When it comes to running, the phrase “every second counts” may never have been more true.
In fact, in competitive events, even a split second can be the difference between winning and losing.
As a result, runners are constantly looking for every option possible to give them an advantage.
Runners will change everything from their clothing and footwear to their diet and training, in the hope of discovering the perfect combination that works for them.
However, one of the most important factors for a runner is one that is constantly overlooked, and that is breathing.
While most will understand that breathing is important during sports, many think that breathing is just something our body does that we have no control over.
In reality, that is far from the case, and there are plenty of ways to optimise your breathing for the activity you are performing.
With that in mind, I’ll now explain to you how to breathe while running.
We will look at 5 breathing tips to maximise your running ability, to take both your performance and results to the next level.
Why Is Breathing Important For Running?
Breathing is incredibly important for running as it dictates how much oxygen is drawn into your lungs and distributed to the muscles around your body.
If you don’t breathe in an optimal and efficient manner, your muscles may not receive as much oxygen as they need.
This means they won’t be able to contact as hard, or for as long, as they are capable of, which will limit both your explosiveness and endurance.
Ensuring you breathe effectively is also important for your comfort while you are running. It will help to limit the build up of lactic acid, limiting painful feelings like cramps and stitches, while preventing the kind of short, hyperventilating breaths that can hurt the throat and lungs.
The 5 Top Breathing Tips For Running
I will now show you the 5 top breathing tips for running.
These will be things that help optimise your breathing technique, to maximise both your comfort and performance while running.
1. Use Different Rhythmic Breathing Patterns Depending On Intensity
Trying to synchronise your breaths to your running pattern is a really effective way to optimise your breathing.
By matching your steps with your breathing, you allow the muscles throughout your body to contract and relax in a pulsing pattern, rather than always having something contracting.
It also allows you to get into a rhythm and maximises the amount of oxygen that enters the lungs on each breath.
To do this effectively, you need to accelerate your breathing as you increase the intensity of your running.
The suggested breathing pattern, i.e., the number of steps you take when you inhale vs the number of steps you take when you exhale, is 3 to 3 for low intensity running or jogging, 2 to 2 for medium intensity running, and 1 to 1 for high intensity running and sprinting.
2. Understand What Diaphragmatic “Belly” Breathing Is
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, is where you take deep breaths, all the way down to your lungs, by contracting your diaphragm and abdominal muscles.
You generally want to try and utilise belly breathing wherever possible.
Filling your belly with as much air as you can optimises your maximal oxygen uptake, also known as your VO2 max, providing the most potent and consistent supply of oxygen possible to the muscles.
The alternative to diaphragmatic breathing is throat breathing.
This is best reserved for extremely intense sprints, such as a 100 metre race, where you need to move so quickly that it can be challenging to take deep breaths and the duration is shorter, so your oxygen levels aren’t depleted.
3. Know When To Use Nose & Mouth Breathing Techniques
While humans breathe through both their nose and their mouth, they both have their own benefits and drawbacks.
This means it is important to know when to use each type of breathing, as well as when it is advised to use a combination of the two.
Breathing through your nose is ideal for when you need to run at a slow or medium pace, as it warms and filters the air, taking out any pollutants and readying it to be sent to the muscles.
It is also ideal when in areas with heavy pollution, such as near traffic, or when there is lots of pollen.
Mouth breathing isn’t as refined as nose breathing, but it does allow you to take in considerably more oxygen.
This makes it the ideal choice for short, high intensity events, such as sprints.
The use of both the nose and mouth breathing is the ideal technique, as it provides all the benefits of nose breathing, while allowing you to dispel waste air through the mouth, as you continue to take fresh air in through the nose.
This does make it the most challenging though, so it is usually performed by those who have elite control over their breathing or when competing in endurance events, such as a marathon.
4. Use A Lung Exerciser
Lung exercisers are breathing devices that expand your airways, boost the strength and conditioning of your lungs, improve the strength of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, and remove any contaminants, such as mucus, from your airways, to enhance your breathing and lung capacity.
They are greatly beneficial for running, as well as most other endurance sports and activities.
This is because they not only maximise the amount of oxygen your lungs are able to take in and send to the muscles but they also mimic the feeling of running and interval training, leaving you better prepared.
Beyond enhancing your athletic performance, lung exercisers can also ease the symptoms of issues like asthma, atelectasis, bronchiectasis, chronic bronchitis, COPD, cystic fibrosis, emphysema, and flus and colds, as well as a range of other respiratory issues.
This makes them ideal for people striving to be competitive while dealing with chronic illnesses or simply trying to continue training while they are ill.
People in these situations are still advised to speak to a doctor before they start training though.
Which Lung Exerciser Should I Use?
These are two of the very best lung exercisers on the market, which offer all of the benefits you can hope to achieve with this sort of product and have been proven to be extremely effective.
That said, if for any reason neither of these two options meets all of your needs, there are a number of other great lung exercisers that we highly recommend on the market, one of which surely will.
5. Train Your Diaphragm With Specific Exercises
While diaphragmatic breathing is your best option, people often slip into the trap of resorting to throat breathing as it is much easier.
The best way to ensure you don’t make this mistake is to strengthen your diaphragm. Luckily, there are a few exercises you can do to achieve this.
Lie flat on the floor on your back and place a stack of heavy books on your stomach, just below your ribcage.
Try to lift the books by using your diaphragm to inflate your lungs, then hold them there for a count of five before lowering them again and repeating.
Take a deep breath to completely fill your lungs and hold it in. After 30 seconds, “sip” in a little more air, forcing it into your lungs.
Wait another 10 seconds, sip more air in, then wait another 10. Now, slowly exhale for 30 seconds to push all the air out. Breathe normally for a few seconds then repeat.
This is best performed while sitting down and when there are other people around, in case you inadvertently hyperventilate and require assistance.
Take a deep breath in to completely fill your lungs with air and hold it for four seconds.
Exhale to push all of the air back out again and hold this for four seconds as well, then repeat the process as many times as necessary. This method is known as box breathing.
Options like alternate nostril breathing, equal breathing, numbered breathing, pursed lip breathing, and rib-stretch breathing are good too.
Beyond strengthening your diaphragm, they can also warm it up before a run. This will prepare it and make it easier to use belly breathing during your session.
Working to improve your posture is also another good way to train your diaphragm.
By keeping your body in the correct position, it puts as little strain on your internal muscles and organs as possible, allowing them to operate as effectively as they can.
Learning how to breathe properly while running is essential for anyone who is going to have success in either the short or long term.
While on the surface it may not seem that important, refining your breathing technique can be what helps you win a race or set a new personal best time.
It is also incredibly important for people who have breathing difficulties or conditions such as asthma.
Knowing how to breathe properly can help to reduce your symptoms and put you on a level playing field with those who don’t have any breathing conditions, and often even ahead of them.
If you follow the five tips we have outlined in this article, there is no reason why you can’t optimise your breathing, take your running performance to the next level, and start competing with the very best performers your sport has to offer.