How to breathe when running: Improve your Performance and Endurance

Breath is life – that very first lungful as a baby, signals our transition from the womb to the world.
November 4, 2019

Beginner runners will typically feel that they lose their breath quite fast. That is due to a lack of control of their breathing. Learning how to control your breath when running will not only strengthen your endurance, pace, and performance, but it will also lead to faster recovery and a less stressed mind. Read further and understand why and how to breathe when running.

How your breathing technique when running can make you faster 

As an experienced runner or an athlete, you’ve probably considered how you can improve your performance through proper techniques as a part of your training. Whether you run at a high level or in your spare time, it is highly relevant to understand how to breathe when running. Becoming aware of your breathing will increase the efficiency of your running, steady your pace, and influence your mind. Maintaining a good state of mind is always an important factor in a successful run.

The muscles in your legs are, of course, essential for running. And these muscles need oxygen to create energy and thereby allow you to run even faster. Another very important muscle that comes into play is your diaphragm. It is the diaphragm that helps your lungs expand and bring oxygen to your muscles through your blood. 

The diaphragm is the primary muscle used in respiration. It is a thin skeletal muscle that sits at the base of your chest and separates the chest from the abdomen. Using your diaphragm when breathing is called diaphragmatic breathing, and the essential point in this form of breathing is that you engage your deep belly. When you do so, your blood will be better oxygenated sending more oxygen to your muscles. That means more energy, which in the end means stronger endurance.  

breathing exercises to increase vo2 max

Do I already breathe efficiently when I run? 

Several signs can indicate whether your breathing technique is efficient or inefficient when you are running. First, is gasping for air. This indicates that you use your shallow chest to breathe instead of your belly. Besides gasping for air, you should be aware of tightness or actual pain in your neck, back or ribs, whether your shoulders raise and lower when you run, and if your back is arched. 

Also, you should be aware of your stomach movement, does it rise when you inhale and sink when you exhale, as it should?

Breathing effectively when running essentially means that you use your diaphragm, to regularly expand your lungs and thereby constantly improve your body’s ability to utilize oxygen. But it requires practice to be able to control your breathing while running and keep attention to a variety of factors.  

Deep belly vs. chest breathing 

Breathing with your deep belly vs. your chest is the main focal point when exercising the control of your breath. 

Shallow chest breathing seriously compromises your health. The human body needs sufficient amounts of oxygenated blood to function properly, and both our physical and mental wellbeing depend on it. So deep belly breathing is just as important when you relax as when you run. 

Deep belly breathing means that you are increasing your maximal oxygen uptake, VO2 max, and using the entire capacity of your lungs. When only breathing with your chest, you will be far away from using your full running potential, as you do not take advantage of the actual strength and capacity of your lungs. 

When your breath with your chest, your body will be in a sort of fight mode, which means that you will reach your anaerobic threshold relatively fast. This is the point where you cannot breathe deeply or fast enough to fulfill your body’s demand for oxygen. By training your breathing technique while running, you will be postponing the moment where you reach the anaerobic threshold, increasing your ventilatory threshold. That means that you can run a longer time or at a higher pace before you reach your VO2 max. 

Belly vs. chest breathing

Train your belly breathing

To train your belly breathing, try to lie down before taking a run or do it in the morning. Place your hand on your stomach and take slow, deep breaths that lift your hand as you inhale and sink it as you exhale. What you feel here is your diaphragm moving. The next step is to take these deep belly breaths while walking and then while running. 

Nose and mouth 

To avoid chest breathing, a good start is to also become aware of your nose vs. mouth breathing. Only inhaling and exhaling through your mouth while running can have a hyperventilating effect, while only inhaling and exhaling through your nose will provide you with too little amounts of oxygen than what you need for running. Therefore, the best way is to combine the two functions. This will keep the breathing steady and it will engage and activate your diaphragm for maximum oxygen intake. As explained, this will provide your muscles with an increased amount of oxygen. 

You inhale carbon dioxide every time you breathe in. However, what we need is oxygen, and therefore carbon dioxide should be expelled quickly again. When you use both your nose and mouth you can expel carbon dioxide much faster, and thereby avoid anxiety and/or breathlessness. 

Train your nose and mouth by breathing at a steady pace so that it becomes natural for you to breathe like this when you run at lower intensities. It continuously trains and increases your ventilatory threshold. As the intensity of your run increases, turn more and more towards mouth breathing. 

Learn how to control your breath when running

There are different techniques to improve your breathing when running. The first step is to train your breathing through your mouth and nose at a steady pace, as explained above. 

The next step is to focus on your breathing rhythm and train rhythmic patterns of breathing. Try to follow these patterns of counts at inhaling and exhale at first: 

  • 3:3 at easy and low-intensity runs
  • 2:2 at medium-intensity runs
  • 1:1 at maximum and high-intensity runs

You can start by trying to follow these counts, however, the right rhythm depends on the individual. Therefore you need to try different rhythms and choose the one that feels most comfortable for you. A rule of thumb is that the slower you breathe, the longer you can run since it ensures a steady flow of oxygen to your muscles. You can experiment with shorter and longer distances, and also try counts as 4:3 or 2:1. Try to keep the same deep breathing rhythm while increasing pace and intensity. 

By training your breathing rhythm you can also become increasingly focused and present during your running. 

The goal

The goal of training your breathing is so that you can avoid chest breathing and be able to control your breathing when running. Belly breathing increases lung capacity and you will, therefore, get more oxygen into the bloodstream, increasing your endurance. Through training your breathing, you are likely to see positive results on your running within two to three weeks, gradually increasing your speed and tolerance for intense exercise. 

With Airofit, you can take your breathing to new levels. Start your journey today here.