Running is among the world’s simplest sports: all that is required are a pair of running shoes and the motivation to lace up and go. However, additional factors are often taken for granted, such as breathing. Is there a special way to breathe while running? The answer may surprise you.
Mouth vs. Nose
When you are running – particularly when you are working hard – the goal is to deliver as much oxygen as possible to your muscles and organs. For this reason, mouth breathing is preferable because it enables oxygen to be delivered to the lungs more quickly than when air is taken in through the nose. Don’t believe me? Take a deep breath through your nose as quickly as possible and count how many seconds are required before you fill your lungs completely. Now, make the same attempt while breathing through your mouth. You likely filled your lungs more quickly and efficiently with the latter method.
The only exception to mouth breathing while running is when your breath rate becomes erratic. When this situation occurs it can be relaxing to take a slow breath through your nose in order to regain a sense of control over your body.
Belly vs. Chest
Once you get the hang of breathing through your mouth while you run you should next consider whether you are breathing primarily through your chest, or through your belly. To test, lie on your back with one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Inhale and observe which hand rises higher. If you are breathing through your chest, you are not breathing deeply enough and you may be limiting your workouts as a result. In addition, cramping and side stitches are often caused by lack of oxygen and shallow breathing. Practice belly breathing by only allowing your belly to rise when you inhale.
Finally, the rhythm with which you breathe can make a difference in how you perceive discomfort and your relative level of exertion. Our bodies automatically equate fast, out of control breathing with extreme effort. However, if your breathing rate can be slowed down – even at high exercise intensity levels – the effort can be made to feel more comfortable.
Generally speaking, runners should follow a 3:3 breathing pattern for easy days (i.e. breathing in for three strides and out for three strides), and a 2:2 pattern for hard workouts. The difference between these breathing rates is the amount of oxygen that is taken in through the lungs. With a 3:3 breathing pattern you will take approximately 30 breaths per minute, while a 2:2 pattern will result in approximately 45 breaths per minute. The higher breath rate is important for shuttling greater amounts of oxygen to your muscles for processing. Most importantly, focusing on your breathing will help you better control your effort during runs and races in order to perform your best.