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How To Breathe While Running + 5 Expert Tips And Techniques

Our running coach discusses how to breath properly so you can enjoy your runs!

Nearly every runner experiences certain physical sensations, particularly as a beginner. We have all experienced a dreaded side stitch, sore muscles, breathlessness, and occasional muscle cramps. 

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?

Most coaches and physiologists recommend breathing through both your nose and mouth when running at a high intensity to help maximize oxygen intake and trying to breathe primarily through your nose on easy runs or running at a low intensity.

In this article, we will discuss how to breathe while running and the best proper breathing techniques that you can try out on your next run.

We will cover: 

Let’s jump in!

A person holding their chest, breathing.

Why Is It Hard to Breathe While Running?

Running is a 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. To do so, you must start breathing faster and deeper than under resting conditions.1National Library of Medicine. (2016). Your lungs and exercise. Breathe12(1), 97–100. https://doi.org/10.1183/20734735.elf121

‌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 respiration factors according to our activity 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.

A close up of the torso of a runner, swinging their arms.

How To Breathe While Running

Some of the most common questions 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 sufficient oxygen during easy, aerobic runs, your nasal passages are much smaller than your mouth, so just breathing through your nose is often inadequate 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, try to breathe primarily through your nose when doing recovery runs and running at a low intensity.

A person with their eyes closed, breathing through their nose.

Let’s get into our top tips on how to breathe while running:

#1: Practice 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.2Fitness, & Diseases, L. H. and. (n.d.). Breathing Basics for Runners. Www.lung.org. https://www.lung.org/blog/breathing-basics-for-runners

‌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.

A runner with excellent form running on a road.

#2: Check Your Form

To maximize the ease with which you can breathe during running, you want to ensure that you are running with good posture and proper running form. 

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 helps ensure that your breathing mechanics are even while you run, helping to prevent hyperventilation or shortness of breath. It may also decrease the stress on your body and help prevent getting a stitch on the side of your body 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. 

So, how do I breathe properly while running?

Depending on your fitness level and the pace and intensity with which you are running, most coaches, such as myself, suggest using a 3:2 breathing pattern while you run.

A person running on arid ground.

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, so 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 particularly unstable.

A person running on arid ground.

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.

This can potentially help 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 the other muscles in your body.

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.

Like any other muscle group, consistent training with something like the Airofit 2.0 can make your respiratory muscles 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 meeting your oxygen needs and removing carbon dioxide.

A person with asthma is about to take her inhaler.

#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 running or having your lungs hurt after your run is a recipe for feeling unmotivated to continue 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 running.

For more information on nose and mouth breathing while running, check out our complete guide: Mouth Vs Nose Breathing, A Detailed Comparison.

A runner breathing through their nose.

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

3 thoughts on “How To Breathe While Running + 5 Expert Tips And Techniques”

  1. Great article and good suggestions on rhythmic breathing. I do similar, but opposite – inhale for 2, exhale for 3… because airway resistance is higher on exhalation than on inhalation… which is why there’s such a difference in flow/volume loops on the inhaled (typically positive flow) vs exhaled (typically negative) side of the graph, even for people with normal lung function (e.g. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Figure-1-Normal-flow-volume-loop-ABCinspiratory-part-of-the-loop-oval_fig2_228664846 for flow-volume loop). Since there’s increased resistance to flow on exhalation, you can ‘allow’ yourself more time to breathe out, which can often reduce the sensations of breathlessness.

    Reply

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