18th July 2014 Tour de Lungs

As a result of Le Grand Depart in Yorkshire, and the millions who cheered at the roadside, the Tour de France has received much media attention.  One of the factors that cyclists who participate in the Tour have in common is that they have a huge lung capacity.

What are lungs and what do they do? The medical text, Gray’s Anatomy, states "The lungs are the essential organs of respiration; they are two in number, placed one in each of the lateral cavities of the chest, separated from each other by the heart and contents of the mediastinum…" In other words, lungs are the organ that enable one to breathe.

They transfer oxygen from the atmosphere to the bloodstream and also they get rid of carbon dioxide from the bloodstream into the atmosphere. Lungs work like bellows sucking in and blowing out air. It is important for racing cyclists to have a huge lung capacity because the more air that they can inhale and exhale when racing, the greater the amount of oxygen that can be absorbed into the blood stream. More oxygen leads to more oxygenated blood, which means more red blood cells. More red blood cells result in a better aerobic performance. Miguel Indurain, who won 5 successive Tours had lungs so big that they displaced his stomach. His lung capacity was 8 litres – 30% larger than the average man.

Lung performance is also assessed by a measure called Vo2 max or aerobic capacity. This is a measure of how much oxygen the body uses when exercising at it’s maximum for an extended period. Inevitably cyclists in the Tour have high Vo2 max levels.  Indurain’s  Vo2 max levels were 88 ml/kg/min – which is almost double that to an average man.

Most of us would dream of having the lung capacity or Vo2 max of a cyclist. Indeed, many would dream of having an average person’s lung capacity or Vo2 max.

Moving from one extreme to another, from elite racing cyclists to people who have had their lungs damaged by their working environment. I have had clients who have suffered from conditions which have affected the lungs such as asbestosis or asthma. In some tragic cases this has resulted in death or has had a significant effect upon the client and their family’s day-to-day life. For example, when the client has needed oxygen at home to help them breathe or they have been unable to do what were once simple day-to-day tasks. In other cases significant, but less severe, injuries to the lungs have been caused. Sometimes,  the conditions affecting the lungs have been related to exposures at work of substances such as asbestos, colophony, wood dust, flour dust, isocyanates, pollutants and agricultural dusts. If you have been exposed to substances such as these and have been diagnosed with a lung related condition then please feel free to contact me.


Peter Lyons, Solicitor, Head of Industrial Disease, Industrial Disease Department

Peter joined Woodward Solicitors in September 2013. For Peter's professional profile please see - here






Henry Gray FRS "Gray’s Anatomy" (©1991 "The Promotional Reprint Company Limited")