Become A Runner, Part 2: Breathing Techniques

14 Aug, 2019 • by Admin

If you can’t talk while you’re running, you’re probably not breathing well and you’re probably going too fast

All of us instinctively know how to run, but most didn't inherit an innate sense of the exact speed we can sustain. Proper pacing depends on factors like how far you're going, how fit you are, and your genetic ability—and it's a skill that takes time to hone.

Stay at a speed at which you can easily chat with a partner. If you're gasping for breath, slow down. If you can belt out the chorus to a Bruno Mars song on your iPod, pick it up a bit, but err on the side of slowness to avoid running yourself into the ground. The idea is to finish each run wanting to do a little bit more or go a little bit faster. It makes it easier to get out there the next time, because you feel like there's more to accomplish.

Whether you feel like you can’t breathe when running or you feel fine, but know that there is a better way to breathe when you run, it is definitely time to make this change.


Even though our bodies breathe involuntarily, mindful, proper breathing while you run can boost your endurance and reduce injury. Many people have a tendency to hold their breath when they exercise, especially as the movements or pace increase in difficulty. This isn’t good for your body. If you breathe improperly, this could mean uncomfortable consequences like side stitches or lower performance while running.

Your muscles need oxygen and won’t work effectively if they aren’t getting enough of it. Oxygen fuels muscle contractions that happen when your body is in motion. It drives the spark which helps your muscles convert the glucose from your diet into energy.

With your muscles working extra hard during exercise, they need more energy. Your breathing rate increases so that the amount of oxygen being delivered to your muscles keeps up with the increased energy production. That’s why you breathe harder and faster when you increase your pace or intensity.

Belly Breathing

Deep belly breathing is much more efficient when running because it uses the entire capacity of the lungs. The air you breathe in also travels down to the lower portion of your lungs and stays there longer. This increases your oxygen uptake.

Belly breathing is also referred to as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing. It gets its name from the way it uses the diaphragm (which lies below the lungs) to fully saturate the lungs with oxygen. This has the effect of pushing the belly outward.

belly breathing diagram

On the contrary, too much chest breathing can result in something called “over-breathing,” which can cause us to feel breathless or anxious. It also limits our ability to take in adequate oxygen and use our full lung capacity, which can result in even shallower breathing habits as we age.

Mouth Breathing

Mouth breathing is by far the best way to breath while running, largely because it brings in more oxygen than breathing through the nose. Some runners do prefer to breathe through both the mouth and nose, maximizing air intake.

When you run at an easily sustainable pace, you are likely to get enough oxygen primarily through your nose alone. This allows you to carry on a steady conversation without stopping to gasp for air through your mouth.

However, as your pace and intensity increases, your body needs more oxygen. You need mouth breathing to meet your body's need. While your nose can warm and filter incoming air, breathing through your nose alone won't cut it. This is when mouth breathing kicks in to help out.

As your pace and intensity level increases during runs, you'll notice that nose breathing often shifts to combined nose/mouth breathing to accommodate your body's increased oxygen demands.

My mouth gets dry when I breathe through it while running? If this is your problem, dehydration might be an issue. When you’re running in the heat of summer, it’s important to start every run well-hydrated and drink fluids for runs longer than about 75-90 minutes.

Rhythmic Breathing

Rhythmic breathing can help reduce fatigue of respiratory muscles in endurance running, which could improve endurance performance and, quite possibly, reduce injury risk.

To synchronize your breathing, use the rhythm of your steps to regulate your breath. If you are on a slower, easy run, for example, you’ll choose a different breathing rhythm than when you’re running for speed. The goal is to synchronize your breath with your strides.

Many runners prefer a 2:2 breathing pattern — two strides for every inhale, two strides for every exhale. This helps create a rhythm that, overtime, you will no longer have to count in your head.

These rates should only be used as a rule of thumb, and they do not apply to every runner. The best way is to try out a few different breathing rhythms and find the one that feels most comfortable to you.

  • Easy runs at low intensity: 3:3 (three steps while breathing in and three steps while breathing out)
  • Medium-intensity runs: 2:2
  • Maximum and high-intensity runs: 1:1 (i.e. the final burst at the end of a race)

Take Away

If breathing is difficult – no matter what pace you’re running – this is just a signal that you’re out of shape. You need to gradually run more over time, build your endurance, and making running a consistent habit.

Avoid shallow chest breathing while running and focus on deep belly breathing. Breathe through both your nose and mouth, but primarily through the latter. Try out several different breathing rhythms and choose the one that feels most comfortable to you. Often your best breathing technique for running will develop by itself over time.

Do breathing exercises. Remember that just as we work to strengthen our muscles and hearts, we must also work to strengthen our lungs. Practice taking deep breaths from your diaphragm while sitting still or lying on your back. Put your hand on your abdomen to make sure it moves up and down with each breath.


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