5 Tips for Proper Breathing While Running

Natalie Cecconi
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How Does Our Body Use Oxygen?

To understand how our body uses oxygen while running, we need to understand what happens to oxygen in our bodies.

When we breathe in air, it first travels to our lungs and gets pumped into air sacs called alveoli, where oxygen is exchanged with fresh blood cells.

The oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream and distributed to the body’s cells where it enters a chemical reaction that converts carbon dioxide into water.

After this chemical reaction, some of the oxygen is transported back to the lungs and expelled along with carbon dioxide and other gases. The rest of the oxygen left in the blood mix is then converted to what is known as myoglobin and released to our muscles.

Myoglobin is a protein that helps our muscles do their work in the anaerobic environment of running and short intense bursts of activity. It gives the muscles their red colour.

Myoglobin stores the oxygen in our muscle cells for quick anaerobic activity and also the less efficient aerobic activity that is used for medium to long distance running and getting you to the finish line.

Tip #1 – Breathe Mostly Through Your Mouth

If you haven’t noticed already, I am a frequent runner. Part of that running regimen has also incorporated CrossFit training for close to a year and a half.

One thing about CrossFit workouts is that most of them assume you already know how to do the exercises. So some of the workouts may be a little more intense or advanced than what you are used to.

This means that a beginner might not be able to perform the exercise immediately.

A good example of this is the breathing technique during burpees.

You have to squat down, place your hands flat on the floor and kick your legs back while you are still squatting. Then you push off your legs and jump and extend your arms above your head. You land and go back to the squat position and repeat.

Some people exhale during the downward motion and inhale as they go back up to standing position. This is totally wrong. If you are new to burpees and you do not know how to breathe, try breathing the same way you would for a normal pushup.

Do it the way I described above, and you will not have any problems.

Another breathing technique you can use to prepare for such an exercise is to take in deep, quick breaths (inhale for about 10 seconds, exhale for about 10 seconds). Do this while standing up.

Tip #2 – Breathe from Your Diaphragm

Breathing from the diaphragm simply means that your lungs have expanded to their maximum capacity, and you are able to fill them up and get a nice deep breath.

Your belly should expand outward with just a little bit of movement, and your chest should not move. When you are trying to breathe from your chest, your lungs will never expand fully, and you will not be as efficient as you can be.

As you learn to breathe from the stomach or diaphragm, you will find that it is much easier to take deep breaths. Every time you take a breath, just imagine that your stomach is expanding and contracting. You can also try to feel it expand and contract.

Tip #3 – Get with the Rhythm

If you can find your stride (pun intended) and utilize clean consistent running form, you will eliminate unnecessary effort and will be much less fatigued.

By incorporating a metronome into your training routine, you can help to keep your rhythm and form in check. Set it at 180 beats per minute and you should be good to go. You can set it faster if you are a more experienced runner.

For this reason, it may help you to focus on your footfalls. Remembering to land on the ball of the foot will help you to avoid heel striking which can be a sign of poor running form. The metronome will also help you to maintain the appropriate number of steps per minute.

When you start off, you might feel like a chicken or Disco Stu (Simpsons reference). But give it time and when you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to focus on your breathing. Pace will take care of itself and the metronome will become a helpful tool in unlocking your running potential.

Tip #4 – Improve Lung Function

Exercise will improve your lung function as you become more fit, which will help you run better and make breathing easier.

As part of a training program to improve run time and lung function, you can undertake a breathing exercise training program.

Here is how to do it:

Learn to exhale fully, which means not short of a breath or gasping for air. Exhale longer and deeper than your normal volume.

Continue to exhale beyond the normal length of time it takes you to exhale.

Learn to control your exhalation. This can be achieved by counting as you exhale or by blanking your mind and counting every 10th one or every 20th one.

Maintain deep breathing posture, where your shoulders are relaxed, your abdomen is flat, and your belly is out. Your shoulders should be free of tension.

Follow these instructions as you breathe during and after training for best results.

Learning to control your breathing can also help your breathing when you race, helping you maintain a pace that your breathing can match.

Tip #5 – Hit the Hills to Challenge Your Breathing

Challenge your ability to breathe while running with hills. Hills will put more stress on the cardio respiratory system than flat surfaces will, so that will translate to more oxygen delivery to the working muscles and more air being taken in.

If you can run a mile on flat ground in 6 minutes, that will probably increase to about 6:15 to 6:20 up on a 1% grade. This is also a great way to measure your improvement, run your test mile and then repeat it after a month to see how you have progressed.

Summary

Running is one of the best activities for your body. When you run, your body is more active compared to sitting or lying down.

From its benefits, you gain flexibility in your joints; help to maintain healthy, strong muscles; and boost your cardiovascular system.

However, if you are an inexperienced runner or you have just run a long distance for the first time, you will experience burning pain and respiratory problems. Understanding proper breathing while running and other runner’s workout tricks like stretching, running program and diet can help you push your limits and achieve your fitness goals.