Go Deep: Breathing Techniques for Beginning Runners

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Why would beginning runners need to learn how to breathe? Breathing is something we all do every day (and all night) without even thinking about it. But chances are that new runners may not be making the most of each breath they take. In fact, improper breathing technique while running could lead to premature fatigue or even injury.

Breathe From the Belly

Most people take shallow breaths through their chests. A better method is belly breathing, aka diaphragmatic breathing. Engaging the diaphragm (the muscles that control deep breathing) increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, staving off exhaustion for longer than shallow breathing. It also allows more O2 into the brain.

Are You a Belly Breather?

Here is one simple test to see if you breathe from your chest or your belly:

  • Lie on your back on the floor.
  • Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly.
  • Breathe normally.

Which area rises first? If the hand on your chest rises first, you need to practice taking belly breaths. Try inhaling deeply so that your belly rises first and then exhale through your chest and then mouth. You’ll find that not only does diaphragmatic breathing provide more abundant oxygen, it also has a calming effect on your entire body.

Learning to Breathe for Running

Now that you’ve got your diaphragm working for you, focus on how the air gets into your lungs in the first place. Successful runners have learned to breathe through the nose and mouth at the same time.

Breathing through only your mouth may run the risk of hyperventilation — deep, rapid breathing that could ironically leave you breathless. Meanwhile, breathing exclusively through your nose does not allow enough oxygen in with every breath. Worse, it may not allow sufficient release of carbon dioxide.

As you run, keep your mouth slightly open and concentrate on deep belly breaths drawn through both nose and mouth.

Breathing in Stride

I’ve written in previous articles that some runners find running to be a zen experience. The rhythm of each stride, each time a foot strikes the trail, the motion of your arms, and every breath can produce a calming clockwork tempo that takes your mind off of your problems — even if that problem is that your body would rather be home on the couch!

Many runners follow what is called a 2:2 breathing cadence. Basically, this means they take two strides (left, right) on an inhale and two strides (left, right) on an exhale. Why don’t you try mixing it up? Maybe a 3:2 breathing cadence would work better for you. That is three strides during inhalation (left, right, left) and two during exhalation (right, left). See how it starts and ends on the same foot? That means your next breath will start on the alternate foot. This alternating breathing will help balance your core and could even prevent injuries caused by favoring one side over the other.

Further, concentrating on counting (1, 2, 3… 1, 2… 1, 2, 3…) may help take your mind off the run. The miles will build up behind you in no time!

Take a Breath and Dive In

I hope these breathing techniques help improve your running endurance and overall health. Give them a try the next time you head out for a run. As with all exercise, be sure to warm up before and cool down after — which includes your breathing!

I’ll see you on the trails.

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