How to breath when running - distilled knowledge from the world wide web



On some internet forums the question of how a runner should breath pops up quite frequently. This is not so much as how you should breath but that the runner gets out of breath quickly - and thinks that their breathing is at fault

Pretty much all adults have managed to breath well enough to get into adult life... without much active intervention from the brain, breathing is a natural thing and just happens. Cook dinner - you breath, watch the TV - you breath, walk to the shops - breath, even when the brain is resting and you sleep, you still breath.

What people really want to know is why are they getting out of breath quickly

First the technical answer to how to breath, some people will tell you to breath in through the nose, some in through the mouth, and breathing out again through the nose, or the mouth. They have got the very important details correct, and added extra details. The important bit is of course, In and then Out. Never In and then In again otherwise you will eventually explode, never Out and then Out again, otherwise your lungs will be in one of the Outs. Try to breath using your whole torso - not just chest for breathing but also your tummy, the chest is good for light breaths and the abdomen better for deep breathing. I was once told that those who wear tight trousers tend to breath poorly because they can't breath from their tummy so well - the trousers holds it in place.

So that is the basics - In and then Out, nothing at all tricky with that. Often people will write advice such as to breath to a rhythm, say, 3 steps for an in breath and 2 for an out breath, and so on which is fine if the rhythm suits you and you constantly run along the same gradient and terrain. As soon as the gradient, or your speed changes your body needs more or less air and sticking to breathing to a rhythm can cause 2 things to happen.

The first is obvious - your brain does not get enough oxygen, and when this happens you feel light headed, the brain shuts down your legs, and you end up looking at the ground a bit too closely (you faint). Not good. The opposite can happen, too much air, hyperventilating, and this can also bring on a head - ground interface (another faint), this is not good either.

Basically your body knows how much oxygen it needs at any time and will work the lungs and heart to get it, this is a natural reaction and needs no thought processes to do it. Let your body control the breathing for you - it is an expert at it, it has done it for far longer than you have been a runner for, so leave it to breath. You concentrate your brain on steering and avoiding cars and dogs.

The other problem with forcing your breath at a rhythm is that you have to concentrate on that for the whole run - 30 minutes or more often, and this means you loose out on so many other senses - you don't notice things, or hear so much.

If you feel that you need to run to a rhythm then 2 steps breath in to 3 steps breath out is a good one to follow - that way you alternate breathing in and out with different foot landings. Research has shown that elite faster runners (short distances) tend to have a faster rate of breathing than elite longer distance runners (2:2 (in: out) ratio for fast, 2:3 or 3:3 ratio of foot steps for long distances), and that in a sprint finish the long distance runners will adopt a faster rate of breathing then the long run. This adds to the confusion if you are trying to actively control your breathing - judging your pace and matching it to a rhythm of breathing. Get it wrong and you could fall down - so leave the body to breath.


If you really want to know how your body wants to breath then run for 10 minutes or more and then notice what your mouth, nose and breathing rhythm is doing - that is correct for you.


Now to the point of what I am writing, how do you stop getting short of breath very quickly after starting a run.

This is not due to breathing as such, it is more due to the speed you are running at. Most runners set off very fast (I do the same), and shortly afterwards have to slow down again to recover from this fast start. Once they recover they can speed up to a constant speed that their body is happy with. Now if you can get the initial pace right for the first 5 minutes you often find you can run further, and breath more easily. I often say to set off at a pace where in your mind you are thinking "I can run faster than this", or where you can sing in your head. After this first section of easier running your body has kicked in the mechanisms for running and you should be able to speed up a bit and run further, often running further quicker than you would have done with a fast start and slowing down.

[Note about runners pacing: If you run say, 5km, and run the first at a very quick 4 minutes, then slow to 5 minutes a km for 2km to recover, then pick up the pace again once you recovered from the fast start to finish the last 2km in 4:30 (a pace you can run at happily), this gives you a time of 23 minutes - about average. If you set off a bit slower, say 4:30 (not a lot slower but it feels it) but you keep the pace constant for the whole distance you would complete the course in 22:30 - quicker than the faster start! Pacing is important but hard to get right)]