There are certain physical sensations that nearly every runner experiences, particularly as a beginner. We have all experienced a dreaded side stitch, sore muscles, feeling breathless, and even having an occasional muscle cramp.
Most of these types of problems go away as your body becomes more accustomed to running and your fitness level improves.
Beginners and experienced runners alike also complain of feeling breathless while running or as though they run out of breath while running. So, how should you breathe when running to make it feel easier?
In this article, we will discuss how to breathe while running and the best breathing techniques for running.
We will cover:
- Why Is It Hard to Breathe While Running?
- How To Breathe While Running
- 5 Tips On How to Breathe When Running
Let’s jump in!
Why Is It Hard to Breathe While Running?
Running is a very physically-demanding sport because it is a high-intensity, total-body exercise. As such, your muscles and heart need a lot of oxygen to fuel your activity.
In order to meet these oxygen needs, your lungs must help you take in enough oxygen from the surrounding environment. In order to do so, you have to start breathing faster and deeper than under resting conditions.
The tidal volume refers to how much air you are taking in and exhaling per breath. When your respiration rate and tidal volume increase as you start running, you can start to feel like you’re huffing and puffing or gasping for air.
We often think of respiration, or breathing, as a passive activity because it is primarily controlled by the autonomic nervous system (involuntary control).
Although we can consciously or voluntarily modulate our breathing rate and depth, our body will naturally adjust these factors of respiration according to the activity we are doing and our need for oxygen.
With that said, just because you do not necessarily have to think about breathing harder or faster doesn’t necessarily mean that doing so doesn’t require more effort and work from your respiratory muscles.
How To Breathe While Running
Some of the most common questions that runners have are, “How should you breathe when running? What is the best way to breathe while running? Should I breathe through my nose or mouth while running?”
There are different schools of thought on this. Firstly, breathing through your nose offers the benefits of filtering, humidifying, and warming the air before it hits your lungs, which can be more comfortable and better for your body, particularly when running in cold, dry, or polluted air.
Although nasal breathing may provide a sufficient amount of oxygen during easy, aerobic runs, your nasal passages are much smaller than your mouth, so just breathing through your nose is often not adequate for sprinting or high-intensity workouts.
Most running coaches and exercise physiologists recommend breathing through your nose and mouth when running at a high intensity to help maximize the amount of oxygen you can take in. However, if possible, when doing recovery runs and running at a low intensity, try to breathe primarily through your nose.
5 Tips On How to Breathe When Running
#1: Belly Breathing
More important than whether you are breathing through your nose, mouth, or both is the depth and rate at which you breathe while running.
According to the American Lung Association, rather than taking rapid, shallow breaths, the best breathing techniques for running are diaphragmatic breathing and deep belly breathing.
Deep, slow breaths that expand your entire abdomen rather than just expanding your chest will help you inhale more oxygen more efficiently than relying on shallow chest breathing.
You can practice diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing before you run by lying on your back and trying to take deep and slow breaths, expanding your whole tummy rather than just observing your chest rise.
As you get stronger and more adept, gradually increase the length of your exhales so that they exceed, if not double, the length of your inhales in terms of the number of seconds.
#2: Check Your Form
To maximize the ease with which you can breathe during running, you want to make sure that you are running with good posture.
Do not hunch forward or slouch, as this can compress the lungs and diaphragm, making it more difficult to get a nice full, expansive breath as you run. Keep your shoulders back and relaxed, chest up and proud, and core engaged.
#3: Use Rhythmic Breathing
One of the most successful approaches to breathing during running is to use rhythmic breathing.
Rhythmic breathing not only helps ensure that your breathing mechanics are even while you run, helping to prevent hyperventilation or feeling like you’re breathless, but it may also decrease the stress on your body and help prevent the risk of getting a side stitch while running.
Every time your foot hits the ground when you take a running stride, your body, including your diaphragm, is subjected to impact forces.
Depending on your fitness level and the pace and intensity with which you are running, most coaches suggest using a 3:2 breathing pattern while you run.
This entails inhaling for a count of three and exhaling for a count of two, so you should inhale for three foot strikes and exhale for two strikes.
Unless you are running at a very high intensity, exhalation is mostly a passive process in which the diaphragm and breathing muscles can relax. In contrast, inhalation is an active process that requires work from your respiratory muscles.
It takes more time to fill the lungs with oxygenated air than to passively breathe the inspired air out, which is why having a longer count for inhalation better supports your breathing needs during running.
Additionally, when we inhale, the diaphragm and core muscles contract, making them more stable than during the exhalation process when they are relaxed.
Running subjects the body to impact stresses that are approximately 2 to 3 times your body weight, with the peak of these impact stresses occurring at initial contact when your foot first strikes the ground.
When that initial foot strike impact occurs at the beginning of an exhalation, the core and pelvis are in a particularly unstable position.
Because there are an odd number of foot strikes using a 3:2 breathing pattern, this breathing rhythm helps balance the impact stress on your diaphragm, core, and pelvis as you run, potentially helping to decrease the risk of injuries, muscle imbalances, and side stitches.
When you’re running at a faster pace or high intensity, you can use a 2:1 pattern.
Even if you choose a different breathing pattern, maintaining consistency with your breathing rhythm will help your breathing feel more relaxed and natural as you run.
#4: Strengthen Your Breathing Muscles
You can strengthen your lungs and breathing muscles (intercostals and diaphragm) just as you can your muscles. In fact, there are respiratory training devices, such as the Airofit PRO 2.0. This ingenious little device is like strength training for your breathing muscles.
The device provides resistance as you perform specific breathing exercises that are guided through a companion app, where you also get live feedback and can track your progress.
Just like any other muscle group, with consistent training with something like the Airofit 2.0, your respiratory muscles can become stronger and more efficient.
This allows you to naturally increase your tidal volume, vital lung capacity, and oxygen intake. It also helps your lungs develop a higher tolerance to carbon dioxide, decreasing the need to breathe and exhale as rapidly.
Ultimately, this will help you breathe less vigorously and rapidly during exercise while still meeting your oxygen needs and carbon dioxide removal.
#5: Get Evaluated for Asthma
If you have been running consistently for a couple of months, such that your respiratory system theoretically should have adapted to the stresses of running, and you feel like you are breathing properly, but you are still finding that you struggle to breathe, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor or see a pulmonologist to get evaluated for asthma or exercise-induced asthma.
Feeling like you are out of breath when you are running or having your lungs hurt after your run is a recipe for feeling unmotivated to continue with your training program and may dissuade you from getting your workouts in.
If you can resolve the issue, your runs will be more enjoyable and potentially safer, and you will be more motivated to continue on your running journey.
For even more information on nose and mouth breathing while running, check out our complete guide: Mouth Vs Nose Breathing, A Detailed Comparison.