What is the Best Way to Breathe while Running?
How do you breathe while running? Through your nose? Through your mouth? Both? Do you focus on a specific pattern or simply try not to hyperventilate?
For years, I didn’t think twice about how I was breathing. I simply did what felt natural. Sometimes, when running with friends, they would comment that it appeared I was breathing way too hard. So, I looked into it and discovered there actually was a best way to breathe while running.
It’s always best to try to do what feel natural, but if you’re looking for a better way to breathe while running, here are a few simple tips:
Why We Breathe Harder While Running
Most people think we breathe harder when we run because we need to get more oxygen into our body. Not so, says legendary running coach Jack Daniels. In Daniel’s Running Formula, he says the discomfort in breathing we feel while running isn’t due to lack of oxygen, rather, the increased amount of carbon dioxide in our lungs.
In short, “you breathe harder to get rid of the excess CO2.”
There is also some debate on whether or not it’s better to breathe through your mouth or nose. According to all experts, breathing through your mouth is the quickest way to inhale and exhale air. Oxygen is a critical ingredient for…well everything, but especially during aerobic activity. “If your nose wants to join the party and help get air in and out, that’s great.” says Jeff Gaudet from Runner’s Connect.
Breathe in a 2:2 Rhythm
Over the years, I’ve learned that rhythmic breathing, or breathing with your stride, is the best way to run and feel controlled. If you’re running easy, this may be in a 4:4 or 3:3 pattern: breathe in for 3, and out for 3. As run go faster, it increases to 2:2, 2:1, or even 1:1. It’s important to note that the shallower we breathe, the more difficult it is to get rid of that CO2. Remember, you need to get rid of CO2, so making sure you’re clearing it out is incredibly important.
Many years ago, I read that a 2:2 breathing rhythm is ideal, and what most accomplished runners do naturally (or have trained themselves to do naturally). Daniel’s also, “strongly recommends using a 2:2 rhythm” during the majority of an effort. He has found this to be the most efficient rhythm.
I’ve adopted this 2:2 pattern (or sometimes 2:1) on any hard run or race. My breathing pattern often breaks down at the end of a race when I’m just trying to hang on for dear life. I’ve found that keeping this rhythm for the majority of a race or run has been beneficial for four reasons:
Pacing. When I focus on breathing, it’s easier to hold a certain pace. When you get tired, it’s harder to do this, but sticking to a rhythm that matches your desired pace, or just breathing hard and shallow, will allow you to hold your pace, and keep yourself under control.
Adapting as your Tire. Along those same lines, there are times during a run when you’ll need to adjust your pace. (I.e. going up or down a hill, speeding up to pass someone, etc.) Focusing on your breathing is an indicator of how hard you’re working. If you begin to tackle a hill, and find your breathing rhythm is out of wack, it’s time to slow down. If you speed up to pass someone, returning to that rhythm will help you to avoid burning out.
Relaxation. When we control our breathing, our body relaxes. Breathing exercises are one of the best ways to beat stress. When running hard, you’re not necessarily looking to relax. However, I’ve found, that when I focus on my breathing while I’m running, I am far more relaxed. Racing relaxed is the best way to run, and if we control our breathing, we will likely be able to control our minds, which ultimately is the deciding factor in how your race will go.
Side Stitches. Most of us have had a side stitch at one point or another. This is often attributed to “stress to the diaphragm, which is escalated by shallow breathing.” While the exact cause may not be full known, according to Runner’s Connect, we do know that slowing down and taking deeper breaths, will help.
Do you focus on your breathing rhythms when you’re running? What patterns have you found to work well? If not, give it a try on your next run and reports back how it goes.