“Are you a stingy breather? Well, don’t be. Be extravagant with your breathing and come fully alive.” —Ron Fletcher
Breathing is something we have to do to stay alive. It is vital for running. Your muscles need oxygen to make your legs turn over. Breathing is something that happens unconsciously. You might have noticed that the faster you run, the harder you breathe. But what if we do consciously think about breathing while we run? Can this have a positive impact? This might be something you have wondered about. Let’s take a closer look.
First, examine how you breathe while running. There are two areas you might notice moving while you breathe, your chest and your diaphragm. The ultimate way to breathe while running is to use both. Place your hand on your stomach while sitting or lying down. Consciously fill your belly with air so you can feel your hand move with your stomach. This is belly breathing with your diaphragm. If you can utilize both your diaphragm and your lungs during your run, you will find you are able to get more air (oxygen) in.
How should you access this air, through your nose or mouth? Good question.
Nose breathing is great if you are in zone 1 or the bottom of zone 2. You are going slow enough that the muscles can access enough oxygen from the air you breathe through your nose only. This is an important way to tell if you are in zone 1 or 2. But once you speed up, you are going to need more oxygen. Breathe through both your nose and mouth, or through your mouth only, while running in high zone 2, tempo, or interval paces.
Now try consciously breathing with the diaphragm while running. Think about your belly moving out. I bet after a while you will notice that you feel better with this style of breathing. With enough practice you will find that you are doing it unconsciously.
Here is something else you might want to try. If you consistently run with two inhales and two exhales, you will most likely be landing on the same leg every time. This repeated impact force could eventually cause an injury on that side of the body. Think about carrying a large, heavy backpack on one shoulder all the time. There is more force on that side of the body, leading to high impact on one side and not the other. This imbalance can cause injury.
How can this be fixed? Well, try breathing in for a count of three, then exhaling for a count of two. Lie down again, putting your hand on your belly. Breathe in for three and, at the same time, tap each foot on the floor as if running—one, two, three. Now exhale at the count of two and tap one, two. If you keep up the count of three inhales to two exhales, you will land on a different foot each time. This is great! Once you are ready, try the breathing count of 3:2 on a slow run. Inhale three times with the first three steps, exhale for two steps. Try to focus on 3:2 several times during an easy run. When you are ready, test it out at a faster tempo or on an interval run. Now change the tempo to 2:1. Inhale for two steps, exhale for one. Continue to monitor your belly breathing. Practice this for a few minutes several times during the course of your run. Eventually, you will find yourself doing it automatically.