How you breathe when running can make a big difference to your race.
But it can be difficult to know how to do it properly. In this blog post, I’d like to share some actionable tips on how to breathe when running.
When I first started running, I didn’t give a second thought to my breathing.
After all, it’s an involuntary process that your body just does naturally, so I when I found out that there are techniques out there for breathing when running, I was surprised!
Of course, when you start running you sometimes feel like you can’t catch your breath.
I know when I went out for my first few runs, I was SO out of breath. Every few hundred metres, I had to get my breath back again and get my heart rate back down.
As I slowly got better and my breathing started to feel less laboured, I started to enjoy my runs a lot more.
If I knew about these breathing tips back then, I would’ve saved myself a lot of hassle!
These seven simple, actionable tips on how to breathe when running are designed to help you feel just that little more confident on your runs.
Breathe through your belly
You may have heard about this technique when people talk about the breathing patterns of opera singers.
Take a big deep breath. As you inhale, your diaphragm will contract and move downward.
You will feel your rib cage expand, which draws air into your lungs.
The more air you inhale, the more oxygen is available to be fed into your lungs to your working muscles.
Many runners when they first start running take short breaths and therefore underuse their diaphragm.
When you take short breaths, you rely too much on your chest muscles and therefore take in less oxygen.
You also underuse your intercostal muscles (the muscles in between your ribs) so they become smaller and quick to fatigue.
It’s important to strengthen these so they can fully support the breathing process.
To train yourself to breathe from your belly, practice belly breathing lying down, sitting down and standing up.
- Lie down on your back and keep your upper chest and shoulders still.
- Focus on raising your belly as you inhale, lower your belly as you exhale.
- Inhale and exhale through BOTH your nose and mouth.
General health advice out there is that you should breathe from your diaphragm at all times, whether you’re running, walking or sleeping.
If you practice yoga, you’re probably used to breathing deeply anyway.
Breathing deeply is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety symptoms, so what better way to start!
Build up your endurance
Proper breathing whilst running has a lot to do with your endurance.
If you’re at the start of your running journey, you’ll probably still be building up your endurance, therefore running may still feel quite laboured for you.
This in turn affects your breathing, and can often lead to a side stitch when running.
Take the steps to increase your endurance and stamina, which will undoubtedly happen over time as you get more runs under your belt.
Check out my blog on 8 ways to run for longer without getting so tired.
In this post I break down the key things you need to be focusing on as a runner to improve your stamina and endurance.
Exhale on alternate footstrikes
A good way to have a breathing pattern on your run is to coordinate it with your footstrike.
So inhale for a few steps and breathe out for a few steps.
If you’re not sure what footstrike is, check out my post on proper running footstrike and ways to improve it.
A good beginner patter is the 2:2 pattern – inhale for two footstrikes and exhale for two footstrikes.
If this is too quick for you, you could try the 3:3 pattern – inhale for three footstrikes and exhale for three footstrikes.
There is research that shows a longer inhale brings more stability to your core.
This is because when you exhale, the muscles in your diaphragm relax, therefore decreasing stability.
So it’s best to hit the ground when you inhale as your body will be at its most stable then.
In light of this, the 3:2 breathing pattern is advisable for longer runs at a steady pace.
For quicker runs like 5ks or speed workouts, you will need to use a quicker breathing pattern, say 2:1 or 2:2. More on this later.
The best way to practice this breathing pattern on a run is to inhale to the count of 3 then exhale to the count of 2.
You might count it this way: “in-2-3,” “out-2,” “in-2-3,” “out-2,” and so forth.
Concentrate on a continuous breath as you inhale over the 3 counts and a continuous breath as you exhale.
This sounds obvious, but don’t mimic the breathing you would do in a yoga session, for example, as it will be too slow.
Ditch the music
When learning to breath when running, I recommend you ditch the music so you can fully concentrate on your breathing.
The beats from the music will most likely distract you.
Ditching the music can also help you achieve a more mindful run, without the noise and distraction.
If you’re new to mindful running, check out my post on how to practice mindful running.
It may just be what you need to unwind and really focus on your breathing.
Breathe through both your nose and mouth
When breathing deeply it’s important to breathe both your nose and mouth so to inhale as much air as possible.
Obviously don’t do this at the same time, as this will feel rather uncomfortable, but don’t solely rely on either body part to get that much needed oxygen.
In the winter months, breathing through your mouth can sometimes feel difficult when the air feels cold at the back of your throat.
To combat this, close your mouth and breath through your nose.
If you’re used to breathing through your mouth, this may take some time to get used to.
You could also wear something that protects your face. This will help warm up the cold air you’re breathing in.
But avoid something that covers your whole face as it’ll get wet and will actually make your breathing more difficult.
Check out my post on how to dress for winter running for more tips and advice when it comes to running in the cold.
Alter your breathing according to pace
You will find that the 3:2 breathing pattern works well with long steady runs.
You’ll need to breathe slightly differently on faster runs as your muscles will be working harder and you’ll be expending more energy.
There will be a point when you can no longer comfortably inhale or exhale as the pace of your run will be so challenging.
So for faster runs you will need to switch to a 2:1 or 3:1 breathing pattern.
For interval training, for example, you’ll need to switch between a 2:1 and 2:2 or 3:1 and 3:2 breathing pattern when you stop and start.
Don’t focus on it too much
When you start using breathing patterns like these on your runs, the temptation is to focus on it TOO much and eventually get distracted by it.
You’ll need to focus on it to start off with in order to get into a rhythm, but don’t worry about it too much for the rest of your run.
The idea is that you start, evaluate your breathing as you run (change it if required) and check it at random intervals to make sure you’re on track.
Over time it will (hopefully) become second nature and more automatic for you.
As you use rhythmic breathing in your training and racing and tune in to your breathing efforts and paces.
You will learn to run from within, in complete harmony with your body.
You will discover the natural rhythms of your running, which will lead you to improved performances but also to experience the joy of running.