Anyone who has found themself panting during and/or after a run knows how important it is to have a good lung capacity for running.
Whether you’re someone who just wants to level up your pulmonary capacity or you’re just getting started with running and want to know what to do, this article is for you.
We’ll cover some exercises and tips for increasing lung capacity when you’re a runner, making your runs more enjoyable. After incorporating these tips, you shouldn’t find yourself panting for breath during or after a run anymore.
Why Increasing Lung Capacity Is Important for Running
Your lung capacity plays a big role in how much oxygen you can get into your body. In that way, it determins how far and how fast you’re able to run. If it’s weak, you’ll only be able to run a few minutes before having to stop. You also will be limited running at a faster pace.
If you run for fun and aren’t too worried about pace or distance, then increasing your lung capacity might not be as important to you. However, if you want to improve as a runner, you’ll need to increase your lung capacity to get there.
Even if you haven’t gotten into running yet, you can make your transition into the sport that much more smooth by conditioning your body for running. Improving your lung capacity, including some things you can easily do on the couch, is a part of that.
How Can I Increase My Lung Capacity?
There are a variety of ways that you can increase your lung capacity both on the road, trail, or track or at home, and you’ll get the most benefits from using a combination of all of these methods.
Run Longer, Faster, or Harder
One of the best ways to increase lung capacity is actually to run. Introduce your body to increasingly more challenging runs. Hard intervals, longer distances, and quick tempo runs all push your lungs to adjust. In other words, lung capacity will increase the more you run.
While running to improve lung capacity is great, you can also get improved lung capacity and lung strengthening from any aerobic exercise. This includes cardio machines, spinning, swimming, dancing, and kickboxing. Anything that gets your heart pumping!
Aerobic exercise requires more oxygen than just sitting on the couch. You’re required to pick up your breathing, which in turn strengthens your lungs. Just think of aerobic exercise as lifting weights for your lungs. They will strengthen over time.
As a side note, it’s important to make sure that you’re using proper running form if you want to get the full benefit of running longer, faster, or harder. If you’re slouching the whole time in order to push at a certain intensity, you might not reap the same benefits as if you were standing up straight.
Practice Proper Breathing While Running
It can be so easy to get away with shallow breaths while you’re running. But they don’t give you the full benefit of nice, deep belly breaths. Be sure to breathe through your diaphragm, and really make a point of expanding your torso with each breath. Some runners even feel like they shouldn’t be breathing deeply, as if this is a sign of struggling. Nothing could be further from the truth. Shallow breathing makes you less efficient. Deep, full breaths that really use your lung capacity get your body far more oxygen. And that means far more fuel for your muscles.
For controlled breathing on easy runs, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Ideally, you’ll do this rhythmically, which also has the side benefit of helping to prevent side stitches. If you find yourself getting side stitches a lot, you might not be breathing properly. Slow down and refocus on your breath and breathing capacity until the stitch goes away.
It’s best to inhale for slightly longer than you exhale. To keep your breathing even, you can match your inhales and exhales to your steps. Using an odd number of steps is best. For example, inhale for 3 strides, exhale for 2. The reason for this specification is so that your core is weakest when you transition from exhaling to inhaling. If you always do this on the same foot, it can create an imbalance in your body.
If the 3-2 count isn’t working for you, try something different. For example, maybe inhaling for 2 strides and exhaling for 1. Remember what’s going to be best for you is what is most comfortable for you in terms of breathing.
Try Pilates Exercises to Increase Lung Capacity
One great way to improve your lung capacity, which you can do from the comfort of your own home, is to try some pilates exercises. Any move that requires you to open your chest and stretch your intercostal muscles (located between your ribs) will deepen your lung capacity.
Start by lying on your back. Bend your legs at your knee and begin by inhaling and then exhaling. Bring your head up to your abs and move your arms up and down, inhaling with five short breaths and exhaling with five short breaths.
Start by lying with your stomach on the ground. Bring your head up so that you can look straight ahead. Inhale as you lift your abdominal muscles and exhale as you release. Repeat 3-5 times, making sure that you are breathing evenly.
3. Standing Chest Expansion
Start with your feet hip distance apart. Prepare by inhaling, and then exhale as you pull your arms down and back as far as you can.
Hold and inhale, turning your head from one side to the other. Exhale as you turn your head to the center and then inhale as you return your arms to the original position. Remember that you’re not trying to swing anything. It should be calculated movement.
Try Breathing Exercises to Increase Lung Capacity
You can also try breathing exercises to improve your lung capacity when you’re standing in line or sitting on the couch.
1. Numbered Breath
Begin by taking a deep breath and then exhaling slowly. Make sure that all of the air in your lungs is released. Then inhale again, exhaling for two seconds. Inhale again, exhaling for three seconds. Repeat until you reach eight seconds and then go back down or repeat from the beginning.
2. Pursed Lip Breathing
Start by breathing in for two seconds from your nose and then exhale for four seconds through pursed lips. Repeat as needed. If you tend to have shortness of breath, pursed lip breathing can help control this.
3. Diaphragm Breathing
Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent. Put one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your upper chest. Keep your chest very still when you take deep breaths, trying to use your stomach to breathe. You can also put a heavy book on your abdomen as well.
What are Some Other Tips?
If you’ve tried all of the tips above and are starting to see improvements in your lung capacity but still want to level up even more, you can try some of the tips below.
Exercise at High Elevations
If you tend to run in an area that is around sea level, you can increase your lung capacity by exercising somewhere that has a high altitude (likely 7,000 feet above sea level or more). The air at high elevations has substantially less oxygen, so deeper and more frequent breaths are needed to keep up with the work load.
That means that as you train at a high altitude, your body will adapt and will increase your VO2 max so that you can move oxygen through your bloodstream faster. This will increase and strengthen your lung capacity because you’ll pick up your breathing to adjust to the higher elevation.
Increasing your lung capacity is a great excuse to schedule a vacation to the mountains so that you can enjoy time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and get in some runs that will help you improve as an athlete.
Keep Lungs Healthy
This goes without saying, but you’ll want to make sure that your lungs are in the best condition possible. If you’ve been a smoker, now is the time to give it up. Running and smoking aren’t really compatible. If you haven’t gotten into smoking, don’t start.
You’ll also want to make sure that you keep your home ventilated. If possible, use air filters and open your windows whenever possible. Fresh air is good for your lungs, so try to make sure to schedule regular walks and runs outside on the trail where the air is freshest.
Avoid air-polluted environments, which is not always possible, especially if you live in a city. If you find yourself in this situation, try to get away from the city every once in a while for a run in the country.
In the end, increasing your lung capacity means that you can increase your running—from distance to speed to intensity. If you have started to plateau as a runner, taking the time to develop your lung capacity will give you what you need to level up.