How to Breathe While Running: Best Breathing Exercises

Running is an excellent way to stay fit and healthy; however, many runners face common difficulties like getting out of breath, wheezing, fatigue, chest tightness, and/or side stitches. To minimize or eradicate these problems, breathing techniques like rhythmic breathing and diaphragmatic breathing are effective in improving your overall running performance.

In this article, we will dive into several aspects of proper breathing techniques, breathing patterns, and other important factors to consider while running so you can boost your performance and learn how to run without getting out of breath.

Why is breathing essential in running?

Running is a great way to stay in shape and lead a healthy lifestyle. Nevertheless, despite being a fundamental aspect of every person’s life, breathing can become difficult when trying to run too fast or for too long, and some people get out of breath even after running a short distance.

Breathing relies on various chest muscles, primarily the diaphragm, which separates the chest from the abdomen. When you inhale, the diaphragm flattens, expanding the lungs to draw in oxygen, vital for the body's functions. Exhalation sees the diaphragm returning to its resting position, aiding in expelling carbon dioxide.

During strenuous activities like running, efficient breathing becomes crucial, as it ensures sufficient oxygen intake to support muscle function and energy production. Strengthening the diaphragm and mastering proper breathing techniques are key to enhancing running performance by optimizing airflow into the lungs.

In this regard, proper breathing during running can help you cover longer distances, reduce fatigue, and achieve better results overall.

Nose vs. mouth breathing: pros and cons

For years, a debate has raged over the benefits of nose versus mouth breathing, with each runner typically having a preferred method, often dictated by their running pace.

In any case, let’s take a look at the benefits and disadvantages of these two types of breathing:

Mouth breathing

Nose breathing

As you can see, every breathing method has its advantages and disadvantages. However, as a rule of thumb, you may use nasal breathing when running at a slower pace, and mouth breathing when going for high-intensity runs.

You can also mix these two breathing methods by inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. In any case, you should always stick to what works best for you.

Best techniques to improve breathing for running

Regardless of the breathing method you choose — nasal or by mouth — some breathing techniques can help you further improve your performance while running:

1. Diaphragmatic breathing for runners

Diaphragmatic breathing, also called belly breathing, involves consciously engaging the diaphragm muscle to take deeper breaths and expand the lungs to their maximum capacity.

The diaphragmatic breathing technique enhances oxygen intake, which can boost your performance and make you less prone to experience side stitches.

Here is how to do it:

  1. Lie comfortably on your back on a flat surface, bend your knees, and place your feet on the ground.
  2. Put one hand on your belly, just below your rib cage, and the other hand on your chest.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Feel the air as it comes in.
  4. Let the air in deeply to your belly and feel how it expands. The hand on your chest should not rise.
  5. As your belly rises, and you feel your lungs filling up, start tightening your abdominal muscles so you can push your diaphragm down and out.
  6. Exhale air slowly, taking at least 2 times longer to exhale the air than it took you to inhale it. The hand on your belly should go back to its original position.

Start by doing a couple of 5–10-minute sessions every day while resting, and pick up the pace when you feel comfortable to do so. When you feel confident enough, you can slowly start incorporating these exercises into your runs. Eventually, you will be able to perform these exercises during both your running and resting periods, which will further strengthen your diaphragm.

2. Rhythmic breathing techniques

Rhythmic breathing refers to synchronizing your breaths with your steps. This is important because every time your foot hits the ground, your body can get stressed by the force of the impact, which can be around 3–4 times your body weight.

Furthermore, when we breathe, the core muscles and the diaphragm are most stable when we inhale, as opposed to when we exhale, in which case the muscles are the most unstable. Therefore, establishing a rhythmic breathing pattern promotes efficiency while running, allowing you to maximize the amount of oxygen you take in each breath, and lessening the stress on your body.

Some of the most common rhythmic breathing techniques are:

  • 2:1 pattern. Inhale every 2 steps and exhale at the next step. This pattern is adequate for faster and high-impact runs.
  • 3:2 pattern. Inhale every 3 steps and exhale every 2 steps. This pattern is recommended for jogging or gentle running.
  • 3:3 pattern. Similar to the 3:2 pattern, but the exhale happens every 3 steps.

To prevent muscular imbalances on both sides of your body, you can alternate which foot receives the impact as you exhale.

3. Good posture during the run

While breathing techniques are important, your posture is also key to maximizing your performance while running.

A good posture is achieved by:

  • Keeping your head in line with your spine
  • Relaxing your shoulders
  • Avoiding tilting your chest forward

This posture will allow you to breathe more efficiently while running. As with any technique, always keep in mind to take it slowly and get comfortable before trying to pick up the pace.

Sprinting vs. long-distance running: is there a difference in breathing?

Although both sprinting and long-distance running are excellent cardiovascular exercises that require the runner to have their breathing pattern under control, several differences between them can be highlighted.


Sprinting
Long-distance running
Breathing patternShort, rapid, controlled breathsDeep, controlled, rhythmic breaths
Rhythmic breathing technique2:1 pattern3:2 or 3:3 pattern
Energy demandDemands quick and explosive bursts of energyDemands a prolonged and steady flow of energy
Running paceRapidSteady

How to maintain steady breathing during races?

Some races like triathlons or obstacle courses can combine sprinting and long-distance running.

In this case, it is imperative for you to practice your breathing techniques and learn how to gradually transition from one to another in a short period of time.

To do this, you must incorporate interval training into your daily regimen of exercise so you can adapt your body and respiratory system to sudden changes in intensity.

Be patient when running

Remember that practice makes perfect. Do not expect to get these breathing techniques right on your first try. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them.

Eventually, you’ll start noticing improvements in your performance, and if you stay consistent, you will find yourself running longer distances without getting out of breath.

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