Getting the body into running mode
As natural and easy breathing is in our everyday lives, it can be a struggle when running or exercising. Breathing may feel uncomfortable or unnatural initially, but should improve with time and training.
Our muscles and respiratory system have to work harder than normal during a strenuous activity like running. Our body uses more oxygen and produces more carbon dioxide and our breathing has to increase to cope with this extra demand.
There are different areas of focus that can help you improve your breathing.
You shouldn’t feel out of breath right at the start of your run, so slow down if you need to. You may need to break your run down into walk/run sections if running takes too much out of you at the beginning.
A warm up is really important to best prepare yourself for a run, especially if you are not usually very active during the day. An effective warm-up will be aimed at raising the body temperature to a point where performance can be optimised but not to the point at which fatigue is induced.
For more advice, read our How to warm up before a run article.
Watch your posture
Poor posture when running can sometimes lead to difficulty breathing. The key is to stay relaxed! Keep your head up with your eyes on the horizon and stay upright and tall with the chest out.
Breathing should feel smooth and relaxed. Try not to panic if you’re feeling like you are getting out of breath too quickly. Focus on your posture or breathing in and out in the smoothest and most natural way.
Have you ever wondered how you breathe? We breathe through our nose and mouth, but what happens below our head?
A lot of people don’t realise they breathe through their chest, which isn’t the best way to maximize oxygen intake as it doesn’t allow the lungs to expand fully. This can result in more shallow breaths. The most efficient way to breathe is from our diaphragm (our belly) as it creates more space in our chest cavity, which results in us being able to take in more oxygen (source flipbelt Blog).
Practice belly breathing
Oxygen Advantage’s YouTube videos about breathing efficiency, state that breathing efficiency and physical fitness are both independent and complementary. While physical fitness does not always translate into breathing efficiency, there is no doubt that breathing efficiency is the gateway to attaining physical fitness. Essentially, the harder you breathe the more oxygen goes to support your breathing muscles. If the diaphragm fatigues, blood is stolen from the legs to feed it. So, if you train the diaphragm the same way you train other parts of your body, you can reduce the cost of breathing. You can practice deep belly breathing during the day or before a run by doing some exercises.
Yoga is another great way to focus on and help improve your diaphragmatic breathing. On her popular YouTube channel Yoga With Adriene, Adriene often brings the focus back to breathing. Practice lying down on the floor and place one hand on your belly and another on your chest. Take a normal breath and see which area rises first. Practice breathing deep into your belly first, then moving the breath up into your chest as you exhale.
Find a rhythm: Pair your breathing with your cadence
It is often hard to stay focused and in control of our breathing during a run, as we tend to adopt a breathing pattern that follows the rhythm of our body. In the book, The Lost Art of Running, Shane Benzie talks about breathing and how it relates to movement. He explains that breathing is vital in promoting good form but also maintaining it:
"Our breathing and our movement are so inextricably linked that we must, therefore, understand the best way to breathe when we run and learn not to fall into classic traps as our session intensifies.
Your breathing loves to attach itself to a rhythm and the obvious rhythm of the body is the movement of your arms and legs. If you increase your cadence there is a very good chance that your breathing rate will try to follow the same rhythm. While it is sensible to associate your breathing with your cadence so that, by way of example only, you breathe in on three footfalls and out on three footfalls, be careful not to associate your breathing too closely with a single footfall or there’s a risk that you will be taking extremely short, shallow breaths, particularly if you are increasing your cadence."
Cadence breathing can be a game changer. Try different breathing patterns on your next run while focusing on breathing from your belly!