As runners, we often tend to primarily focus on training two body systems – our cardiovascular system (heart rate and heart rate zones) and our muscle system (strengthening our legs and core). But there’s one more system out there that you should be equally focused on in order to improve your running – your pulmonary system! Training your lungs and diaphragm is a phenomenal way to put on more miles and shave more seconds. But how do we do it? Are there ways that we can actually train our lungs to supply oxygen to our working heart and muscles more effectively? Today we’re sharing 4 tips on how to breathe correctly while running so you can maximize every mile.
Did you know that having a strong respiratory system can actually improve your running! Better breathing = better oxygen delivery to your muscles = more efficiency to your run. Just like you can exercise your muscles to increase strength, there are actually certain things you can do to improve the delivery of oxygen to your heart and muscles.
1. Breathe through your mouth – You’ve always heard that you should “breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth” while running. Not true! Your mouth is a lot bigger than your nostrils and therefore capable of pulling in a lot more air. Think of it this way – if you were incredibly thirsty would you rather drink from a coffee straw or a hose? Same idea with breathing – bigger breaths through a bigger port (i.e. your mouth) results in a more efficient delivery of a larger volume of oxygen.
2. Concentrate on taking slow and deep breaths: The secret to breathing while running is to breathe deeply/more fully. When you breathe more fully you actually increase the volume of air in your lungs making more oxygen readily available to working muscles. If you find yourself struggling for air during a run, focus on slowing your breathing down and actually taking fuller breaths. The idea isn’t just to move more oxygen in and out, but to make it more readily available for your blood to pick up. Deeper breaths can improve this availability.
3. Focus on your breathing pattern: In my experience, most runners tend to breathe on a 2:2 step pattern. Every 2 steps the take (left foot, right foot) is a breath in and every 2 steps is a breath out. Try to push yourself to a 3:2 breathing pattern to take fuller breaths and make more oxygen available in your lungs. Slowly breathe in – left foot, right foot, left foot; then breathe out a little quicker – right foot, left foot. This results in more oxygen being readily available in your lungs while still dispelling the carbon dioxide at a good turnover rate. Try using the 3:2 method for your steady, long runs; switch to a 2:1 method for speed runs or when your pace has increased and you need to increase your oxygen delivery.
4. Become a “belly breather”: Most beginner and intermediate runners actually breathe incorrectly while running. The primary muscle you should be using while running is your diaphragm. This muscle connects all the way around your lowest ribs and, when it contracts, helps to fill your lungs up with air. Most runners tend to be “chest breathers” – meaning when they breathe it’s usually their chest that heaves instead of their stomach. This causes tension through the shoulders and torso and results in a lot more muscles being overactive, essentially wasting energy. When you run, concentrate on making your “belly pop out” while breathing and “try to keep your chest quiet” to focus more on diaphragmatic breathing.
Whenever I discuss these tips with patients, usually the feedback I get back after a couple of weeks is something along the lines of “my form is better”, “I’m not working so hard” and “I can go a lot longer before fatigue settles in”. If those are things you’re interested in (and I’ve NEVER met a runner who isn’t!), give some of these tips on how to breathe while running a try! I know they can help you, too.