Can’t Catch You Breath While Running? Here’s Help
Running is a beautiful sport. It is simple, you can run anywhere you want, and all you need is a good pair of running shoes and the motivation to run. A decision to run changed my life tremendously, both physically and mentally. From a total newbie to a marathon runner I’ve been through lots of ups and downs, including injuries. Knowing what good I was doing while running helped me perform better, run faster and stronger and it kept me motivated. Breathing is one essential element, which helped me not only improve my running but also enjoy this beautiful sport.
How to breathe while running?
- Breathe in through your nose (and mouth if you feel comfortable) for 3 running steps. Feel your belly expanding.
- Breathe out through your mouth, extend the exhale for 3-5 running steps.
- Always look up, out in front of you, at the horizon.
- Repeat and adjust your breathing pattern to your needs.
You should not stay out of breath. If you do, stop, relax for few breaths, observe the tension (if any) and let it go. With a bit of practice, your breathing will improve. Continue to practice this breathing pattern throughout your running or run-walk sessions (20-30 min) for at least a few months. See how you do it and note how you feel. In time, you will figure out your own optimal ratio.
My running pattern then and now
My journey started in my early twenties, but not until a few years later, did I realize the enormous impact breathing has on my running performance. In my early days, my breathing was inconsistent. I’d be out of breath often, and my performance was fluctuating, someday I could run 5 k and sometimes one or even half a kilometer would be a total dreadful experience. I was not (am not) a smoker, I am not drinking alcohol, plus I was 100% healthy young woman. What did I do wrong?
Long story short, I had my first knee injury. During that time I was not able to run for almost two years. I read books, listened to other runners, asked questions about running and sports in general. I’ve got my answers.
My number one problem was, holding a breath. Yep, after observing my runs, I caught myself holding my breaths frequently when running. This lead to a shortage of oxygen and lower energy.
When running, we need as much as possible oxygen to feed the muscles (inhale). To clear the lungs, we need to make sure the CO2 is out from our system as much as possible (exhale). As simple as that. I did it all wrong. I started a new breathing pattern. Every time I went out for a race, I would follow the pattern, breathe in through nose, breathe out through the mouth, for over three months, consistently. At first I was breathing through my nose, only. I started my breathing pattern with inhale 3 steps, exhale 3-5 steps.
My runs became stronger. At one point, I started to run longer, where I naturally began to breathe in through my nose and the mouth, almost simultaneously. I let the air in through my nose and the mouth without any force.
Should You Always Breath Through Your Nose?
Yes and no.
In an ideal world, when running, we should breathe through nose and mouth, to get as much oxygen as possible. However, not all of us, especially new runners will always be able to incorporate this kind of breathing pattern at the beginning of the running journey. I was not. First I had to master the basic technique (rhythmical nose breathing) before being able to breathe through both, the nose and the mouth. At the end of the day, you need to choose your breathing technique that is physiologically optimal for your body. Both are correct.
Belly Breathing or Chest Breathing – Which One is Better?
Breath more from your belly and not your chest. Belly breathing allows you to take in more air.
We can breathe naturally correctly, but most of us have forgotten how to breathe, which is why we often experience a shortage of oxygen and easily feel tired. Regardless of our hobbies, physical stamina, and shape, learning how to breathe correctly again is essential. Analyze your breathing habits and pay attention to how you breathe when running. Then adjust.
Breathing when running should feel almost the same as when not running, relaxed and comfortable. When running, your breathing should feel so comfortable that if you run with a friend, you should be able to form full sentences and have a conversation without huffing and puffing. The benefits of learning how to breathe correctly is more energy, better health, and just a happier life in general.
While running, use deep belly breathing as it’s better for efficient and maximal oxygen uptake than shallow chest breathing. Deep belly breathing, on the other hand, is much more efficient because it uses the entire capacity of the lungs. The air you breathe in also travels down to the lower portion of your lungs and stays there longer. This increases your oxygen uptake.
- Belly breathing is more deep.
- Chest breathing is more shallow.
Breathe with your belly and with ease. If for some reason your breathing becomes irregular, slow your running a bit until it becomes regular, or walk a few steps if needed.
How to Practice breathing when laying on the ground
- Lye on your back and place your hands on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose deeply, so your belly rises. As you breathe, your stomach should expand and contract as more air is forced in.
- Your chest, meanwhile, should remain mostly still. You want to get to the point where you do not see your chest moving, but your belly is expanding.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth (while making sssss sound through your mouth) while emptying your stomach and lowering your chest. Put the effort on the exhale instead of the inhale. Make the exhalation part somewhat longer than the inhalation cycle. Your body will get
- stronger while it is exhaling (, and thus better able to resist the impact and stresses of the exercise.
Continue to practice this while lying down until you feel confident to apply this type of breathing when walking and when running.
Getting Ready for a Run.
If your race is short, slow, and you are a newbie runner, you can breathe in through your nose only, because the oxygen demands are low. When practicing for more extended and tougher races, where your body needs to get in as much oxygen as possible, expect your breathing pattern to change a little where you will suddenly start breathing through both, nose and mouth naturally.
Extend Your Exhale
If yoga is familiar to you then you will realize that your breathing when running is actually similar breathing technique as in yoga: inhale through the nose (mouth), exhale long through the mouth. Exhale until you feel comfortable, until your stomach and lungs contain no more air. When you empty your lungs, you will eliminate carbon dioxide, and you will get more capacity for efficient inhale. Don’t force anything. If you do, you will quickly get the breathing rhythm irregular.
If you find it difficult to focus on counting while running, just breathe. Make sure you exhale long and full. This way you will remove more carbon dioxide, and it will help you inhale more deeply.
Proper Body posture When Running
A good posture is an essential element of running. My focus when running was on my feet and trying to catch my breath. So I looked like I have a back problem, leaning and hunching far forward. My head was facing down, and my chin was almost touching my chest. I learned that my emotional state influenced how I carry my body. When younger, I’d often have low-self esteem and did not feel good about my body. So not only my breathing, but also mental state reflected how I carried my body when running. Stand toll.
Running while being hydrated is a must, especially in summer. Make sure you are well hydrated long before you’ll even start running. I drink 2-3 L of water on a daily basis. When running, I usually drink super little or no water at all. You need to find out your balance when it comes to the amount of water you will need to drink on a daily basis.
I love Louise Hay and other motivational gurus, So I always make sure I do some positive affirmations or listen to motivational audio books before a run, one being ‘I am proud of myself.’ As soon as I start repeating the selected positive affirmations, my body posture improves, and my body suddenly becomes tall. Today, I run tall. My chin is parallel to the ground, and I don’t hunch over as before, and my entire body is facing forward. I welcome lots of oxygen into my lungs.
Even though after a run I’d feel good, generally, I noticed that during the run, my entire body was not relaxed, instead it was stressed. Relax. If you are a beginner, try to run slower or at a pace so you can breathe easy. And don’t overthink your breathing technique. Just run. When everything is in tune, your body functions at it’s very best and you will get better with your runs. 🙂
Today I do not think about my breathing. When running, my inhaling starts most of the time through my nose and soon after it continues through the mouth. I do not apply breathing ratios anymore. Why not? As a new runner, I had to figure out what works best for me, and how to improve my breathing. Following a breathing pattern seemed logical at that time and easy to follow the progress. I am happy I did it. The above model helped me master the basic technique, which I believe helped me get to where I am now.
I run for the sake of running. But I also run to meditate. When I want to have a relaxing run and meditate while running, I am breathing (breathe in) through my nose only. In such races, I fall into such beautiful sync, with ease, where in no time I enter a meditative state. When this happen, everything around me disappears (including the sound of my breathing), I run like I’d have wings, my body is made out of feathers, I do not feel my feet, I do not hear my breathing. I just run, and I run fast. Nirvana. 🙂