Regardless if you are already a runner or just taking up running, breathing techniques for running are always an effective way to improve your performance. If you find yourself getting out of breath quickly, chances are you are breathing at an irregular pattern or overwhelming yourself.
Luckily, there is always room for improvement. On your next run, consider some of these practices and breathing tips for running, as they can help you get the most out of your run without feeling exhausted.
Why Do You Struggle to Breathe While Running?
The hardest part about getting into exercise is often something that comes naturally to us humans; breathing. How come, then, do our bodies respond differently the minute we increase our pace?
First, we need to understand the physiological processes that occur in our bodies to produce energy. When we run, our muscles start contracting and use the energy stored in our bodies as fuel by burning glucose (ATP), a process that uses oxygen faster and produces water and carbon dioxide. Consequently, we inhale more and faster to substitute for the lost oxygen and give off the excess carbon dioxide. This means a shortage of oxygen happens temporarily until our bodies begin to adjust to the exercise.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
There are many ways to condition your body to adjust better to the physiological changes that occur when we run. First, consider some of the common mistakes that may affect your performance. Our bodies are a mechanism in which each organ and system play their part, so it functions as a whole. That means that one small adjustment can seriously improve your running.
Starting Too Fast
There is nothing wrong with sprints and interval training, but if you intend to run for a longer distance, starting too fast will require more strength and energy, and consequently, you will be out of breath quicker. This will inhibit your ability to run longer distances and can potentially cause side stitches.
Breathing Too Shallow
When you take sharp, short breaths, you are using energy faster, while getting less oxygen. When you breathe in a shallow manner you are not allowing the lungs to fill properly with air, which makes you tense and causes you to run out of breath faster.
Your water intake is crucial not only for running but for your general well-being. If you are thirsty, drink water. Simple as that. Severe dehydration while running can cause a headache, your muscles can spasm and cramp, you may feel fatigued, your eyes and mouth will be dry. When you are dehydrated, the body doesn’t have enough water to produce sweat and regulate its temperature, causing you to get overheated.
Deep Belly Breathing
If you are also guilty of shallow breathing, do not alarm; it is prevalent among adults, and it is something you can work towards fixing. Deep belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, or abdominal breathing, however you may want to call it, is an innate breathing manner for humans, but that gets suppressed into shallow chest breathing over time due to various factors. What, then, is the difference between the two?
Deep belly breathing vs. shallow chest breathing
Simply put, deep belly breathing is when you breathe while contracting your diaphragm, the muscle that sits below our chest and separates it from the abdomen. When you breathe with your diaphragm, you will notice that your lower belly will rise as the diaphragm drops downwards and pulls your lungs, so they expand. When you breathe out, the diaphragm presses upward and against the lungs and allows for a more prolonged excretion of carbon dioxide.
Shallow chest breathing, on the other hand, restricts this deep, full movement of the diaphragm and lungs. When running, shallow chest breathing is very common due to intense muscle movement and increasing heart rate. However, practicing deep breathing will help stabilize your heartbeat and lower blood pressure, which will help in the long run, literally.
How can you practice deep belly breathing?
Before applying it on your runs, start by practicing diaphragmatic breathing when standing still first. Find a quiet and comfortable spot to sit or lie down, and begin by taking a normal breath first. Then, take a deep, slower breath, after which you should feel the air you inhale moving downward your lower stomach. Let your chest expand as you inhale, and slowly exhale either through your nose or mouth (or both). Do this several times as you pay attention to the rhythm of your breath and gain awareness of it. To help observe this method better, you can put your hand on your belly and feel it expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale.
You can practice deep breathing everywhere and at any time of the day. The practice is also known in yoga as Pranayama, which you can further explore if it is something that interests you. After some practice, this method will be very useful when you start to apply it on your next run.
There are many opinions on whether you should breathe only through your nose when running. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons and compare them to mouth breathing to better understand it.
Nose vs. mouth breathing
By breathing through your nose, the respiratory system can warm and humidify the air you breathe, in comparison to breathing with your mouth only. Nasal breathing reduces the effects of hyperventilation while running and is optimal when you are at a slower pace. At a fast pace, however, it is harder to intake the amount of oxygen you need through your nose only, which is where mouth breathing comes in.
During a high-intensity exercise, as your heart rate increases, it will become harder to breathe through your nose only, so alternate between nasal and oral breathing. The important thing is to control your breath by intaking enough oxygen and releasing enough carbon dioxide.
How to Control Breathing While Running?
Receiving running advice is often easy in theory but harder to apply when it comes to the real deal. Sometimes, it can become quite overwhelming to follow each and every piece of information you get, especially if you are just getting started as a runner. Running should not be the most effortless activity, but it should also not be strenuous and stressful. Here are some tips that you can experiment with and apply step by step while listening to your body’s needs and choosing what works best for you.
Take it slow
Again, running should not be a struggle. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced runner, practice running at a slow, conversational pace to gain control of your breathing first. This will allow your muscles and respiratory system to build endurance and improve glycogen storage, so you gradually prepare for faster and more challenging runs.
Warm up your respiratory system
Before you start your run, take some minutes to focus on your breathing only. Start by taking some deep breaths and practice the deep belly breathing method. You can do this in a static position or start by walking slowly and gradually increasing your speed while in control of your breathing. This is helpful so that you give your body time to adjust to the pace and intensity progressively.
An essential breathing technique is to stick to a rhythm. The easiest way to do this is to match your breathing with your cadence by inhaling and exhaling as your steps hit the ground. There are various patterns you can try and adjust according to how fast you are running. For example, the 3:2 pattern, in which you inhale three times and exhale twice, is best for when you are at a slower pace. If your pace is faster, you can try the 2:1 pattern; inhaling twice and exhaling once.
These patterns will not only help you control your breath, but they will also help put less stress on one side of the body only. The 3:2 and 2:1 patterns will help prevent muscular imbalance as you exhale on alternating foot strikes.
Breathing is the most powerful tool and fuel for your runs. The more your awareness and control over it grows, the more natural it will become over time.