In this post, we partnered with Lisa Shea, a popular yoga and mindfulness author, to explore the topic of how to breathe while running.
Breathing is critical for life, and it’s something we do in our day-to-day lives without thinking about.
When it comes to exercise and running, however, many people struggle to find a comfortable breathing pattern, and experiment with different methods.
Let’s look at what the key factors are in breathing while running, and then we’ll introduce the best-proven techniques for effortless breathing while running.
By adapting better breathing techniques, runners can experience better efficiency, a more consistent running pace and form, and a more relaxed mind.
Let’s get into it!
The Basics of Breathing
Breathing delivers oxygen and expels carbon dioxide.
The oxygen is obviously important – it helps create energy, and any kind of restriction in that delivery of oxygen can lead to problems.
If we are breathing too shallowly or quickly, our body feels tension.
Stress hormones are released, and less energy is available to fuel your activity.
On the other hand, if we are breathing slowly and deeply, providing ample oxygen, our body naturally relaxes. It reduces blood pressure and balances the system.
So . . . how does this apply to running?
Breathing while Running – Fundamentals
Your breath is critically important during a run.
Your body is managing a wealth of processes all at the same time.
It needs oxygen in order to operate at peak performance.
At the same time, clearly you can’t take in incredibly long, slow, deep breaths, because your body needs oxygen more quickly than that.
The more you practice breathing deliberately, the better your body will get at managing this balance.
The more that you work on this, the better your lungs will get at finding that balance. At bringing in the most oxygen it can at a steady rate.
Getting your breathing while running correct is essential, especially when preparing to ramp up your miles if training for a marathon or similar event.
Breathing Techniques – Before You Go Running
Before addressing your breathing while running, first take some time at home to check out your own breathing.
Deep Vs Shallow Breathing
Deep breathing is taking long, deep ‘belly breaths’ – you should feel your torso expand beneath the ribcage as your lungs fill with air.
Shallow breathing is shorter and sharper breaths – your chest will pump up and down more frantically. Shallow breathing uses more energy, delivers less oxygen, and is associated with states of higher anxiety.
At all times, we want to be aiming for deep breathing as opposed to shallow breathing.
Practice Deep Breathing Pre-Run
If we can have our body energized and relaxed at the same time, that provides the perfect balance to have a great run.
Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and taking in a long, slow, deep breath.
Let the air fill your upper chest, mid chest, and then lower chest.
Pause for a moment.
Then exhale, slowly, surely, pressing out all those toxins.
Consciously focus on deep, slow breathing. This will prime your behaviour for running.
How To Breathe While Running – The Technique
The main technique we’re going to use is called the 2:2 method.
This simply means that while running, you’ll inhale for two counts, then exhale for two counts.
Keeping the inhale / exhale actions the same length helps steady your breathing pattern, and a count of two is sufficient time to perform a deep breath without forcing the air.
Some practical tips on implementing the 2:2 method:
– The 2:2 method is designed to be used when running at a comfortable pace – yet faster than jogging.
– Consciously place your focus on the act of deep breathing as you run.
– Breathe through your mouth, or mouth and nose. Don’t attempt to simply breathe through your nose – that route is too little for sufficent oxygen to enter your lungs when running normally.
– We recommend practicing the 2:2 method while running without headphones, so you can focus on your breathing fully.
If the 2:2 method is too challenging, you may wish to begin with a more gentle pace and try for 3:3 or 4:4 intervals.
Beginner runners may find they have to take regular walking breaks – that’s OK.
The focus should always be on completing a deep, belly breath.
Nose Vs. Mouth Breathing For Runners
Often you’ll hear how you should focus on breathing through your nose.
This is regularly practised in yoga classes and several other forms of exercise.
Your nose has all sorts of filtering systems to block pollen, dust, and dirt from getting into your lungs. It helps to ensure your lungs stay as clean and high-functioning as possible.
However when it comes to running, things are different.
Even though you might be outside, and even though there might be items in the air to filter, when you’re running it’s best to breathe through your mouth.
Your goal during a run is to get as much oxygen into you in one breath so your body has the raw materials it needs to refuel muscles, maintain tendons, and do the millions of other activities it needs to do to keep you going.
You’re performing an intense cardiovascular work-out and need to maximise your oxygen input, not restrict it.
Now is the time to let the full wide stream of oxygen pour into you, keeping you going.
Hazards for Breathing
It’s worth mentioning that you want to keep your lungs in as healthy a condition as possible to reach your ideal running ability.
Lungs which are compromised will have a much harder time bringing in oxygen and doing the carbon dioxide exchange.
Avoid smoking. If you know people who smoke, do your best not to inhale their second-hand smoke.
Keep your home areas clean so they do not clog up the air with mold or dust.
Do you have allergies?
Work with a doctor to figure out what they are and how to minimize them. It might be worth it to look into an air filter for the rooms you use most often, to give your lungs a chance to work without as much strain.
Building your Breathing Capacity
Your lung capacity actually works like every other muscle in your body – it can be built up with proper resistance training.
The more oxygen you can get in with each breath, the more relaxed your breathing will be when you run.
Imagine you are trying to run with a face mask on so only small amounts of oxygen get through to you.
You’ll probably end up gasping like a fish fairly quickly. The same thing happens – although to a less extreme level – if you run without your full lung capacity.
Try adding a meditation practice to your daily schedule – one that involves a breathing pattern as a component.
That will give you a chance to focus wholly on your breathing. The more you practice at it, the more you can get a sense of just how deeply the body can breathe.
When we’re hunched over phones or tablets or computers all day, we can come to think that small-breath, small-lung system is all we’ve got. We can forget just how powerful our bodies really are.
Try lying flat on your back to give your lungs their largest space to work with. Put a hand on your belly. Draw in a long, slow, deep breath, letting your belly fill out like a balloon. There. That’s what your lungs can do. Now squish it all out, out, out, until your system is empty.
Breathing is a critical part of every moment.
It’s even more important during a run.
Practice your breathing during off-hours, and be sure to think about your breath during a run.
You might be surprised at how much your performance improves once you do!