How to Breathe While Running

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!


Once you have ensured you are running at a pace that is manageable, there are still a few more tips and tricks to improve your breathing while running.


CHI RUNNING

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.


— It prevents us from taking big gulps of air through our mouth which leads to over breathing and sometimes hyperventilation.


MEDITATION RUNNERS

For those who have tried meditation, you can use what you learn in your practice by keeping a slow and easy breath pattern. In other words, try to focus on your breathing and let it be natural.


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.


Running on Air from Budd Coates provides one of the best systems I’ve heard of and in fact tried. 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.


Tips for managing your breathing while running:

  • Start the run without a focus on breathing. Let your body get into 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.

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?


Fitness Levels

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.


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 and the top of your chest go up? Or does your belly expand?


Optimally, your ribcage would expand in all directions, 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.


Exercise-induced Asthma

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.


Allergies

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.

WHY CONTROLLING YOUR BREATHING 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?

Perceived Effort

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.


Decreased Fatigue

Muscles run on oxygen, that’s one of the reasons some trainers spend time measuring VO2 max. It tells 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.


Improved Performance

As noted above with less fatigued muscles you’ll be able to run farther and faster!


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 ribcage expand, hold for 5, exhale for 5, hold for 5 (start with 3 seconds if needed)

  • Try something like this App to help guide you through breathing exercises. Unless you have the apple watch, which does it for you!


Like improving our posture, this is something you’ll have to pay conscious attention to for a while, until it simply becomes how you breathe.


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