How to breathe while running seems is such a strange thing to Google, right? It feels like we should know what to do instinctively, but there’s actually more to it than you might realize!
Should I breathe through my mouth or nose while running?
How can I increase my lung capacity for running?
How can I run without getting out of breath?
If you’ve found yourself asking these questions, then read on!! I’ve got a video demonstration of the best breathing technique for running, along with training tips to help you breath easier from start to finish.
What’s the Proper Breathing Technique for Running?
Once you’ve got your allergies under control and have ensured you’re running at a pace that is manageable (see below on details around these topics), there are still a few more tips and tricks to improve your breathing while running.
There are three or four common breathing techniques for running detailed below:
- Focus on in through the nose, out through the mouth
- Think about blowing air out through a straw
- It’s ok to breathe in some through your mouth
- Remember to keep your shoulders back and stand tall to have space in your lungs to breathe
- Try to calm your breathing (deep belly breathing)
- Focus on the exhale
Remember that the intensity of your run is going to influence how quickly you’re breathing. And you will increase the amount of mouth breathing over nasal breathing as your effort level increases.
On easy runs where you have a steady pace is the best time to practice breathing. Get a feel for how your energy changes or how you feel by testing out different techniques, breathing patterns, etc.
If you start to feel a shortness of breathe while testing things out, that’s often because you’re now overthinking how to breathe. Stop running for a minute, change your focus and then start the run again just letting yourself breathe naturally.
In this video, I’m going to show you a few techniques and why they are so important.
5 Steps to Learn How to Breathe Properly While Running
Now that we know the basics, let’s look at the tips and techniques we learned in the video in much more detail.
The proper breathing technique for runners is a combination of tips and techniques. Let’s look at these tips so that you can have a great run every time:
1. Breathe In Through Nose, Out Through Mouth (Chi Running)
The first step is to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth as though blowing through a straw. This keeps the flow slow and steady.
This method I’ve used for ages and find that it feels the most natural.
It prevents us from taking big gulps of air through our mouth which leads to over-breathing and sometimes hyperventilation. I use it in conjunction with the tips below on being calm and counting steps.
Not only is it a relaxing way of breathing, but it also ensures that you breathe a little bit slower, and this prevents us from over breathing.
BONUS TIP: Occasionally, you may want to do a forceful quick exhale to just push all the carbon dioxide out that often builds up when we aren’t breathing well. It’s a weird, but fun little reset to get back to your easy rhythmic breathing.
2. Ensure Calm, Even Breathing (Meditation Runners)
For those who have tried meditation, you can use what you learn in your practice by keeping a slow and easy breathing pattern.
In other words, try to focus on your breathing rhythms.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a big focus here. Diaphragmatic breathing, often known as belly breathing, is a technique for increasing your oxygen intake when running.
It works by using your diaphragm to expand your chest cavity and allow your lungs to properly expand to take in more oxygen.
Deep belly breathing promotes the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your muscles, keeping you from becoming fatigued.
It also has another advantage! Belly breathing has been shown in a growing number of studies to have a soothing impact, which can boost your attention and mental fortitude.
Great visual from Aptly.
While breathing this way, you don’t want to see your chest rising and falling, as much as you want to see your abdomen rising and falling
That means you’re not shallow chest breathing, but instead deep breathing to get more oxygen to the muscles. That’s going to prevent side stitches and cramps.
I’ve found this to be really helpful! I think about how calm my breath is during yoga and try to replicate that feeling when my lungs begin to burn during speed work.
It really does calm your mind, which allows your body to believe it’s not in a fight or flight mode.
✅3. Try Rhythmic Breathing While Running (Running on Air from Budd Coates)
Budd Coates provides one of the best systems I’ve heard of and in fact tried and come back to frequently.
When you are running, a significant amount of tension is absorbed by your body whenever your exhalations coincide with your foot strikes. Running with a rhythmic breath helps to equally transfer stress over both sides of your body.
This technique entails matching your inhalations and exhales to the cadence of your feet, so that your exhales alternate between right and left foot strikes.
When running, the normal rhythm of a runner’s breath is to inhale for two footstrikes and then exhale for two footstrikes.
However, this results in exhalations will constantly be on the same side of your body, putting undue pressure on your body and potentially increasing your risk of injury. Science showed there is more force in your stride during the exhale!
If you breathe rhythmically in an odd ratio, such as inhaling for two strides and exhaling for one, or inhaling for three strides and exhaling for two, each exhalation will correspond with an alternating right or left foot strike.
Variability like this can boost your endurance while lowering your chance of injury.
This technique of rhythmic breathing is also known as cadence breathing because it describes the number of steps you take on inhale and on exhale.
While it does take some practice and concentration at first, it can make breathing easier for runners who struggle with this and of course make you faster by delivering more oxygen!
You need to read the book to fully understand his system, but at the highest level it is as follows:
- Breathe in for 3 steps.
- Breathe out for 2 steps.
- Inhale and exhale based on your foot strikes.
- You’ll be alternating on which foot you exhale.
4. Do Chest Stretches Before Running
Now that we’ve covered the basic techniques of how to breathe while running, there are two other things to make sure of.
We’re doing all these breathing techniques to make sure we breathe right, but it’s also important to make sure our chest muscles aren’t the problem that’s stopping us from opening up our lungs.
Most of us tend to sit all day on the computer hunched over which then tightens everything up. So before we start running, we want to make sure we have good, open breathing.
Before you start running, find a wall and try some chest stretches. This will stretch your chest muscles allowing you to breathe with more ease while running.
5. Spend Some More Time on Your Warm Ups
I’ve mentioned dynamic warm-ups here countless times, and as a runner I’m sure you know just how important they are for preventing injuries and ensuring good running form.
But tweaking it a bit can help you breathe even better. This is especially important if you frequently have trouble breathing while running.
Do your normal walk, then maybe run for three to five minutes then walk again for a few more minutes before starting your full run.
This works great for loosening everything up and for getting those lungs open and ready for your runs. Try this tip and you’ll find yourself struggling a lot less to find that breath while running.
Tips for Managing Your Breathing While Running
- Start the run without a focus on breathe. Let your body get in to a natural rhythm.
- Distract yourself with music if necessary to stop thinking about your breathing (this is often the best way to find a rhythm!)
- Don’t spend the entire run focused on it. Just as you check in with your form, check in with your breathing.
- Do breathe exercises when not running to increase your lung capacity! You could cross train with swimming or do moves like Cat/Cow from yoga.
Please read this detailed article if you are running with asthma >>
Why Controlling Your Breathing While Running Matters
Maybe you’ve always had a hard time breathing while running or you never thought much about improving your breathing. Why should you care?
Proper breathing can change the way your runs feel and as a running coach, I’m all about finding the tools to make you enjoy it more.
Reduce Perceived Effort
We’ve talked about how running is a mental sport and each time your breathing becomes labored your brain immediately begins warning you to stop.
Perceived effort is controlled by your thoughts and lack of oxygen is absolutely going to force you to slow down or stop.
Muscles run on oxygen, that’s one of the reasons trainers used to spend time measuring VO2 max. It told them how much oxygen muscles were receiving and therefore gave them means to improve.
Better breathing means getting more oxygen flowing to your muscles as the workload increases.
What happens when we don’t breathe well:
- Muscles lacking oxygen become tight.
- The heart is unable to pump as efficiently.
- The nervous system feels frazzled.
- Your brain slows down.
- The body’s ability to produce energy is decreased.
As noted above with less fatigued muscles you’ll be able to run farther and faster!
And of course you’ll prevent side stitches while running, which are not only painful, but going to stop you in your tracks.
You’ll also see how Budd Coates swears his technique reduces injury, which means more consistent training and once again that leads to improved performance!
6 Common Causes of Breathing Issues while Running
If I had a dollar for everyone who has ever told me that they can’t figure out why it’s so hard to breathe while running…I’d probably buy a couple new pairs of running shoes.
So what is it that actually makes it hard for us to breathe?
1. Fitness Levels
We develop more lung capacity as we train, which means that starting out we might find ourselves sucking a bit more wind. Have faith that the more you train, the more your body will adapt and make it feel easier.
2. Running Too Fast
Many runners start out too fast and the body isn’t yet ready for that speed or simply requires more oxygen to maintain that pace (in other words, slow down!).
You’re likely also using poor breathing techniques when you’re pushing the pace beyond your threshold. You start to pant like a dog (it’s natural to try and suck in more oxygen), but increases the HR.
3. Poor Breathing In General
Did you know that on average most of us aren’t breathing correctly at all??
How to test this:
- Take a deep breath
- Do your shoulders go up and your chest expand? Or does your belly expand?
Correct would be for your belly to expand because that means you’re fully using your diaphragm which ensures that you are truly taking in enough oxygen and then expelling the CO2.
This is actually a piece of training, which seems so simple that it’s often entirely ignored, but you should work on training yourself to breath better.
4. Exercise-induced Asthma
If you find yourself wheezing or struggling to breathe, check with a doctor to see if this is the case, they can find options to help!
The most common symptoms are coughing, your throat feeling tight and can certainly be made worse during allergy season. This could be something you only notice during high intensity workouts or something that comes on consistently with every run.
Read more on running with asthma >>
5. Seasonal Allergies
If your breathing issues happen especially around spring or fall when pollen, ragweed or other things are flitting about the air, then good news it might just be allergies.
Checkout 12 tips for running with allergies for ways to resolve these breathing issues.
6. Exercising at Higher Altitude
Let’s be honest this one is my biggest issue since moving to Colorado!
Coming from sea level to higher elevation there is a reduction in the amount of oxygen available in the air and it takes your body a while to adapt to running at altitude.
And yes even those of us living in Denver at 5,000 feet notice a difference when we go up to the mountains at 8000+ feet! Our body wants the maximum oxygen available and when there is less, it starts to make all kinds of things feel harder.Tired of getting side stitches or feeling out of breath while #running? Checkout these tips! Click To Tweet
How to Learn Better Breathing
Just like we train to be better runners, why shouldn’t we train to improve our breathing, knowing that it can have a massive impact on our performance goals!
So of course we think about how we breathe while running, but that’s impacted by how you breathe all the time.
- Utilize more yoga classes, where there is a focus on learning to breathe
- Practice cat cow on your own, to get better at expanding and then fully emptying yourself of air
- Box breathing: inhale for 5 watching your belly expand, hold for 5, exhale for 5, hold for 5 (start with 3 seconds if needed)
- Try some thing like this App to help guide you through breathing exercises.
Like improving our posture, this is something you’ll have to pay conscious attention to for awhile, until it simply becomes how you breathe.This exercise from Dr Andrew Weil is his proof that our breathing is central to managing our stress and anxiety, because as we slow down and increase the oxygen to our brains we feel better. Graphic Source.
I hope all of this gave you some new ways to work on how how to breathe while running!
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