Breathing and runningOct 01, 2021
You may have practiced speed drills and hill repeats for months in prep for race day, but did you know that the way you breathe while you run is key to peak performance?
Regardless of the terrain or challenges along the route, your breathing should feel soft, calm and relaxed. It’s important to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathing through your nose allows you to take deeper breaths and engage your lower lungs, but without trying too hard.
TIP: When you breathe through your nose efficiently, try close your lips and allow your tongue to gently push up to the front of your palette and sit gently on the roof of your mouth.
Why it’s important to breathe slowly
Research by the University of Delaware argues that the more quickly you breathe, the less time your body has to fully absorb the O2 you’re bringing in through respiration. This can lead to rapid, shallow breathing also known as hyperventilation which can cause tingling in the fingers and light-headedness.
Also, when your body doesn’t have enough oxygen to energize itself, anaerobic metabolism kicks in, which causes lactate to accumulate and decreases the body’s ability to perform endurance tasks.
However, when you breathe slowly, more oxygen is drawn into the body, and the body has enough time to absorb the oxygen in your lungs to create energy and keep you energized when running.
Breathing and running
When running, just remember that the harder you go, the more and faster you’ll breathe. Everyone’s noses are different so some people can’t go that fast and nose breathe. On the other hand, most professional athletes have learned to control their breathing in endurance sports even at a high intensity, so it is possible. Most people with practice can learn to run relatively comfortably at 75 to 80% of maximum heart rate, while others can even get up to 90% of maximum heart rate.
My philosophy is to work on your breathing and mobility movements away from running and not overthink it while running. The same goes for your breath.
Work on nose breathing whenever you can so that it becomes second nature. Try to nose breathe as much as possible in the night when you sleep. Also practice nose breathing when you walk, during warm-ups and cool downs and throughout an easy running training session.
TIP: Struggle with nose breathing? Try a breath strip or turbine to open-up your nose
Here’s how to practice slow breathing regularly:
- Practice breathing softly and gently at 5-6 breaths per minute regularly
- Do spinal engine (which I discuss below) at this pace
- Nose breathe if it’s comfortable
- When in doubt, breathe out
- Become aware of your breathing patterns. Slow down and focus on the exhale.
- Live at the bottom of your breath. This simply means learning to relax and exhale, rather than holding your breath in.
- Use apps such as the Breathing App which is free.
While moving, try the following:
- Become aware of your breathing rhythm
- Try warm-up and cool down with a 3-steps in, and 3 steps out rhythm
- Stretch that out to 3 steps in and 5 out if you can or maybe 3:7
- Run with a soft chest in the middle of your breath (experiment with a large, tight chest and a completely exhaled chest for comparison).
Many of your postural muscles, as well as your powerful movement muscles play a role in breathing. Rounding and arching and syncing that movement to your breathing unlocks your spinal engine. These muscles are big, strong and fatigue resistant. They make movement fluid and efficient.
WATCH this video to learn how to practice rounding and arching, while syncing the movement to your breath:
To practice daily…
I’m a big proponent of re-setting your breathing and relaxing your spine daily. This will go a long way to support your running efforts.
It’s best to do this in the morning before you start taking your 20 000 breaths for the day (on average).
1 Alternate 10 rounding and arching movements (as shown above) with the spinal wave for 2-3 minutes.
2 Nose breathe when walking
3 Be mindful of your breath status
4 Write in a journal for regular stress relief and to check in with yourself and your breathing.
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