If you’re somebody who has newly indulged yourself in the world of running, chances are you’ve quite quickly come to discover the unexpected hurdle of : How the heck do you breathe properly? (so you’re not out of breath in minutes at least.) As silly as it sounds, considering the fact that breathing is the most natural thing that comes to any living organism, when you’re hitting the track with your running shoes on, suddenly this seemingly “easiest thing in the world” task might be the one thing slowing you down.
So here it is, a quick and straight-to-the-point guide on how to breathe, to not only help you improve your performance as runners, but also to help lower the risk of injuries and get your mind off the struggle of needing to catch your breath so you can focus on other aspects of your run – like your goals.
1. Breathe through your belly
It is quite natural for humans to switch our breathing patterns to quick shallow chest breaths when we’re feeling tired and fatigued – a common feeling among runners, especially the newbies. However, this natural instinct is actually pretty counterproductive and only makes us even more tired, since shallow breaths mean less oxygen intake which in turn means more exhaustion (duh).
Therefore, the best form of breathing for when you’re running is diaphragmatic breathing (aka belly breathing). By breathing through your belly and engaging your diaphragm you’re maximizing the space in your chest cavity, so that when you breathe in, your lungs can expand all the way and allow for more oxygen to be taken up by your bloodstream.
Since you’re getting more oxygen pumping through your blood, and therefore, reaching your hard-working muscles, you will not feel tired as quickly and the feeling of fatigue and exhaustion will be reduced significantly.
Deep belly breathing has also shown to have a meditative and calming effect, which is something you definitely want to add to your run since it helps with focus and allows you to have a more overall enjoyable and stress-free workout.
2. Inhale & Exhale through both your Nose & Mouth (at the same time)
The age-old question: Should runners breathe through their nose? Or their mouths? While some might suggest one or the other, the answer is actually: Both!
If you only inhale and exhale through your mouth, you might find yourself hyperventilating mid run which isn’t exactly something you want to be experiencing during your runs. Alternatively, inhaling and exhaling through just your nose won’t get you the amount of oxygen you need to help supply all your muscles during your run so you’re gonna be very fatigued fairly quickly.
Hence, a combination of breathing through both your mouth and your nose at the same time will not only engage your diaphragm for maximum lung expansion (belly breathing) but will also keep your breathing steady. Breathing through both the mouth and the nose will keep your breathing steady and engage your diaphragm for maximum oxygen intake. It also allows you to expel carbon dioxide quickly.
You can practice this technique throughout the day, since you’re always breathing anyway, try to switch it up and breathe through your mouth and your nose. It might feel strange at first because it’s not something you’re used to, but if you can activate this tool for when you’re running, it will prove to be a very helpful asset.
3. Alternate between breathing through your Nose & Mouth
If breathing through your nose and mouth at the same time simply something you’d rather not partake in for whatever reason, or simply just find it too hard, another trick to help stabilize your running is to alternate between how you breathe.
Any rhythm works, depending on what works for you, however, the best method would be to start your run by taking slow and deep belly breaths through your nose and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Once you start to feel like you’re getting out of breath, switch the order and take slow, deep breaths through your mouth, while exhaling slowly through your nose.
Alternate between the two as frequently as you feel you need to and if you find yourself beginning to see a hyperventilating effect, you’re not breathing slowly and deeply enough, so it’s probably time to reduce your speed and focus a little more on stabilizing your breathing before picking up the pace again.
4. Breathing with Your Rhythm
Not breathing right on your runs can often lead to various injuries, like aches or stitches on one side of your body, that can seriously slow us down and completely spoil the whole fun of the run.
Rhythmic breathing, also known as cadence breathing, focuses on the number of steps you take when inhaling and exhaling during your run.
You might have a 2:2 breathing pattern, which means you inhale every 2 steps and exhale every 2 steps. The reason this breathing technique can end up giving you injuries is that you’re constantly exhaling on the same foot.
To fix this, try to reinvent a breathing pattern that switches your exhale side from one to the other back and forth. For example, a 4:3 breathing pattern where you inhale every 4 steps and exhale for 3. By doing this you can reduce your injury risk and keep not only your breathing stable but your form as well.
5. Breathing Meditation
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. And while you’ll most certainly improve your breathing techniques naturally as you proceed along your journey as a runner, by doing a little breathing work beforehand, you can help quicken the process. And one simple way is to do breathing meditation.
Start by laying down on the floor with your back against the ground. Take a deep breath through your nose and mouth both and make sure you’re focusing the direction of your air intake so that your belly rises – not your chest. Hold your breath there for a brief 2-3 seconds and then slowly exhale through your nose.
You can alternate the airways you exhale and inhale with – so maybe try inhaling with your nose and exhaling with your mouth etc. Take slow and deep breaths and try and keep your thoughts focused primarily on breathing.
Check out our article on 13 ways to have the most fun on your next run to really get the most out of all your running sessions!