Lung capacity is one of the most crucial factors to consider as a runner.
In fact, increasing your lung capacity and improving your breathing should be a crucial element of any training routine.
So, are you excited?
Then here we go.
8 Ways to Increase Lung Capacity For Running
Here are 8 simple ways to help you get more out of your lungs.
1. Start Slow
As a beginner, getting winded doesn’t inherently mean a problem with your technique or the way you’re breathing; it’s a problem with your conditioning.
When you run, you’re putting your body against under a lot of stress, and your muscles call for more oxygen to meet their needs.
The more you ask of your muscles, the more oxygen they need, and the harder your respiratory and cardiovascular systems have to work through that cycle.
So, what to do?
If you are a complete beginner, then start slow and build gradually.
As a rule of thumb, keep a conversational pace. This means that you should be able to speak in full sentences without too much huffing and puffing throughout your runs.
Next, work your way up to more challenging runs and distances.
Consider doing any of the following:
Run for more, but at a slower pace. This will help improve your red blood cell count, grow more capillaries, and make your heart stronger—all of which increase oxygen delivery to your working muscles.
Run more frequently each week. If you only run a couple of times per week, add a third day. Doing so provides your body with more time (and stimulus) to build more cell mitochondria and capillaries. This allows for more oxygen to course through your bloodstream.
Consider cross-training. Opt for cardiovascular activities, such as cycling, swimming, and skiing to improve your lung function over time.
Just whatever you do, keep moving and pushing yourself so that your cardiovascular and lungs get exercise, too.
2. Learn Deep Breathing
One of the simplest and fastest things to do for preventing lung fatigue while running is to learn how to breathe deep.
Deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic or belly breathing, is a form of respiration in which you use your entire lung capacity by engaging the abdominal and diaphragm muscles.
The principal muscle involved in deep breathing is the diaphragm—a muscle group shaped like a jellyfish or a parachute.
As you can see in the image, the diaphragm sits below the lungs and divides the torso into the abdominal and thoracic cavities, separating the chest from the abdomen.
During deep breathing, the diaphragm pulls down on the abdominal cavity to completely inflate the lungs, drawing in maximum air, then deflate, squeezing the air out fully.
But there is the bad news.
Most runners are “chest breathers”—not belly breathers.
Also known as shallow breathing, or thoracic breathing, this occurs when the act of respiration originates from the top lobes of the lungs.
When you breathe from the chest, you expand and contract the chest with each inhale and exhale while the abdominal area remains still, drawing in minimal air into the lungs.
For that reason, chest breathing is typically associated with breathlessness and hyperventilation. It can also cause a side stitch when running, according to theory.
How to take deep breaths?
Here is how to learn deep breathing in the comfort of your own home.
Start out by lying flat on the floor, chest open, shoulder relaxed, with one hand resting on your chest and the other on your belly.
Next, breathe in slowly, taking about 10 seconds for the inhale. Visualize your lungs filling up with air, feeling the air moving into the chest, stomach, and abdomen.
Once your lungs are loaded with air (you might feel mild discomfort in the solar plexus, just below the breastbone), hold your breath for a count of 10.
Last up, exhale slowly for ten seconds through pursed lips while pulling your belly button to your spine to get all the air out.
Your lower hand should be moving with each breath while the upper hand remains relatively still throughout the exercise.
So, every time you inhale, your abdomen should fill up like a balloon. And every time you exhale, that balloon deflates.
This exercise will only help you be more aware of your breathing but also increase your lung capacity when performed several times a day over a prolonged period.
3. Breathing Exercises
Looking for more breathing exercises? Then these should satisfy your curiosity.
The exercises shared below can improve the function of your lungs by increasing the respiratory muscles strength and endurance.
These exercises, according to my research, are prescribed for patients who suffer from bronchitis, asthma, COPD and other similar issues. And as a runner, they might provide you with the next edge when it comes to increasing your lung power.
These breathing exercises are simple, easy to do, and can be performed anyplace, which is a great advantage. You can do them at home, at work, during your commute, or, preferably, as a part of your warm-up routine.
Repeat each exercise three to five times in one series.
Further, these exercises will also make your body relaxed. And the more relaxed you’re, the better you’ll be able to naturally breathe more easily.
The 4/7/8 Technique
Breath of Fire
4. Breathing While Running
When it comes to breathing on the run, a common concern many runners have is whether it’s best to breathe through the nose, the mouth, or both.
The solution is simple.
Use both pathways.
While running, your focus should revolve around getting as much air as possible into your body so that the oxygenated blood can meet your muscle’s needs.
To maximize this oxygen delivery, breathing in through the mouth and nose is most efficient.
Here is how.
First, open your mouth.
The mouth is larger than the nostrils. Thus, it’s more effective at drawing in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide out.
Further, keeping your mouth open—preferably in a “dead fish” position—can help keep your facial muscles more relaxed.
This makes it easier to breathe deeply while avoiding any tension that might sap your energy.
Rhythmic breathing while running refers to the practice of coordinating the inhales and exhales to the number of footsteps taken with each foot.
So, for instance, a 2:1 breathing ratio means you take two steps on the inhale, then one step while breathing out.
The exact ratio to follow depends, mostly, on your training intensity, fitness level, speed, and personal preferences.
In general, the rhythmic patterns I recommend for beginners are 2:2 and 2:3. These are ideal for training at slow to moderate intensity.
But in the end, it’s up to you to experiment with different breathing ratios and find the one that feels most comfortable for you.
These ratios are not written in stone. What might work for one runner may not work for you, and vice versa.
5. Pilates Exercises
In essence, Pilates exercises are a form of cross training that reduces huffing and puffing without putting too much stress on your body.
These exercises focus on deliberate breathing patterns to increase muscle strength, build mobility and flexibility, improve posture, and enhance overall fitness and health levels.
Further, Pilates exercises strengthen all the muscles of the core—including the diaphragm. They also strengthen the intercostal muscles—the muscles located between the ribs and play a huge role in both the inhale and the exhale.
Be sure to practice these exercises two to three times a week either as a part of your cool down or as a stand-alone routine.
The Standing Chest Expansion
You’re already doing all of the above, but still looking for more tips?
Then these advanced tactics can surely help.
6. Altitude Training
There is a reason why elite endurance athletes (runners, cyclists, triathletes), major AFL football players, and elite athletes from different sports from all around the world head to high altitude to train for their big day: Altitude training works.
In fact, if you’re serious about peaking for an upcoming race, then consider living at high altitude for the duration of your training.
The Science Behind Altitude Training
At elevation, the air contains less oxygen, forcing the body to eventually compensate for the low oxygen levels by triggering the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin by increasing natural hormone erythropoietin (EPO) production.
This process increases the blood oxygen-carrying capacity, along with your body’s ability to use oxygen and convert it into energy.
When you return to low elevation, your body still has the topped level of red blood cells and hemoglobin for up to two weeks, making this method ideal for pre-race improvement.
So keep in mind that it’s not a long-term solution. It’s just a short fix.
Once you take your training to high altitude, you’ll instantly notice symptoms of altitude sickness, such as fatigue, dizziness, etc.
So do it safely.
Give your body at least a couple of weeks to acclimatize to the altitude. Your lungs need time to adjust to a thinner mixture of oxygen in the air.
7. Respiratory Training Equipment
If you’re still serious about improving your lung capacity, then consider using respiratory training apparatus.
Also known as hypoxia, restricted or resistance breathing, this is one of the endurance building strategies elite athletes use to challenge their lung power without braving elevation.
These training tools are designed to stimulate high altitude training by partially blocking airways, making your normal breathing restrictive. Thus, helping you increase your lung capacity.
In general, respiratory training apparatus can be anything from electronic gadgets to sophisticated training masks.
Some tools include:
- Hyperbaric sleeping chambers,
- Low-oxygen tents,
- Swimming while using a snorkel with restricted airflow,
- Working out with a hypoxic air generator, and
- Portable hypoxic machines.
But here is the little caveat.
It’s not easy—nor is it cheap—to get access to some of these tools—in fact, most of them come at a high cost.
And with the risk of overtraining, you could argue that it’s not worth the investment and risk, especially if you’re not a serious athlete competing on the world stage.
That said, a hypoxic mask may be within your budget—they retail for under $100.
8. Keep Your Lungs Healthy
In the end, some of the best measures you can take to improve your lung power might have nothing to do with your training routine.
In fact, lifestyle choices, such as diet, have a significant impact on your lung power.
These tips will help keep your lungs as healthy as possible.
Stop smoking. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 40 years, then you already know that smoking is bad for your health. In fact, as a smoker, kicking this habit is one of the best things you can do to improve your lung health as a smoker.
Research has shown, time and time again, that smoking to be a major cause of lung cancer, lung diseases and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD).
Also, avoid second-hand smoking.
Eat foods rich in antioxidant such as green leafy and cruciferous vegetables. These contain many healthy compounds that can help rid your body of harmful toxins, cleansing your blood as well as your lungs.
Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are good examples.
Get vaccinated. Shots like the pneumonia vaccine and the flu vaccine can go a long way in preventing lung related issues and promote overall health.
Improve air quality. Keep your home well ventilated, by improving indoor air quality, reducing pollutants like artificial fragrances, and getting rid of mold.
Here you have it!
Now you have at your disposal some of the best tools for increasing your lung capacity for running.
So what are you waiting for?
Get started today.
A complete beginner?
Here are a few beginner guidelines.
You got no excuse here.