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It's easy to find a lot of information of how much swimmer's lungs are bigger than in general population and how it compares to other activities (with musicians playing wind instruments being on the top), however I've failed to find any information of how much time does it take for a swimmer to develop such a big lungs volume.

Is it because the studies were focused on professional swimmers, which swim from the childhood and already have increased lungs volume?

If, say, a hiker who was never training swimming in his life would like to go for swimming as the mean to increase lungs volume as a help for altitude adaptation, how many years of training would it require to gain significant effect?

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    This isn’t really something I’m entirely familiar with, but I was under the impression that lung capacity/volume is kind of a set thing. What you CAN do is improve efficiency in your lungs. Swimmers like Michael Phelps tend to be able to have much higher lactate thresholds. As a distance swimmer myself, I know the concept isn’t to take large breaths. Rather, you’re taking in enough air each time so that it can be almost entirely exhaled out in 2-3 strokes. I’d say I’m much closer to a state of hyperventilation doing this. You may want to read up on freediving as those are the OG breatholders.
    – Frank
    Jul 1 '19 at 0:10
  • @Frank - That is enough that it should probably be an answer, as you are correct and comments can be deleted at any time.
    – JohnP
    Jul 1 '19 at 14:15
  • It is also possible that having larger lungs (genetically) makes it likelier to be good at swimming, so the best swimmers will be those that had the larger lungs to begin with.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 2 '19 at 15:50
  • @JonCuster possible, but speculative. It's something that can be perfectly studied and measured, so I'm surprised on my failure of finding the answer. Unfortunately, I'm much too old to start uni and do the research myself, it could be a nice dissertation I suppose... Jul 2 '19 at 21:53
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Here are some studies that suggest how much can various types of exercise increase vital capacity of the lungs and in what time.


Study 1

Effects of swim training on lung volumes and inspiratory muscle conditioning (Journal of Applied Physiology, 1987)

Lung volumes and inspiratory muscle (IM) function tests were measured in 16 competitive female swimmers (age 19 +/- 1 yr) before and after 12 weeks of swim training. Eight underwent additional IM training; the remaining eight were controls. Vital capacity (VC) increased 0.25 +/- 0.25 liters, functional residual capacity (FRC) increased 0.39 +/- 0.29 liters, and total lung capacity (TLC) increased 0.35 +/- 0.47 in swimmers, irrespective of IM training.


Study 2

In this study Increasing lung capacity and cardiovascular ability by Mosesahi gymnastics in Gorontalo State University students (Annals of Tropical Medicine and Public Health, 2017)...

...performing "Mosesahi gymnastics" for 40 minutes per day for 3 times a week, increased vital capacity of the lungs in some participants (university students) by as much as 1.2 liters in 3 months (see Table 2).


Study 3

Lung-packing and stretching increases vital capacity in recreational freedivers (European Respiratory Journal, 2012)

The diver's lung training involved a set of 5 different lung exercises with yoga and lung packing maneuvers 5 times a week for 11 weeks. Mean vital capacity had increased across the training period, from 5.9 to 6.3 L or by 7.5%.

Lung packing = glossopharangeal insufflation or buccal pumping


Study 4

Swimmers may have large lung volumes because of increased number of alveoli.

The large lungs of elite swimmers: an increased alveolar number? (European Respiratory Journal, 1993)

These findings suggest that swimmers may have achieved greater lung volumes than either runners or control subjects, not because of greater inspiratory muscle strength, or differences in height, fat free mass, alveolar distensibility, age at start of training or sternal length or chest depth, but by developing physically wider chests, containing an increased number of alveoli, rather than alveoli of increased size.

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  • Thank you for fantastic answer. Especially study 4 suggests it's vital to learn swimming to school children. Jul 4 '19 at 20:51

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