Every runner has their own “tips and tricks” for running faster, longer, and more efficiently. But ask enough top runners, and you’ll see that one particular tip comes up often… Because it’s one of the best things you can do to boost your performance.
What is that secret tip? Learn how to breathe while running.
Right, whatever, you might say. I always breathe.
But there are right ways and wrong ways to do this. In this article, we show you the right way of doing it.
Here are some of the best breathing techniques and exercises for runners. Start working on these and stay consistent—you’ll see a positive difference if you stick to it.
How Does Breathing Affect Running Performance?
To perform any sort of physical activity, your body requires oxygen. When you breathe in, this oxygen is sent around the body and used for various purposes, one of which is to power muscles to do physical activity.
When your muscles get enough oxygen, they can adequately use the glycogen stored within them, so you’ll feel strong and powerful when running.
But when they’re not getting enough oxygen, they can feel weak, sore, and tired even when running short distances or at lower intensities.
Not getting enough oxygen to the muscles also means your body will fatigue faster. But learn how to breathe while running, and you can open up a whole new world of performance that’ll have you setting new personal records.
Ultimately, your breathing—whether good or bad—will correspond to the quality of your run performance.
Why Is It Hard to Breathe While Running?
Running might seem like something humans are built to do naturally, but the truth is, it’s quite physically demanding on the body.
Although the upper body gets less engagement than the lower body, running is a full-body workout that places a high load on the cardiovascular system.
This means that when you run, your muscles, heart, and lungs all need oxygen to perform at their best. In order to take in enough oxygen, you begin to breathe faster and deeper.
But when your cardiovascular system is already under strain from your activity, it becomes more difficult to take in enough breath.
When your body starts to fatigue, it also begins to recruit “secondary muscles”, like the intercostals, which will help to lower your diaphragm and bring in more oxygen.
However, these muscles can also “steal” oxygen away from other muscles, making it more and more difficult to run and breathe simultaneously.
Nose Breathing vs. Mouth Breathing: Which Is Best?
While it might seem like a good idea to inhale through your mouth because you can get more air, research shows that nose breathing—inhaling—is generally the more optimal choice. This is because it:
- Filters the air before it reaches your lungs.
- Increases the function of the diaphragm.
- Activates the autonomic nervous system.
- Leads to lower blood pressure.
- Slow your breathing down.
- Reduce CO2 in the blood.
Inhaling through the mouth may happen naturally when you’re running faster, as you won’t be able to take in enough oxygen through your nose to supply the muscles as they need it.
Ultimately, the best way to breathe—according to research—is to inhale through your nose and exhale more forcefully through your mouth. If you begin to feel lightheaded or dizzy, breathe through your mouth and nose briefly.
Breathing Techniques for Running
These breathing techniques can be used mid-run to increase the oxygen you’re taking in and improve your performance.
Belly breathing utilizes the full capacity of the lungs. It may take some time to get used to this kind of breathing, because most of us breathe too shallowly. This kind of breathing is an excellent way to increase your oxygen intake.
It’s a good idea to practice belly breathing—diaphragmatic breathing—before running. If you’re running with proper form, you may hold a slightly tight core, which can make belly breathing difficult in the beginning.
Practice it at first by lying on the floor and placing one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Breathe in deeply through your nose and allow your stomach to expand as you do so.
Try to make your exhales last longer than your inhales. Do this for 5 minutes or so, once or twice a day for a few days. Also, try to incorporate this type of breathing during the day, even while sitting at your desk or watching TV.
Begin incorporating it into your daily runs for a few minutes at a time. Try it first during your slower runs, or slow down for a few minutes while you’re practicing it during your run.
Over time, if you practice it often, this kind of breathing should become a habit for you to do both when running and in daily life.
Rhythmic breathing is a great way to be mindful when running and improve your breathing at the same time. In this technique, you’ll match your breathing to your footsteps.
You may need to experiment a little to find the right formula. Generally, breathing in for 3 steps and out for 3 steps is a good way to start, but you can adjust up or down as you feel comfortable.
You may prefer inhaling for 3 steps and exhaling for 4 steps. It’s up to you, and may also depend on the pace and intensity of your run. You might lengthen the inhales and exhales during slower, easy runs and shorten them on faster runs.
Pursed-lip breathing slows your breathing and allows oxygen to remain in your lungs for long enough for most of it to be absorbed. It’s a bit easier to do that belly breathing so that it may be a better choice for beginners.
Inhale deeply through your nose. As you exhale, purse your lips and push the air through your lips. This should slow your exhale, so it’s about twice as long as your inhale.
Common Breathing Mistakes to Avoid
Knowing the biggest mistakes can help you avoid them right from the start. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when it comes to your breathing.
Holding Your Breath
For some people, holding their breath seems to come naturally when running. If this is you, you might hold your breath until you have to breathe again and then find yourself gasping for air before holding it again.
This means your body doesn’t have a constant supply of oxygen. Your muscles and organs won’t handle this well, and you’ll fatigue quickly.
Breathing Too Shallowly
If you aren’t breathing down to your belly, you’re missing a lot of oxygen. It’s like only filling a bottle halfway with water every time and then wondering why you’re getting thirsty halfway through the day!
Breathing Too Quickly
Breathing too fast means you don’t have time to take a lot of oxygen into your lungs. Each breath is too short to get enough in, which means your oxygen levels are going to drop, and your performance will suffer.
Tips for Breathing Efficiently While Running
Ready to change your performance by changing your breathing? Here are some of our top tips to breathe efficiently while running.
Maintain Proper Posture
When your body begins to fatigue, or if you sit behind a desk all day, you may inadvertently slump your shoulders or slouch when you run. This can negatively affect your breathing by “cramping” the lungs, not giving them enough room to expand fully.
Make sure to keep your shoulders relaxed and down, your head up, and your back as straight as possible. This will reduce the change of extra pressure on the lungs as you begin to slouch.
Find Your Rhythm
Matching your breathing to your cadence is an excellent way of getting into a rhythm. You can experiment with different rhythmic patterns, like inhaling for 3 steps, exhaling for 3 steps, or inhaling for 2, exhaling for 3.
See what feels more comfortable for you. You can also change this up based on the intensity of your run—for example; your rhythm may be different on an easy run than it would be on a more intense interval run.
Relax and Release Tension
It’s a great idea to do neck, shoulder, and back stretches as part of your warm-up routine because this is where many of us hold our tension.
A tense upper body can restrict your breathing as it keeps the chest tight, stopping it from filling up correctly and making belly breathing difficult.
You can also do gentle shoulder and neck relaxation exercises throughout the day and make sure you’re maintaining a good posture.
Gradually Increase Endurance
One of the best ways to build your lung capacity and increase your endurance is interval training—HIIT or regular-intensity intervals—hill repeats and long runs.
Mixing up your runs can help to accelerate your endurance as your body has to adapt quickly to each type of run.
Practice Breathing Exercises
One of the best things about breathing exercises is that they’re easy to do and don’t take long. You can do them before you get out of bed in the morning, during your lunch break, or before bed.
The key is to do breathing exercises when you’re NOT running. This will strengthen the muscles involved in the breathing process and help them to do their job more efficiently.
You might be surprised to hear that dehydration can affect lung function. The lungs are made up of tissues, just like everything else in the body, and they need to be properly hydrated to perform at their best.
Maintaining adequate hydration is a small but significant way of improving your breathing during a run. The better hydrated you are, the better your lungs will function!
Practice Mindful Running
Mindfulness is all about being aware of the present moment. One of the best ways to be mindful is to focus on breathing. This puts you more in tune with your body, but it’s also a wonderful way of learning to breathe while running.
Mindful running while paying attention to your breathing helps you to match your breathing to your cadence, maintain your rhythm, and stay in sync with your own body, which helps you to…
Listen to Your Body
If you’re feeling breathless or getting pain in your throat or chest from how you’re breathing, slow down and take a break. Always pay attention to your body and how it feels, and listen to what it tells you.
Take a break if you’re having difficulty maintaining your breathing during a run. Slow down and walk until you catch your breath, or stop completely if necessary. Once you’ve caught your breath, you can increase your intensity again.