Breathing for Runners

Sometimes I forget what a vital role breathing plays in the running. One of my friends recently texted me to know more about breathing while running, and I realized that breathing had become a part of my natural running rhythm, so I don’t think of it much. I remembered the days when I got side stitches and was short of breath after only a half-mile run. I was reminded that losing your breath may be a big obstacle to success as a runner. It doesn’t matter if you are an elite athlete or a novice runner; proper breathing techniques can boost your running.

Why Do we Get Winded?

Cardiorespiratory activities, such as running, tax your muscles and lungs. You can get winded quickly for several reasons; your lung’s capacity to bring oxygen to your muscles, how hard you are running, stamina, and breathing technique.

Deep belly breathing is best for running, where you expand your diaphragm fully. Most of the runners have shallow chest breathing while running. Unfortunately, most of us spend many hours on our desks in front of a computer hunched over. Sitting on the desk for hours promotes shallow chest breathing; the rounded shoulder posture that results from sitting on the desk allows your chest to close up. We take this breathing pattern along with us on our runs.

I will share some tips on how to breathe efficiently during running. You can follow many techniques; I recommend starting slowly and trying one approach before moving on to the next.

Nasal Breathing-

You can inhale and exhale through your nostrils or inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Both breathing approaches are acceptable for slow and easy runs. I like alternating the nose and mouth because it kicks in the parasympathetic nervous system and lowers the heart rate.

If you are doing speed drills, you may find breathing solely through your mouth is easier. Breathing through your mouth brings oxygen faster to your muscles during high-intensity efforts and sprints.

Abdominal Breathing-

Most of us practice shallow chest breathing because we spend many hours hunched over our devices. Shallow breathing causes stress which triggers the sympathetic nervous system. Runners should practice deep abdominal breathing, strengthening their intrinsic core muscles and diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that sits at the base of the lungs. When you take deep breaths, your body becomes relaxed while running.

Focus on Form-

For an efficient breathing pattern while running, maintain good posture. Keep your head in line with your spine, ensuring it doesn’t drop down or forward. The average human head weighs 11 pounds, which is a lot of weight to carry while running. When you drop your head, your shoulders tend to round, and your chest closes, hindering optimal oxygen exchange. Relax your shoulders down away from your ears. Avoid hunching or slouching forward while running.

Breathe Rhythmically-

Breathing rhythmically allows you to inhale a large amount of oxygen and evenly distribute stress on both sides of your body. The breathing rhythm can follow a 3:2 pattern or 2:1 pattern. You can inhale for three-foot strikes and exhale for two-foot strikes, alternating the foot you land on as you exhale. Rhythmic breathing helps prevent muscular imbalances.

Run in Natural Areas-

Your lungs will thank you if you breathe fresh air while running. Try to find parks or conserved green areas, away from traffic, for your runs. Trails are great for running, and you will get fresh air without pollution.

In a nutshell, practice deep belly breathing whenever you can. Breathe through both your nose and mouth. Try out different breathing rhythms and choose what feels natural to you. Your most efficient breathing technique will develop over time.

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About the Author

Aesha Tahir is a health and wellness coach and a certified personal trainer. She holds a Master’s degree in Applied Exercise Science and is certified by the NASM as a Personal trainer. She is a certified USA Track and Field Running Coach and Road Runners of America Coach. She is a 200-HR Registered Yoga Teacher. She is also a group exercise instructor specializing in barre, spinning, strength training, boot camp, and yoga classes. She has over five years of experience in the fitness and wellness arena with focused expertise in coaching, corrective exercise and injury prevention, individualized fitness programs, and group fitness programs. She is also an aspiring public speaker in the fitness and wellness world who believes in this quote; “To be inspired is great, but to inspire is incredible.”



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Aesha Tahir

Aesha Tahir

Coach, writer & runner. Exercise science, group fitness and positive psychology for every athlete. Book a Call with