Breathing Tips For Running That Could Change Your Life
Posted on 06 Sep, 2014
As runners we tend to focus on building our legs, strengthening our core, eating right and perfecting our running form. What we have most likely overlooked is the element most essential for any activity, our breathing, maybe because we’ve been doing it so naturally from birth.
How To Know If You’re Breathing The Wrong Way
Place one hand over your chest, and another over your belly, and breathe like you normally would. The hand that rises and falls with each breath shows if you are a chest breather or a belly breather.Most runners are chest breathers.
Chest breathing, also known as shallow breathing, can bring about side stitches, increases overall muscle fatigue and makes you more susceptible to injury.
Belly Breathing And Why It’s Important
When you inhale deeply using your belly, your diaphragm is drawn to its lowest possible point and fills your lungs to its greatest volume. This not only increases the amount of oxygen available for usage but gets air deep into your lungs where it can be easily absorbed by the alveoli into your bloodstream. This translates into more efficient energy production and greater endurance as more oxygen is transferred to your working muscles in single breath. Research by the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University revealed a direct link between strained breathing and leg weakness. The harder the respiratory muscles had to work, the more the legs struggled in a race.
Breathing deeply also maximizes the use of the diaphragm, a larger and sturdier muscle compared to the intercostals, the muscles responsible for the elevation and depression of your rib cage when you breathe through your chest. By fully utilizing your diaphragm, you will find that you will breathe easier for longer periods. To top it off, deep belly breathing lengthens your spine and improves your running posture.
The Cure For Side Stitches
The diaphragm is a muscle that assists in breathing and it has two supporting ligaments. The accelerated breathing that occurs during exercise can put undue strain on these ligaments and bring about side stitches. When you utilize your diaphragm for breathing, it reduces the stress on the supporting ligaments, and alleviates side stitches.
Proper Deep Breathing Technique
Because breathing is such a natural thing, it requires quite a bit of practice to do it any other way. The key is to start small.
Practice while lying down, a hand over your chest and one over your stomach. Your belly should inflate like a balloon when you belly breathe. Inhale deeply, and exhale fully. Remember, good, full exhalation flushes the CO2 from the lungs, making more room for fresh air.
Breathe from both your nose and your mouth. Your mouth is larger than your nostrils and more effective at taking in oxygen. Also, keeping your mouth open keeps your face more relaxed, which makes it easier to breathe deeply.
When you’re finally comfortable breathing in a stationary position, go for a 1-minute walk, and then a 15-minute walk and finally maybe a run. Always keep a good straight posture as this eases air intake. Practice deep breathing while driving, while you’re in the shower, while grocery shopping.
Master Level: Rhythmic Breathing
Rhythmic breathing involves syncing our breathing in an optimal pattern with our footsteps. And why would we want to do that?
Studies have shown that the greatest impact stress of running occurs when one's footstrike coincides with the beginning of an exhalation. This is because when you exhale, your diaphragm and the muscles associated with the diaphragm relax, creating less stability in your core. And in running, the core is a central component to almost every action.
Many runners develop a 2:2 pattern of breathing, meaning they inhale for two footstrikes and exhale for two footstrikes. This means that if you begin to exhale every time your right foot hits the ground, the right side of your body will continually suffer the greatest running stress.
The singular point of all rhythmic breathing patterns is this: to equally share the impact stress of running on both sides of your body. This can be achieved through a 3:2 pattern of breathing where you inhale for three steps and exhale for two. This way, you exhale on alternate footstrikes as you run. The longer inhale is with injury prevention in mind, which is to hit the ground more often when the body is at its most stable.
When you are taking on a hill and need more oxygen, switch to a 2:1 breathing pattern. Maintain this pattern even after you’ve crested the hill. When you’ve recovered your breath, ease back into your 3:2 cadence.
The Zen-Like Benefits Of Rhythmic Breathing
Running can turn into a stressful affair for some runners, especially those too concerned about matching their pace with the numbers on their watch, or those trying to stay in step with the beat pulsing through their earbuds. The practice of rhythmic breathing is a departure from all of that.
When your mind is focused on your breathing, and when your breathing is linked to your footfalls, a bridge between body and mind is established. Rhythmic breathing allows you to feel your run a lot better, affords you greater control and allows you to slide into an effort where everything glides on autopilot. It is always good to stay loose on your run, and to push out any tenseness that may inhibit your performance. And when the going gets tough, just shift your mind inwards onto your breathing. Take in your life force when you inhale. Flush the pain and discomfort on your exhale.
Jeremy Chin is author of Fuel, a touching story of a runner whose life dream is to win the New York Marathon. FUEL has received astounding reviews, from Finland to India to Africa. It has been read by coaches, ultrarunners and Olympians, and has been cited as one of the most moving running stories ever penned.
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