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.
How to Breathe While 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
- 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
In this video, I’m going to show you a few techniques and why they are so important.
Chi Running – In Through Nose, Out Through Mouth
This form recommends you 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.
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.
Meditation Runners – Calm, Even Breathing
For those who have tried meditation, you can use what you learn in your practice by keeping a slow and easy breathe pattern.
In other words, try to focus on your breathing and let it be natural.
- Diaphragmatic breathing is a big focus here
- 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 taking shallow breathes, but instead deep breathing to get more oxygen to the muscles
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 calms your mind, which allows your body to believe it’s not in a fight or flight mode.
He provides one of the best systems I’ve heard of and in fact tried and come back to frequently.
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 and out for 2 steps.
Inhale and exhale based on your foot strikes.
This breathing rhythm helps to change the side of your body that is absorbing the most impact. Exhaling is he found you place more pressure in to your step!
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.
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…so 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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.Great visual from Aptly.
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.
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 more tips to manage spring allergies for runners for ways to resolve these breathing issues.
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!
- 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 somethinglike 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.
Do you focus on your breathing?
Have you ever tried to change your breathing style while running?
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