry conditions.
  • Enhanced Breathing Control: Nasal breathing allows for more precise control of breathing rate and depth. Cyclists can adjust their breathing patterns to match the demands of their activity, promoting a more efficient respiratory rhythm.

Training Techniques

  • Some cyclists incorporate specific training sessions focused on nasal breathing to adapt the respiratory system and improve aerobic efficiency.
  • Nasal breathing can be part of altitude training, helping athletes acclimate to lower oxygen levels.


  • Intensity: While nasal breathing can be beneficial during low to moderate-intensity rides, athletes may find it challenging to sustain during high-intensity efforts. It’s important to listen to the body and switch to mouth breathing as needed, especially during intense exertion.
  • Individual Variability: The effectiveness of nasal breathing can vary among individuals. Some cyclists may find it suits their physiology and performance goals, while others may not experience significant benefits.

Breathing Techniques

  • Diaphragmatic Breathing: Focus on deep, diaphragmatic breaths to maximize oxygen exchange.
  • Rhythmic Breathing: Coordinate your breathing with your pedal strokes to establish a rhythmic pattern.

Before adopting nasal breathing techniques, cyclists should experiment during training sessions to determine its compatibility with their riding style and comfort. 

Consulting with coaches or sports professionals can provide personalized guidance based on individual needs and goals.

The Physiology of Breathing for the Cyclists

The Physiology of Breathing for the Cyclists

Understanding the physiology of breathing is crucial for cyclists, as efficient respiration is essential for optimal performance. Here’s an overview of the key physiological aspects of breathing for cyclists:

Respiratory System

The respiratory system consists of the lungs, airways, and respiratory muscles. Its primary function is to facilitate the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the body and the environment.

Gas Exchange

During inhalation (inspiration), oxygen-rich air is drawn into the lungs. In the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs), oxygen diffuses into the bloodstream, binding with hemoglobin in red blood cells.

During exhalation (expiration), carbon dioxide, a waste product of metabolism, is expelled from the bloodstream into the alveoli and then released from the body during exhalation.

Respiratory Muscles

The primary respiratory muscles are the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles between the ribs.

During inhalation, the diaphragm contracts and moves downward, while the intercostal muscles lift the ribs, expanding the chest cavity and creating a negative pressure that draws air into the lungs.

Exhalation is usually a passive process, but during intense exercise or when breathing needs to be controlled, the expiratory muscles, including the abdominal muscles, can become active to aid in forceful exhalation.

Breathing Rate and Volume

Respiratory rate (breaths per minute) and tidal volume (the amount of air moved in or out during a single breath) are crucial factors in respiratory physiology.

During cycling, breathing rate and volume increase in response to the elevated oxygen demand associated with exercise.

Ventilation-Perfusion Matching

Ventilation refers to the movement of air into and out of the lungs, while perfusion is the blood flow through the lungs.

Efficient cycling requires proper matching of ventilation and perfusion to ensure that oxygen is effectively delivered to the working muscles and that carbon dioxide is removed.

Nasal Breathing vs. Mouth Breathing

Nose breathing has advantages, such as filtering, humidifying, and warming the air before it reaches the lungs. Nasal breathing also stimulates the release of nitric oxide, which can enhance oxygen uptake.

However, during intense exercise, cyclists often switch to mouth breathing to meet the increased demand for oxygen.

Controlled Breathing Techniques

Cyclists may use controlled breathing techniques to optimize oxygen uptake and reduce the risk of hyperventilation. This can involve synchronizing breaths with pedal strokes or using rhythmic breathing patterns.

Adaptations to Training

Endurance training can lead to physiological adaptations in the respiratory system, including increased lung capacity, improved efficiency of gas exchange, and enhanced respiratory muscle strength and endurance.

Understanding these physiological aspects of breathing can help cyclists develop effective training strategies, optimize their respiratory performance, and enhance their overall cycling performance. 

Additionally, individual differences and preferences may influence the choice of breathing techniques and patterns during cycling.

Nasal Breathing in Cycling

Nasal Breathing in Cycling

Nasal breathing in cycling involves the deliberate choice to inhale and exhale through the nose during various phases of riding. 

This practice has gained attention for its potential benefits, although it may not be suitable for all cyclists or under all circumstances. Here are some considerations and potential advantages of nasal breathing in cycling:

Filtering and Humidifying Air

The nasal passages are equipped with hair and mucus, which act as natural filters, trapping particles and pathogens present in the air. Nasal breathing helps filter out impurities before air reaches the lungs.

The nasal passages also humidify and warm the air, reducing the risk of irritation to the respiratory system, especially in dry or cold conditions.

Nitric Oxide Release

The nasal sinuses release nitric oxide, a molecule that plays a role in vasodilation (widening of blood vessels). This can potentially enhance oxygen uptake by improving blood flow and delivery of oxygen to tissues.

Controlled Breathing

Nasal breathing allows for more precise control over the breathing rate and depth. Cyclists can adjust their breathing patterns to match the demands of their activity, promoting a more efficient respiratory rhythm.

The resistance provided by nasal breathing may also encourage diaphragmatic breathing, engaging the primary respiratory muscle more effectively.

Reduced Dehydration

Breathing through the nose can help reduce dehydration, as the air is humidified before reaching the lungs. This can be advantageous during long rides or in dry conditions.

Improved Posture

Some proponents of nasal breathing suggest that it encourages better posture, as it may discourage shallow chest breathing. Optimal posture can contribute to overall cycling efficiency and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal issues.

Endurance Training and Adaptation

Nasal breathing is sometimes incorporated into endurance training, especially during lower-intensity rides. Training with nasal breathing may help the body adapt to lower oxygen levels and improve aerobic efficiency.

Mindfulness and Relaxation

Nasal breathing can be part of mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Focusing on controlled breaths through the nose may help cyclists stay mentally composed during challenging rides.

Despite these potential benefits, it’s essential to consider individual variability and preferences. 

Nasal breathing may not be suitable for everyone, especially during high-intensity efforts when the body demands increased oxygen intake. Cyclists should listen to their bodies and adjust their breathing patterns as needed.

Additionally, incorporating nasal breathing into cycling should be a gradual process, allowing the body to adapt to this practice over time. 

It’s advisable to consult with coaches or sports professionals for personalized guidance based on individual needs and goals.

Reasons Behind Nose-Blocking

Reasons Behind Nose-Blocking

Nose-blocking or blocking the nostrils intentionally, as done by some cyclists, is not a common practice and may not be recommended during regular cycling. 

However, there are specific techniques and devices that temporarily block or partially block the nose for different purposes. 

Here are a few reasons behind intentional nose-blocking in certain contexts:

Training Adaptation

Some athletes, including cyclists, may use nasal dilators or nose-clipping techniques during training to simulate reduced oxygen conditions. 

This is based on the concept of intermittent hypoxic training, where exposure to lower oxygen levels is believed to trigger adaptations in the body to enhance oxygen utilization. This method is often associated with altitude training.

Altitude Simulation

Athletes who cannot train at high altitudes may use methods to simulate the reduced oxygen levels experienced at altitude. 

Blocking the nose partially may create a similar effect by limiting airflow, forcing the body to adapt to the lower oxygen content in the air.

Breathing Pattern Control

Some breathing techniques involve controlling the airflow through the nostrils to influence breathing patterns. 

This may be done to optimize the synchronization of breathing with physical exertion or to establish a specific rhythm for relaxation or focus.

Aerodynamic Testing

In certain experimental settings, cyclists or researchers may explore the impact of aerodynamics by using devices that modify airflow around the face, including the nose. 

This is less about nose-blocking for the cyclist’s benefit and more about studying the aerodynamic effects.

Specific Breathing Exercises

There are various breathing exercises and techniques that involve partially blocking the nose to direct airflow in specific ways. These exercises are often part of practices like yoga or certain meditation techniques.

It’s important to note that these practices are not universally accepted or applied, and their effectiveness may vary among individuals. 

Additionally, intentionally blocking the nose during regular cycling or exercise may interfere with normal breathing and could potentially be uncomfortable or unsafe.

Before incorporating any nasal-blocking techniques into training, cyclists should consult with sports professionals, coaches, or healthcare providers. 

Individual differences, fitness levels, and health conditions can influence the appropriateness and safety of such practices. 

It’s crucial to prioritize safe and evidence-based training methods to achieve optimal performance and well-being.

Why Do Cyclists Warm Up With Nose Plugs?

The use of nose plugs during warm-ups by cyclists is not a widespread or common practice. However, there could be a few specific reasons why some cyclists might choose to warm up with nose plugs:

Respiratory Muscle Training

Nose plugs can create resistance to the airflow during breathing. Some cyclists may use nose plugs as a form of respiratory muscle training, aiming to strengthen the muscles involved in breathing. 

This could potentially improve respiratory efficiency during intense efforts.

Simulating Altitude Conditions

Athletes who engage in altitude training may use nose plugs as a way to simulate reduced oxygen conditions. 

Altitude training is believed to trigger physiological adaptations that enhance oxygen utilization, and nose plugs could contribute to creating a hypoxic (low-oxygen) environment during warm-ups.

Breathing Pattern Control

Using nose plugs might encourage cyclists to focus on controlled breathing patterns. 

It could be part of a mindfulness or relaxation technique where controlled nasal breathing is emphasized to promote a calm and focused mental state before a race or intense training session.

Aerodynamic Testing

In certain experimental or research settings, cyclists might use nose plugs to modify the aerodynamics around the face. This could be part of studies examining the impact of airflow on performance.

It’s essential to note that the use of nose plugs during warm-ups is not a widely recognized or standardized practice in the cycling community. 

Cyclists often warm up to prepare their cardiovascular system, muscles, and joints for the upcoming exercise, and the focus is typically on activities such as light spinning, dynamic stretching, and specific cycling drills.


Why do cyclists plug their noses while cycling?

Cyclists may use nose plugs for various reasons, such as respiratory muscle training, simulating altitude conditions, or even as part of aerodynamic testing. 

Blocking the nose partially can create resistance, potentially contributing to improved respiratory muscle strength or simulating specific training conditions. 

Is a runny nose when cycling normal?

Yes, a runny nose during cycling is relatively common. It can be caused by factors such as cold weather, wind, or exposure to allergens. 

The increased airflow during cycling can lead to nasal congestion or a runny nose. In some cases, it might be a normal physiological response. 

Is doping in cycling common?

Doping has been a historical concern in professional cycling. While there have been notable cases, anti-doping measures and testing have been significantly strengthened in recent years. 

Where can I get pro-bikers’ photos?

Photos of professional cyclists can be found on various platforms. For example: official team websites often feature galleries of team members, cycling news websites and magazines regularly publish photos from races and events, etc.

Wrapping Up

As our expedition through the world of professional cycling draws to a close, the deliberate act of blocking noses among elite cyclists emerges not as mere eccentricity but as a calculated choice rooted in the pursuit of optimal performance. 

This exploration has illuminated the multifaceted nature of the strategy, intertwining science, and tactics. 

Pro cyclists, in their relentless quest for excellence, weave together intricate physiological considerations and performance-enhancing methodologies, transforming the seemingly mundane act of nasal blocking into a strategic masterpiece. 

In the grand tapestry of elite cycling, each unique choice, no matter how enigmatic, contributes to the thrilling narrative of athleticism and ingenuity.

Photo of author

robert dellert

I'm a professional BMX racer at Powerlite Bike co. I've been racing for the past 5 years. I started out as a kid with a bike and now I'm sponsored by some of the biggest brands in the industry. I love what I do and it's my dream to make it to the Olympics one day. LinkedIn

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