How to Breathe While Running: A Complete Guide

Are you a beginner runner and struggle to breathe even when running for a short period of time? 

Believe it or not, there are different ways to breathe when running. Many beginner runners find breathing a challenge when running, and some give up altogether without resorting to breathing techniques. 

This article explains the different techniques you can try when running to help you breathe more easily to get through the run. Obviously, breathing is essential in general; however, it is vital when running as the body requires more oxygen. 

Read on to find out more. 

Why is It Hard to Breathe When Running?

Vigorous exercise such as running requires the respiratory system to work harder than usual. The body requires oxygen quickly but must also remove the build-up of carbon dioxide. 

If you are a beginner runner, you may find yourself out of breath rather quickly, and symptoms such as wheezing or tightness in the chest may reveal themselves. Don’t be alarmed by this, as it is just your body’s way of adjusting to the changes. 

A good breathing technique will help you push through such a barrier. Keep reading to find out how.

How to Breathe When Running

Learning how to breathe when running is vital for endurance and improving your athletic performance. Read on to find out how to breathe when running and the best techniques to use. 

Begin Slowly

If you are new to running, then learning to breathe properly is the key to carrying on. Many people tend to give up straight away as they find breathing when running too difficult and uncomfortable.

You are bound to become breathless on your first run simply because your lungs are not used to such shortness of breath. 

Therefore, it is essential to gradually build your stamina over time by choosing to build up your runs with short intervals that consist of walking and running. Over time, your breathing will become easier as your cardiorespiratory system becomes stronger. 

Pace Yourself 

Sticking to a conversational pace is recommended. If you would struggle to hold a conversation with a fellow runner then you are pushing yourself too hard.

Therefore, it is best to slow the pace, and this will also help to regulate your breathing, making the run easier and more comfortable. 

Should I Use My Nose Or Mouth?

It is often thought that runners should breathe in through their nose and out through their mouths. 

This may be effective in some forms of exercise such as martial arts, pilates, and yoga, but running is a lot more intense and requires individuals to use a lot more oxygen, so it is best to breathe using both the nose and the mouth. 

Breathing using just your nose may be fine for a casual run, but more intense runs require more oxygen. Breathing through your mouth allows more oxygen to enter the body, so it is best to use a mixture of the two. 

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Also known as belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing helps to strengthen respiratory muscles to allow a bigger oxygen intake. This helps runners to use oxygen more efficiently and prevents side stitches. 

The air we breathe into our lungs when running remains there for a short period of time only. Diaphragmatic breathing requires runners to access the lower region of the lungs where air remains for longer, therefore, increasing oxygen uptake. 

What are The Benefits of Belly Breathing?

There are many benefits of diaphragmatic breathing that can be used not only when running but in everyday life. Let’s take a look at how useful belly breathing can be.

  • Increases energy levels
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves blood flow
  • Relieves stress
  • Relaxes tense muscles
  • Prevents stitches
  • Reduces inflammation

How To Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing

  1. Lie on a flat surface such as the ground, a bed, or a couch with your knees bent slightly. 
  2. In order to feel the results, try resting one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. 
  3. Fill your belly with air by breathing in through your nose. You will gradually feel your stomach expand with air. 
  4. As your stomach expands, push your diaphragm downwards and out. This allows your stomach to expand as opposed to your chest.
  5. Breathe out slowly with your mouth and repeat the process for a total of five minutes.

In order to incorporate this into your running, start off slowly and pick up the pace as the technique becomes easier.

What is Chest Breathing?

Chest breathing occurs when the top areas of the lungs are used to draw in oxygen and output carbon dioxide. This kind of breathing is short and quick as only a small section of the lungs is used. 

The chest expands with every breath as the lungs are inflated, while the stomach remains deflated as it is not used. This type of breathing often leaves individuals with feelings of hyperventilation and breathlessness. This is due to the small amount of oxygen that is delivered to the bloodstream. 

Beginner runners often feel out of breath because they are chest breathing. The low amount of oxygen means the body cannot produce the correct amount of energy it needs to enable muscles to perform.

Belly Breathing Vs. Chest Breathing: How is It Different?

Sometimes it is hard to know the difference between the two. Here we will explain the difference and how you can check you’re doing it right. 

Start by alternating between normal and deep breaths. Use this time to consider how you feel when breathing normally as opposed to taking in deeper breaths. 

You will find that normal breathing is often more restricted, whereas deep breathing allows more oxygen into the body. 

Different Ways to Breathe to Improve Your Running

Take a look at these different techniques that can be used to help you breathe better when running. These are relaxing exercises that can be practiced at home and are great for improving lung function. 

They are also known to relieve stress and can be used if you struggle drifting off to sleep. 

Deep Breathing

This simple but effective method prevents oxygen from getting trapped in the lungs. When air is trapped in the lungs, it can cause shortness of breath. 

Benefits of Deep Breathing

  • Improves immune system
  • Relieves pain
  • Stimulates the lymphatic system
  • Reduces stress

How to Do It

  1. Adopt a standing or seated position and open your chest by slightly bending the elbows back.
  2. Inhale through the nose deeply.
  3. Hold this breath for a total of five seconds.
  4. Exhale the air slowly through your nose.
  5. Repeat for a total of five minutes or more. 

It is recommended to repeat this exercise 3 to 4 times a day for best results. 

The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

While there is limited scientific evidence to prove this technique works, it is used by many as a stress reliever, and some say it can get you to sleep within one minute! 

Benefits of 4-7-8 Breathing

  • Relieves stress
  • Improves focus and mental ability
  • Reduces Anxiety

How to Do It

  1. Get yourself into a comfortable sitting position and bring the top of the tongue to the area of tissue just behind the top set of teeth. 
  2. Empty your lungs of air and take a deep breath for four seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for seven seconds.
  4. Exhale through the mouth, making a ‘whoosh’ sound for eight seconds. 
  5. Repeat five times.

Pursed Lips Breathing

This technique keeps airways open for longer by slowing down your breathing. This improves the intake of oxygen, the output of carbon dioxide, and lung function.  

How to Do It

  1. Slowly inhale through the nostrils.
  2. With the lips pursed, breathe out slowly. This should take longer than the time it takes to breathe in.
  3. Repeat five times  – or as many times as you like. 

This technique is easier for beginners compared to diaphragmatic breathing. It can be done anywhere at any time. Nobody will even know you are practicing!

Nadi Shodhana 

Otherwise known as alternate nostril breathing, this ancient technique is commonly used as a yoga exercise and can help relax the mind. Studies have shown it also helps to improve respiratory endurance and cardiovascular health. 

You can practice alternate nostril breathing alone. However, help from a professional (such as a yoga teacher) is always recommended. 

Benefits of Nadi Shodhana

  • Supports and enhances the respiratory system
  • Focuses the mind and improves concentration
  • Relieves stress
  • Balances blood pressure and reduces heart rate

How to Do It

  1. Adopt a seated position with the legs crossed.
  2. With your left hand on your left knee, exhale completely.
  3. Lift your right hand towards your nose and cover your right nostril with your right thumb. 
  4. Next, inhale through the left nostril before closing it with your fingers. 
  5. Exhale through the open right nostril.
  6. Inhale through the right nostril (again with the left nostril closed).
  7. Exhale through the left nostril.
  8. Repeat for a total of five minutes, being sure to finish the exercise by exhaling through the left nostril. 

Rhythmic Breathing

Rhythmic breathing is when you alternate exhaling between the left and right foot strike. This method of breathing is thought to prevent muscular imbalances and also puts less pressure on the diaphragm. 

So how does it work? Rhythmic breathing may seem complicated as it requires you to think about your feet and your breathing at the same time. However, with some practice, rhythmic breathing will become second nature to you.

Benefits of Rhythmic Breathing

Rhythmic breathing has many benefits and can help with:

  • Improving focus and mental ability
  • Relieving stress and promotes calmness
  • Improving oxygen intake resulting in heightened performance

Breathing Ratios

The 3:3 Ratio

The 3:3 pattern requires you to inhale for three steps and exhale for three. Technically, runners will take around 30 breaths in 30 minutes using this ratio. 

This pattern is good for beginner runners as the 3:3 ratio is best used for slower, relaxed paces. 

It is a good exercise to use during warm-ups and cooldowns. 

The 3:2 Ratio

The 3:2 ratio is perfect for experienced runners who enjoy running at a faster pace. This pattern works by inhaling for three steps and exhaling for two. 

This pattern is useful for preventing side stitches and cramps as you land on alternate feet, which balances the body. 

The 2:2 Ratio

We think you get the gist by now, right? The 2:2 pattern involves inhaling for two strides and exhaling for two. 

This ratio means runners will be taking around 45 breaths per minute and is used by experienced runners who take part in marathons or tempo runs. 

As with the 3:3 ratio, this pattern involves landing on the same foot you begin with, which may put some stress on one side of the body. 

The 2:1 Ratio

Two steps with an inhale, one step with an exhale. The 2:1 ratio is good for interval training and is the best technique used when running a 10K race. 

The 1:1 Ratio

This is certainly not recommended for beginner runners and involves inhaling for one stride and exhaling for the other. 

The 1:1 ratio is often used for those last few steps to the finish line when runners get that last burst of energy to catapult them to the end of a short or long-distance race. 

Practice Indoors Beforehand

Rhythmic breathing can be practiced in the comfort of your own home. This is a good way to train yourself before using this technique when running. 

How to Do It

  1. Lie in a comfortable spot with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. 
  2. Placing one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach, breathe deeply through the nose and exhale through the mouth.
  3. Inhale for three counts and exhale for three.
  4. Repeat as many times as you like. 

Once you feel confident implementing this breathing pattern into your runs, test it out with a walk. Breathe in for three steps and exhale for three. You may want to move to a 3:2 ratio when confident by inhaling for three steps and exhaling for two, and so on. 

Once you feel confident, start with a slow jog using the 3:3 ratio and build up to a comfortable pattern. The key to successful rhythmic breathing is to set realistic goals for yourself. 

Don’t expect to start off using a 1:1 ratio, as you will be setting yourself up for failure. 

Keeping Your Lungs Healthy

Prevention is the best cure. Running requires permanent use of your lungs, and unhealthy lungs may prevent you from reaching your running goals. So how can you keep them healthy? 

Avoid smoking and being around people who smoke. Smoking clogs up the lungs with toxins resulting in less room for oxygen.

Eating a diet rich in antioxidants is also a good tip for maintaining healthy lungs. Antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E can be found in foods such as carrots, blueberries, spinach, and tomatoes. 

Vaccinations such as pneumonia or flu vaccination are great for warding off illnesses during the colder seasons when the air is rife with viruses and infections. 

Exercising frequently maintains healthy lung function – the intake of oxygen when exercising expands the lungs, enabling the chest muscles to work harder. Over time, this improves the cardiorespiratory system, which is needed for strenuous exercise such as running. 

Improving the air quality in your home by using air filters and staying on top of black mold and dust helps to improve the function of your lungs. Running in areas where the air is less polluted is also useful when thinking of ways to improve lung health. 

How Often Should I Practice?

You can practice the above techniques as often as you like. As with anything, practice makes perfect! 

Belly breathing should be used when running. However, it is important to note that you shouldn’t start the run with deep breathing. Start by jogging for a few minutes to warm up your chest and stomach muscles before beginning with deep breaths. 

Posture

Your posture plays an important part when learning how to breathe when running. Opening your chest by keeping your shoulders apart and your back flat will allow the oxygen to circulate more easily. 

Adding some core fitness routines into your usual training schedule helps to improve posture and strengthen core abdominal muscles. 

Avoid slouching or hunching when running, even when ascending hills, and try your best to align your head with your spine.

Get Outdoors

Learning how to breathe when running is best practiced outdoors. Of course, a treadmill is a great option; however, running outdoors provides different terrain and inclines, which affects the way you breathe. 

Air pollution can also be a problem, particularly if you are asthmatic. Running when the traffic is less dense in quiet areas is a great way to control the kind of air you are inhaling. 

What If I Suffer From Asthma?

Breathing, in general, is more difficult if you suffer from asthma. However, running – or any kind of exercise –  is actually recommended for asthma sufferers, even if it results in heightened symptoms. 

If you have asthma, don’t let it stop you from throwing on your running sneakers. Here are some tips that may make running easier for you.

Weather

Cold weather may trigger symptoms because the air contains less moisture which can make breathing uncomfortable. 

If you absolutely must run in poor weather conditions, wearing a scarf around your neck may help to ease symptoms. 

Warm-Up

Warming up before any kind of exercise is essential, particularly if you suffer from asthma. A good warm-up allows the lungs to function properly when running. This, followed by a cool down, will prevent asthmatic problems. 

Pollen

Cold weather is a nightmare for asthma sufferers, and unfortunately, warmer weather can also be a problem. 

Warm weather conditions go hand in hand with a rise in pollen. If you go for a run when the pollen count is high, consider wearing a pollen mask. Another good tip is to shower straight after a run and wash your clothes. This will help if you suffer from such allergies. 

Benefits of Running With Asthma

  • Helps reduce inflammation in the airways
  • Improves lung function by strengthening the muscles in the chest
  • Improves the oxygen capacity of the lungs

Breathing Exercises for Asthma Sufferers

Breathing exercises are also useful for individuals who suffer from asthma. These exercises may help to decrease airway inflammation and reduce the need for medication. 

Here are two methods that can help to control symptoms. 

Buteyko Method

Developed by the Ukrainian doctor Konstanin Buteyko in the 1950s, the Buteyko method involves a series of exercises that teach sufferers how to breathe deeper and slower. 

Although this method is not proven to improve lung function, it can reduce symptoms which may decrease the need for medication. 

The Papworth Method

This method involves several techniques and has been around since the 1960s. The method involves a combination of exercises that use breathing to control symptoms of asthma and stress.

Stress plays a role when it comes to breathing and can have a huge impact on the lungs. A 2007 study found that the Papworth method helped ease breathing in individuals suffering from asthma. 

When to Visit A Doctor

Visiting a doctor is always recommended if you are a beginner runner or have any underlying problems that may be an issue. 

Seek medical help if you are concerned about your breathing during or after running. Symptoms such as wheezing, gasping for air, dizziness, and disorientation require immediate medical attention. 

The Bottom Line

Learning how to breathe when running is important for endurance and stamina. Not only does it help runners physically, but it is also good for improving your focus and preventing painful side stitches.

Breathing techniques can be used any time and help reduce stress and promote a better night’s sleep. Learning to breathe when running takes time and patience, so don’t expect to become a great runner overnight.

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