Are you breathing correctly when you run?

Managing your breathing is generally pretty important for us human beings – and when it comes to running, that fact is no different.

While a lot of runners have perfected their own techniques to ensure they keep moving effectively without getting breathless and retaining their stamina, many runners still make the same easy mistakes. Ensuring you're controlling your breathing will allow you to run for longer and in a more efficient fashion — and hey, who doesn’t want to be efficient?

So sit back, take a big, deep breath, and check out our tips for managing your breathing while running for a better, more rounded performance.

Nose or mouth?

Both your nose and your mouth are useful body parts when it comes to breathing. As such, a lot of runners get confused about which is more effective to use as a primary source of oxygen intake when running, and with a lot of mixed messages out there on what’s better, it’s easy to be muddled.

The main thing to remember is this – more oxygen, better running. Your body is going to need as much oxygen as possible when you’re bashing out kilometre after kilometre, and as such, you should use the biggest source of intake you have, which is your mouth.

Breathing through your mouth allows for more oxygen to enter the body and faster too – your nostrils are only so big, and solely breathing through smaller passageways are only going to slow you down and leave you more breathless.

Breathe from the belly

Otherwise known as diaphragmatic breathing (that’s breathing from your diaphragm) is encouraged for runners to help build stronger breathing muscles to have a greater capacity for breath while running.

Again, it’s all about being able to inhale as much air as possible, and breathing from your diaphragm allows for more oxygen to enter the body. Learning to ‘belly breathe’ may take a bit of practice, but we recommend it as a technique to really help maximise your performance efficiency.

Keep your upper body straight, take in air through your nostrils and let the air go straight to your belly, letting it expand as you inhale before take a big out-breath from your mouth. Practice this, and you’re already on your way to building your breathing stamina.

Build a rhythm

There are a lot of theories out there about what patterns work best for which scenarios, and while a lot of them come with some value, it’s easy to get wound up and confused by the contrasting opinions of just how you should be breathing as you run.

The simple answer is that there really isn’t one perfect ratio that you should be aiming for every time you put your trainers on. What most runners should do is just identify and stick to whatever rhythm works for their running specifically.

Some runners try to take an inhale of breath as they land with each footstrike, which in the running-science world is known as LCR (locomotor-respiratory coupling). Try it, and if you find matching your breathing with your cadence helps you to keep your respiratory stamina at a high-level, then keep it up!

There are a number of patterns that runners, trainers and experts will tell you to try, most of which have a lot of good value to them.

In a previous article on how you can better your marathon time, we recommended trying to maintain a 2:2 breathing rhythm in order to improve your efficiency. The 2:2 rhythm suggests that runners take two steps (one left and one right) whilst breathing in, and follow it by two steps (one left and one right) whilst breathing out. This is a good pattern to try as it encourages you to maintain your rhythm over the course of your run.

Other runners will aim for a 1:2 rhythm, which basically means taking one step breathing in and two steps breathing out, although this is probably recommended for those near the end of their run as it encourages the runner not to take in large inhales.

Another popular method is the 2:1 rhythm. Take 2 steps (one left and one right) breathing in and one step breathing out. This approach will allow you to increase your oxygen level to 60 breaths/minute and can be more useful if you’re wanting to expand on your intake of breath.

Whichever you choose, it’s best to practice it and make sure it’s best suited to the type of running you do. Learn from it and find whatever works best for your body.

Work on your form

If you’re slouched over and compressing your upper-body, chances are, you’re not taking in as much breath as you could be.

A good way to improve your breathing is to make sure your form is as good as it can be — namely, remember not to slouch!

Keep your posture strong and steady, like having your head aligned with your spine, and you’ll find it easier to take in more oxygen than if you’re form is off-centre and poorly postured.

Don’t forget to warm-up

Warming up your body is of great importance to prevent injuries and ensure you’re active and ready for the gruelling session ahead – but it’s also important to raise your breathing to the level of intensity it’ll have to perform constantly at over the course of your run.

It’s recommended that to get the best out of your breathing, you should try deep breathing exercises. Try some of the following and see what works best for your movement:

  • Rib-stretch breathing

Stand up straight and arch your back as you exhale as much air as you possibly can. As you go to breathe in, make your inhales slow and gradual to take in as much oxygen as you can before you have to exhale again.

  • Numbered breathing

This is where you use numbers to help you stay on track with your breathing. Essentially, you stand up straight, close your eyes and take a big inhale until your lungs are full, before emptying the air with a big exhale. With your eyes closed, picture the number 1 in your head as you take your next inhale, then exhale again. On your next inhale, picture the number 2. Repeat this until you reach the number 8.

  • Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is believed to help relax the body and mind and reduce anxiety. It consists of breathing in through one nostril and out the other, blocking the pathway by pressing a nostril in with your finger or thumb to close the air passage. Start by breathing in through one nostril then closing the air passage, then breathing out and in through the other. Repeat this for five minutes before finishing with an exhale of the left side.

  • Equal breathing

Often used in yoga practices, equal breathing is a relaxer and helps you tune into your body’s natural breathing patterns. Start by taking a big inhale and count to four. Then exhale and again do it to the count of four. Repeat this to set a steady tempo to your breathing.

  • Pursed-lips breathing

Stand or lie down to keep your back straight. Breathe in and allow the air to flow down to your abdomen. As your abs fill with air, purse your lips together (as if you’re slightly pouting or about to blow on a piping hot cup of tea) and breathe out slowly, taking longer to exhale and focus on allowing the air to flow out of your mouth. Repeat this, altering the number of seconds you breathe out for, working up or down, depending on what suits you best.

While practising breathing exercises might not be initially too high on a lot of runner’s to-do lists, repeating the exercises can help better your breath control when running, which in turn, allows for a better focus on your overall performance, and an improvement on your respiratory stamina.

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