It’s an awful feeling. Your legs are holding steady, but you can’t catch your breath. You breathing is labored, feels somewhat out of control, and intensifies the longer you run. “If I could breathe easier, I could run farther (and faster!).” This is one of the most frustrating aspects for a new runner. Therefore, let’s dive into how to breathe while running!
Some tips on how to breathe while running are below, but first a tiny bit of science to explain that “I can’t catch my breath” feeling. There’s a term for it; it’s called ventilatory threshold. When breathing surpasses your normal ventilation rate, you reach your ventilatory threshold.
It’s essentially the point at which you can’t breathe fast or deep enough to meet your body’s demand for oxygen. Once you’re near this point, a stress response kicks in, causing you to struggle or panic even more (thus, a vicious cycle!).
This ventilatory threshold is impacted by your fitness level, and your experience with the specific activity (in this case, running). Meaning, the fitter you are, and more experience with the sport, the higher your maximal ventilation (amount of air going in/out of lungs).
Fortunately, there’s some things you can do while running and NOT running to improve your breathing. It’s important — as it WILL limit your potential as a runner.
Mindy Solkin, owner and head coach of The Running Center in New York City states, “A strong respiratory system can improve your running. It’s a simple equation: Better breathing equals more oxygen for your muscles, and that equals more endurance.”
How to Breathe Better While Running, Some TIPS!
If you’re a new runner, stick to a pace that allows you to be at “conversation pace.” That is, allows you to speak a few words/sentences while running. A run/walk interval can be beneficial, too.
After a few weeks of consistent training, your ventilatory threshold increases – thanks to adaptations your body makes. For example, more blood vessels/capillaries within your muscles. This means your breathing will be less labored at the same intensity (yay!).
The message: don’t give up! It will improve if you continue to show up, and put in the work. The more you train, the more your body will adapt – and it will feel easier.
Belly breathing (aka diaphragmatic breathing).
Belly breathing is key. It’s common for new runners to breathe from their chest instead of their diaphragm. This limits their oxygen intake. Combat this with belly breathing.
According to Everett Murph, M.D. (and runner), “When you take a breath, 80% of the work is done by the diaphragm (the muscle that enables you to inhale/exhale). If you strengthen your diaphragm, you may improve your endurance and be less likely to become fatigued.”
Deep belly breathing (versus shallow chest breathing) is the best for running because it uses the lungs’ entire capacity. Your breath also travels down to the lower portion of your lungs and remains longer. This increases your oxygen uptake – more oxygen for your muscles!
Here’s an exercise to do to improve your ability to belly breathe:
- Lie down on the floor with knees bent. Place your hands or a light book on your stomach.
- Breathe in and out deeply and consciously. You should be able to clearly see the book rise when you breathe in, and fall as you breathe out.
- Focus on trying to exhale all the air out of your lungs. Repeat 8-10 times.
You can also do this before a run in standing, along with your dynamic warm-up, or on its own.
Belly breathing also helps prevent side stitches, which can be annoying, and truly stop you in your tracks.
Open your mouth.
There’s some different recommendations here (in through nose, out through mouth), but my vote is mouth breathing. Your mouth is larger than your nostrils, and therefore more effective at taking in oxygen. Plus, having your mouth open keeps your face more relaxed, making it easier to breathe deeply.
Hunching at your shoulders, bending forward at your waist is not conducive to getting a full breath. Remind yourself to keep shoulders back and down (shoulders away from your ears). Then, have a slight lean forward upper body lean without bending at your waist.
Remember your posture matters when running, and not running. Whatever you do at rest carries over to your runs!
How to Breathe While Running – Tips to Improve When at Rest
How to breathe while running can be practiced when you’re NOT running, of course. It allows you to focus on your breath without the physical stress felt while running.
Yoga Helps to Breathe Better While Running.
Not only is yoga great for your mobility, strength, and flexibility, it also improves your breathing. While running increases aerobic capacity, yogic breathing further enhances and increases lung capacity.
The mindful breathing in yoga benefits both upper and lower portions of the lungs so more oxygen-rich blood is delivered to blood vessels, and ultimately your muscles. Abdominal (belly) breathing in yoga requires movement in the diaphragm, abdominals and intercostals to create a full, and deep breath.
Yoga also works on the poor posture we often obtain after sitting many hours in front of a computer. This poor posture, with the chest collapsed and upper back rounded becomes ingrained in our muscle memory. And, it reduces the lungs’ ability to fully expand.
The improvement in posture – body more upright, shoulders further away from the ears, and chest more open translates to more internal space for our lungs. The lungs are less encumbered, making it easier to breathe deeply, and breathe better while running.
Meditation and breathing practice.
Meditation that focuses on your breath is also helpful. I highly recommend using the Peloton app where they have multiple guided breathing/meditation sessions that last 5-10 minutes. Not only will it help you improve your breathing technique, it’s great to calm the mind, and lower blood pressure
What tips do you have on how to breathe more easily while running?