Whether you’re a beginner runner, a 5K fanatic, or a marathon junkie, the way you breathe while running matters.
To most runners, learning to breathe may seem like an exercise in triviality. But what if mastering proper breathing techniques could improve your performance?
Research has shown that endurance athletes—including runners, cyclists, rowers, etc.—can experience small but important improvement in performance.
Would you like to learn how to take your running breathing to the next level? Then you’re in the right place.
How To Breathe While Running
In this article, I’ll dive into:
- The importance of proper breathing while running
- How to master deep breathing
- Is rhythmic breathing worth it?
- Nose Vs. Mouth breathing – Which one is better?
- And so much more
Let’s get started.
Enter The Right Pace
The best way to keep your breathing under control while running is to stick to a conversational pace—a pace in which you can hold a conversation or recite the pledge of allegiance without panting for air.
As a rule, beginner runners should perform their workouts at this conversational and relaxed pace.
If you find it hard to talk, you’re pushing it too hard.
Slow down and get your pace under control. By controlling your exercise intensity, you’ll be able to regulate the rate at which you breathe.
Breathe Deep While Running
To make the most out of every breath you take is to breathe deeply into your abdomen, not just your chest. That’s what’s known as belly breathing.
In essence, belly breathing is a breathing technique that engages the diaphragm.
It consists of breathing deeply into the abdomen, so your body receives a full supply of oxygen. Breathing this way while running helps improve heart rate, increase oxygenation, boost stamina, etc
What’s The Diaphragm?
The diaphragm is the dome-shaped sheet of muscle at the bottom of the ribcage that divides the chest from the abdomen.
This muscle is mainly responsible for respiratory function.
As you inhale, the diaphragm contracts with the intercostal muscles and drops downward, pressing against your abdominal organs. This forces your abdomen to expand as your lungs fill with air.
On the exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, along with the intercostal muscles, contracting upward back against the lungs and toward the center of the ribcage, helping to drive air out of the lungs.
For more on this process, here is a video highlighting the diaphragm as the main breathing muscle.
The Fallacy of Chest Breathing
Most runners breathe with their “chest”—what’s colloquially known as shallow breathing—rather than their “belly.”
The sad truth is most beginners tend to be shallow breathers. They drive their chests in and out as they breathe in less oxygen than needed, then expel out less carbon dioxide than they should.
This inefficient form of breathing can lead to fatigue, lethargy, breathlessness, etc.
Think of chest breathing as trying to breathe through a straw.
Not the most effective thing to do, right?
Let me show you how to tap into this power.
The benefits of Belly Breathing
Before I get into the how-to of deep breathing, let’s first look at some of its benefits.
These should be enough to convince you to make belly breathing a part of your everyday life—not just when exercising.
In essence, deep breathing helps in:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Relaxing tense muscles
- Reducing stress
- Treating conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD)
- Dealing with cardiovascular issues
- Improving blood flow
- Increasing energy level
- Lowering blood sugar levels
- Increasing the release of serotonin
- Increasing the secretion of growth hormone
- Improving posture
- Preventing side stitches
- Reducing inflammation
- Detoxifying the body
I can go on and on about how deep breathing can benefit your fitness, health, and overall well-being levels.
How to Practice?
So how can I make it work for me? You might ask.
Well, the short answer is practice.
The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
There is no way around that.
But how do you practice?
Here’s the long answer in the form of an exercise.
The Classic Deep Breathing Exercise
First, find a comfortable, quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
You can perform this exercise while sitting cross-legged or lying comfortably on your back.
Just make sure your back is straight and core engaged.
Next, close your eyes, then put one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen, just below your ribs.
Now, take a slow, deep breath through the nose.
Imagine that you’re sucking in all the air in the room.
Focus on breathing slowly and deeply until you feel your stomach rise, then fall drastically than your chest.
On the inhale, the hand resting on your belly should rise higher than the one on the chest. This ensures that the diaphragm is drawing in the air into the base of the lungs.
Last up, exhale slowly through slightly pursed lips. Make sure to pull your belly toward your spine, emptying your lungs of as much air as possible.
It shouldn’t feel like you’re forcing your belly inward by clenching your core muscles.
Allow for smooth movement and airflow.
When belly breathing is done right, your belly will be moving in and out without moving the hand resting on your chest. That’s it.
Additional resource – Guide to running lingo
Here is how
Alternate between normal and deep breaths for a few minutes.
Focus on how you feel when breathing as you usually do and when you engage your diaphragm while breathing deeply.
For most people, chest breathing often feels contracted and limited, whereas deep breathing is “open” and relaxing.
Practice this exercise (along with the rest) at least twice a day or just before your workout as a part of the warm-up.
You can also deep breathe whenever you’re stressed or feel like the world is too much to handle.
Make it Regular
Though belly breathing may feel awkward at first, practice it long enough, and it should become second nature.
Therefore, slowly introduce it to your runs once you practice diaphragmatic breathing for a few days, preferably during low-to-moderate intensity training.
Your goal here is the same. You want to breathe in as deeply as possible, feeling the belly contract and expand.
Then get the air out in a relaxed and controlled manner.
After practicing deep breathing a few times while running at a low to moderate intensity, increase your training intensity.
Doing so places more physical duress on your respiratory system, but it’s worth the effort.
“Open” Your Chest
Proper technique, especially upper body form, is another ingredient in efficient deep breathing.
In essence, run tall with a slight forward lean.
Keep your chest out, back flat, and shoulders relaxed.
Avoid hunching over, even when ascending a hill.
Also, consider adding a couple of core workout routines to your training program to help strengthen your abdominal and lower back muscles so you can maintain proper posture for extended periods.
Think Pilates as they also help build up breathing muscles, strength, and endurance.
Further Deep Breathing Exercises
Here are more breathing exercises to help you better “activate” your diaphragm.
These can help you further expand your belly breathing skills.
The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Morning Pranayama Practice
Rhythmic Breathing Running
Rhythmic breathing is key for learning how to breathe while running.
Also known as locomotor-respiratory coupling in science jargon or cadence breathing, rhythmic breathing creates a rhythm between breathing and your running gait.
More specifically, it describes the number of foot strikes you during the inhale compared to how many steps you take on the exhale.
So, for instance, if you take two steps while breathing in and then one step while breathing out, your cadence breathing pattern is 2:1.
In general, your exact Ratio will depend on many factors.
These include training intensity, personal physiology, and personal preferences.
It Ain’t Easy
Since the method requires steady body coordination and breathing along with running movement, it’s a skill that’s hard to master.
Practice conquers all—and with it, you can master rhythmic breathing in just a few weeks of training.
The Benefits of Rhythmic Breathing
Rhythmic breathing can help in:
- Getting more oxygen to your working muscles results in better performance.
- Improving your focus and mental game.
- Calming the mind—that’s why it’s a big part of most yoga practices.
- Reduce the workload placed on the respiratory system, improving respiratory efficiency.
- Improving running economy.
In short, cadence breathing can help run faster, longer, and more efficiently. But most notably, some experts suggest that timing your breaths with your foot strikes can help prevent injury.
Here are the details
To understand the reduced injury risk, let’s first look at what happens to your body when running.
When running, your feet strike the ground with a force of impact two to three times your body weight—depending, mainly, on your running speed and training surface.
And according to research that looked at the relationship between breathing and foot strikes, the impact forces are the highest when the foot strike coincidences with the onset of the exhalation.
Why is this bad?
When you breathe out, the diaphragm, and the surrounding muscles, especially your chest muscles, relax, resulting in less stability in the core.
So, if you’re always landing on the same foot on each exhale, you’re constantly stressing the same side of your body, resulting in a higher risk of injury on that side, in theory at least.
To prevent this, you’d want to alternate landing on the right and left foot at the beginning of each exhale.
That way, you can diffuse the impact shock more evenly over both sides of your body.
This is achieved by using an odd-even cadence breathing ratio to match the foot strike with inhale-exhale.
Rhythmic Running Patterns To Play With
Here are the main breathing ratios.
The 3:3 Ratio
During the 3:3 pattern, you take three steps on the inhale, then another three on the exhale.
In general, you might take up to 30 breaths per minute with the 3:3 Ratio.
For beginner runners whose sole goal is running at an easy and relaxed pace, the 3:3 Ratio is the way to go.
This pattern is also ideal for warm-ups, cool-downs, and recovery runs.
The 3:2 Ratio
For established runners, the 3:2 pattern is ideal, especially when running at moderate intensity effort, which should make up the majority of your training.
This Ratio consists of taking three steps—right foot, left foot, right—on the inhale, then two steps—left foot, right foot—on the exhale.
And as I have already stated, opting for an odd-even breathing ratio may help prevent discomfort and injury since you’re alternating between landing on your right and left foot at the onset of the exhale.
This pattern may also help prevent painful side stitches and diaphragm cramps that plague many runners on the road.
The 2:2 Ratio
This translates to two strides per inhale and two per exhale.
In general, this pattern will take roughly 40 to 45 breaths per minute.
The 2:2 is a good recipe for steady state cardio, such as tempo runs and marathon pace training.
Remember that when using this Ratio, you’ll be landing on the ground on the same foot at the beginning of each exhalation.
This, in theory, may cause one side of your body to withstand a greater stress load when running.
As you pick up the pace, switch to a 2:1 ratio.
With this Ratio, you take two steps on the inhale, then one step on the exhale.
This is the most suitable breathing pattern for tempo training—cruising at about 10K race pace or slightly faster.
Fartlek and interval training should typically be performed within this Ratio.
The 1:1 Ratio
Al-out-effort running and racing call for a 1:1 pattern.
You, basically, take one stride per inhale, one stride per exhale.
For most runners, this breathing ratio occurs during the final burst of middle or long-distance races.
Note: The above breathing ratios should only be used as orienting guidelines. They’re not, by any means, universal rules that every runner out there should follow to the letter. So, you got to experiment with different patterns to find the best breathing rhythm for you.
Practicing Breathing Ratios In The comfort of Your home
Before you start tinkering with your cadence breathing, it’s always helpful to practice it a bit before you take it to the outside world.
Here is how
Start by lying down on your back, knees bent, and feet flat on the ground.
Keep your face relaxed, with the mouth slightly open.
Next, while placing your hand on your chest and the other on your belly, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale out through the mouth.
Make sure your breathing is continuous and relaxed.
Do not force it.
Once you’re set, inhale for the count of three, then exhale for the count of three—a 3:3 pattern.
Focus on keeping your breath smooth and continuous as you inhale over the three counts and breathe out over the three counts.
Once you get used to this inhale/exhale pattern, add foot taps to mimic walking/running steps.
Walk it Off
Once you feel mastered rhythmic breathing while lying down, take it for a walk.
Take three steps to inhale, then three on the exhale.
Do this for a few minutes, then switch to a 3:2 ratio.
So on and so forth.
Take it Out For A Run
Once you get the hang of walking cadence breathing, start matching your breaths with your foot strikes when running—typically, inhaling for three foot strikes and exhaling for two (3:2).
As a rule of thumb, practice cadence breathing on your slow, relaxed runs first.
Be sure to set realistic starting points and goals.
Then, over time, slowly introduce cadence breathing into faster runs and speedwork training, making sure to opt for 2:2 or 2:1 ratios.
After a few months of practice, cadence breathing—whether it’s in a 3:2 or 1:1 ratio—will become automatic.
You won’t even have to think about it.
Nose Vs. Mouth Breathing
The Nose Vs. Mouth breathing is a topic that’s old as running itself. But when it comes down to it, it’s really up to the individual and the pace.
If you’re sticking to an easy and relaxed pace, breathing in through the nose should be enough to meet your oxygen needs. But as you pick up the pace, you might find doing so harder because you simply can’t get enough oxygen to your working muscles. When it’s the case, you’ll have to breathe in from both your nose and mouth.
But what about the exhale?
In my experience, inhaling through the nose and exhaling out of the mouth is much more efficient for running.
Inhaling through the nose allows for deeper breaths and warms the air on its way to the lungs, whereas breathing out from the mouth helps eliminate as much carbon dioxide as possible. It also relaxes the body.
How to put this into practice? Simple.
During your run, the mouth should be held slightly open in what’s known as the “dead fish” (the name speaks for itself).
Here’s how to breathe properly in cold weather.
Strengthen Your Core
The diaphragm is the main muscle behind breathing, and you can tone it the same way you strengthen your calves and biceps.
Pilates exercises are one of the best ways to do this, and doing so will boost your endurance and performance.
Two Pilates Exercises For Better Breathing
Here are two Pilates exercises to try:
- Lie flat on your back with your legs squeezed together and your knees and hipsforming 90-degree
- Lift both legs a few inches off the floor, engage your abs and buttocks, and raise your arms over your thighs. Finally, lift your head and gaze at your toes.
- While holding this position, start to pump your arms, moving them in a controlled up and down manner. While doing so, breathe in for five pumps, moving your arms in a controlled up and down manner.
- Aim for three to five sets and keep pulsing your arms for 10
- Lie flat on your back with your knees pulled to your chest.
- Inhale slowly as you lift your legs towards the ceiling as far as you can while tightly squeezing them together.
- Reach your legs over to the right, allowing the hips to lift away from the floor, then go back to starting position with your legs straight overhead, your core engaged, and your lower back remains on the floor.
- Repeat on the other side, reaching your legs over to the
- Continue reversing the circular direction each time. Aim for three sets of eight reps on each side.
How To Breathe While Running – The Conclusion
Breathing is key part of every movement—running is an exception. How to breathe while running is a must skill for every runner who is serious about optimizing their performance and comfort. There’s no way around that.
I hope this blog post was helpful.
It covers all you need to know about how to breathe while running.
Please feel free to leave any comments below or send me any questions you may have.
I’ll be happy to answer ASAP.
Thanks for reading my post.
very helpful information…. thank you…
I really enjoyed this post. I’m sure it will help. I am anxious to practice these techniques. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks a lot. Excellent Tip. I really appreciated!
Great info which I intend to use. I belong to a work out group where running for 8-10 minutes is our warm up. I struggle to run the entire time but have challenged myself to improve and become one of the runners in our group. Hopefully your tips will work fir me!
Thank you so much for your advice on breathing. Diaphramic breathing has saved my life! I am training for a half marathon ( I’ve never really run before), and my breathing was killing me. I’m in my 4th week of training, and now I feel like I’ll actually make it! Thank you again.
This is informative article of yours will help us know the proper way of breathing. I myself also struggles to breathe when I get really tired. Thank you for the information.
I’m into sports and I love running, thisnarticle is a very helpful tip for me. Thanks for the info.
Having ran for year I do change my breathing patterns but have never given it this much thought, very useful begginers try 3:3 till your knackered then 2:2 for sprint finish always worked for me. Great article
Very helpful tip, David.
Yoga is fantastic complement for runners, it helps you improve your mental focus and breathing efficiency for running
Why do the photos on the page ALL have to be of white people?
This is amazing and have experienced the same