Training With a Mouthpiece? One Researcher’s Journey

January 13, 2021 by
Photo credit: AIRWAAV
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CrossFitters are not shy when it comes to working smarter, not harder. So it’s no surprise that we’re the first to seek out new and innovative ways to get an edge on every aspect of training. Tools and accessories offer improved performance metrics from stability and strength (think knee sleeves and weightlifting belts), to endurance tracking (heart monitors and watches), and post-workout recovery (muscle stim). These training tools feel worn-in. Comfortable. They’re staples in most gym bags. We’re used to using them, and reaping the benefits. 

But there’s a new player in the space — one that claims to have benefits in all those performance areas. And one that works in an unlikely location… inside your mouth.

Photo credit: AIRWAAV

AIRWAAV is a relatively new training tool. It’s a performance mouthpiece that fits along your bottom teeth and pushes your jaw just forward enough to create the “optimal airway opening,” resulting in:

  • Increased endurance —  by reducing respiratory rate by 20%, resulting in less lactic acid production
  • Increased strength —  by improving muscular endurance
  • Faster recovery times — by reducing cortisol build up by up to 50%.
Photo credit: AIRWAAV

Says who? The company’s claims come from peer-reviewed and published research developed through creating and testing the AIRWAAV mouthpiece itself. But it didn’t exactly start out that way. 

The researcher behind the studies set out to prove the data wrong. Dr. Dena Garner is the Director of Undergraduate Research, as well as a full professor, at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. She’s been researching and testing mouthpieces and their effect on human performance since 2004, when she was approached by the then-startup mouthguard company.

  • “I was deeply skeptical… I don’t look at numbers until after a study is complete so I was floored when we found significant differences in reaction time with mouthpiece use for rifle shooters in a controlled laboratory setting,” Dr. Garner said. 
  • “Those results led me on a mission to figure out if it was a fluke or if it was real. I thought if it was real, and it had some physiological aspect, then I wanted to look at research which was objective such as blood and salivary measures. Thus, began my journey down the road to understand the mouthpiece use on physiological parameters such as lactate and cortisol. Then those studies time and time again proved that there were improvements in lactate, respiratory rate, and cortisol with mouthpiece use during exercise.”

Paid Partnership with AIRWAAV

Though it may seem like a new or novel concept, the idea of training with a mouthpiece actually dates back to the late 1980s, with research by dentists citing improvements in performance with the use of a MORA device (a type of mouthpiece which advances the mandible). According to Dr. Garner: 

  • The original testing methods were not precise, so the initial outcomes were questioned.
  • But in the early 2000s, the research began again with exercise physiologists, with findings that were objective and harder to question. “For example, we found in both blood and salivary samples, that cortisol levels were lowered with mouthpiece use during resistance training. In addition, my research has shown that respiratory rate and lactate levels are lowered with mouthpiece use during steady state exercise,” Dr. Garner said. 
  • Those findings mean more than just performance: “it also shows how the mouthpiece can impact post training recovery with the lowered cortisol levels because we know that elevated cortisol levels impair muscle repair after exercise and negatively affect immune function.”  

In the end, this may be bigger than just a training tool.  Before landing at the Citadel, Dr. Garner conducted postdoctoral research at the Medical University of South Carolina in the area of neurology, she studied the effect of drug interventions on the retinal function in rats with a disease similar to multiple sclerosis in humans. “It was a phenomenal opportunity which later opened the door for me to do current research in assessment of concussion and concussion recovery via the blink reflex,” she said.

  • “Though it might not seem obvious, my research with mouthpieces and performance have ties to the research I am doing with concussion and recovery.  Both areas (mouthpiece and concussion research) are novel and have positive implications for military and non-military populations.”

If you’d like to give an AIRWAAV performance mouthpiece a try, visit

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