Lung capacity is important.
It helps determine how well you perform, especially when it comes to cardiovascular exercise like running.
Would you like to learn more about how to improve your lung capacity?
Then you’ve come to the right place.
In today’s post, I’ll get you up to speed on the many measures you can take to increase your lung capacity so you can run farther, faster, and with less fatigue.
But first things first, let’s explain what lung capacity is all about.
What is Lung Capacity?
Lung capacity is basically the total amount of air that the lungs can hold.
The greater your lung capacity, the more oxygen that can get into your bloodstream.
By improving your lung capacity, you’ll build more stamina, deliver more oxygen to your muscles, and generally feel more powerful and stronger.
Just like any other organs, lung function declines with age, your lung capacity typically drops slowly after reaching our 30s.
There’s no easy way unless you work on it starts now.
Some health issues, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can drastically speed up this decline.
Here’s the good news though.
There are many things you can to improve your lung capacity so not only you can run your best but also be your healthiest.
Let’s explain a few.
Gasping for air while running doesn’t always mean that something’s wrong with your technique.
In fact, lack of conditioning is often the cause, especially if you’re a beginner runner.
Running deprives your muscles of oxygen.
The more you push your body, the more oxygen you’ll need.
Keep this going and you’ll get exhausted earlier than you wish.
So, how do you take things slow?
Keep it to a conversational pace.
As a rule, you should be able to speak in full sentences without gasping.
Once you can do this for 30-minute straight, work your way up to more challenging sessions.
Here are a few options:
- Run a longer distance at a slower pace. This helps increase your red blood cell count, grow more capillaries, and strengthen your heart—it’s a muscle, after all.
- Run more frequently each week. This helps provide your body with enough stimulus to build more cell mitochondria and capillaries. This, in turn, allows more oxygen to course through your bloodstream.
- Consider cross-training. Choose cardiovascular activities such as cycling, swimming, and skiing that push your endurance without putting too much stress on your body.
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Learn Deep Breathing
Deep breathing involves using the entire lung capacity by activating all of the muscles in charge of respiration, especially 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.
It’s a soft tissue, so it’s quite flexible.
When you breathe deep, your diaphragm pulls down on the abdominal cavity to completely inflate the lungs, drawing in maximum air.
Then, on the exhale, it deflates, squeezing the air out.
Belly Vs. Chest Breathing
Most runners tend to breathe from their chest instead of the belly.
You don’t believe me? Go run a mile at a challenging pace then place your hand on your belly and the other one your chest then watch.
You’re breathing right if the upper hand stays relatively still while the lower hand is moving on each breath, which is more than often not the case.
Also known as shallow or thoracic breathing, chest breathing occurs when the act of respiration originates from the top lobes of the lungs.
When breathing this way, you expand and contract the chest but without engaging the diaphragm, which in turn, draws in minimal air into the lungs.
Here’s how to practice deep breathing in the comfort of your own home.
1 – Start out lying flat on your back, chest open and shoulders relaxed.
Keep one hand resting on your chest and the other on your belly.
2 – Breathe in slowly, spending about ten seconds on your inhale.
Visualize your lungs filling up with air.
Feel the air moving into your chest, stomach, and abdomen.
3 – Once your lungs are full of air (you might feel mild discomfort in the solar plexus middle of your torso), hold your breath for a count of ten, then exhale slowly for ten seconds through pursed lips while pulling your belly button to your spine.
And that’s it! By repeating the exercise over and over again, you’ll teach your body how to rely more on the diaphragm for the act of respiration.
Looking for more breathing exercises? I’ve got you covered.
The breathing exercises described below can increase strength in your respiratory muscles and help build endurance.
That, in turn, will improve lung function.
Long term result?
improved running performance.
Winner winner, chicken dinner!
These breathing exercises are simple and can be done anywhere.
Feel free to 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.
Bhastrika Pranayama (bellows breath)
The 4/7/8 Technique
Kapalbhati Pranayama (Breath of Fire)
Breaking away from chest breathing is easier said than done, especially when you’re busy running trying to keep the pace.
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
One thing you can to help you practice deep breathing while exercising is doing Pilates.
Pilates exercises are a form of cross-training that improves endurance without putting too much stress on your body.
They also ideal for improving lung capacity.
Pilate exercises focus on isometric exercise.
It deliberate breathing patterns to increase muscle strength, build mobility, and improve posture.
More specifically, Pilates exercises strengthen all the muscles of the core—including the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles, which are super useful for your breathing.
Practice the exercises below two to three times a week either as a part of your cool down or as a stand-alone routine.
You might find some similar positions in yoga but with different names.
The Standing Chest Expansion
Breathing While Running
“Should I breathe through my nose, my mouth, or both?” This is a common question in the running world.
My answer makes everybody happy: use both pathways.
When you’re running, you should focus on getting as much air as possible into your lungs so that the oxygenated blood can meet your muscle’s needs.
Don’t know how to make that happen? Try the following:
Open your mouth—preferably in a “dead fish” position.
The mouth is larger than the nostrils, so, it’s more effective at drawing in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide.
If you want to run like a pro, try rhythmic breathing, which is the practice of coordinating your inhales and exhales to your foot strikes.
It’s not as complicated as pranayama.
For example, a 2:1 breathing ratio means taking two steps on the inhale, and one step while breathing out.
The exact ratio to follow depends largely on your training intensity, fitness level, speed, and personal preference.
The rhythmic patterns I recommend for beginners are 2:2 and 2:3.
These work well for training at slow to moderate intensity.
To take you breathing power to the next level, I’d recommend taking up yoga.
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Advanced Tactics For Improving Lung Capacity In Runners
By now, you have all the tools you need to improve your lung power while running.
But if you still want more, check out the following.
There’s a reason elite athletes from different sports do altitude training—It freaking works.
Here’s why: At higher elevation, the air contains less oxygen.
This forces the body to compensate by triggering red blood cells and hemoglobin production.
The higher count of these substances increases your blood oxygen-carrying capacity, as well as your body’s ability to use oxygen and convert it into energy.
Once you’re back to low elevation, your body maintains its increased level of red blood cells and hemoglobin for up to two weeks.
The moment you start altitude training, you’ll experience symptoms of altitude sickness, including gasping, fatigue, and dizziness.
As a general rule, give your body at least a couple of weeks to get used to the thinner mixture of oxygen in the air.
If you feel you can’t go on, stop, don’t force it.
Altitude training is not a show-off exercise because it can damage your respiratory tract if you do too much too soon.
Respiratory Training Equipment
Also known as hypoxia or restricted breathing, this is an endurance building strategy that elite athletes use to challenge their lung power without braving elevation.
Hypoxia training works by partially blocking airways.
This makes your normal breathing restrictive, which simulates high altitude training.
Some tools include:
- Hyperbaric sleeping chambers
- Low-oxygen tents
- Swimming while using a snorkel with restricted airflow
- Working out with a hypoxic air generator
- Portable hypoxic machines
There’s one important caveat.
It’s neither easy nor cheap to get access to some of these tools.
A good hypoxic mask may be within your budget—they retail for under $100.
You also risk overtraining when you overuse them.
That’s why, unless you’re pro athlete making a living out of running, I don’t see any reason to turn to hypoxia training.
Keep Your Lungs Healthy
All of the above tips will be of no use if you neglect your lung health.
In the end, the best thing you can do to improve your lung function is to simply take good care of your lungs.
The following 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, you already know that smoking is bad for your health. research has shown that smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, lung diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD).
- Eat healthily. Choose foods rich in antioxidants such as leafy green and cruciferous vegetables. They contain many healthy compounds that can help rid your body of harmful toxins. Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are good examples.
- Get vaccinated. I’m not gonna argue about vaccines’ pros and cons but we didn’t get rid of polio by accident. Shots like the pneumonia vaccine and the flu vaccine can go a long way in preventing lung-related issues and promoting overall health. Make sure to contact your GP before deciding.
- Improve air quality. By keeping your home well-ventilated, reducing pollutants like artificial fragrances, use a humidifier, and getting rid of mold.
The tips shared here can definitely improve your lung capacity and help you run more efficiently.
Don’t Hesitate to Seek Medical Help
If you’re dealing with symptoms of poor lung health, such as pain when breathing, shortness of breath during daily activity, or persistent coughs, contact your doctor.
The earlier you received treatment to your lung problems, the sooner you’ll heal, and the better the outcomes is likely to be.
Remember that your lung consists of pocketed air sacs, so be careful.
Don’t dismiss everything as simple as a common cold.
It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor before trying any new exercise, especially running.
This is especially the case for beginner runners with underlying health conditions, such as COPD or other obstruction diseases.