The Ultimate Guide to Deep Breathing Techniques For Runners

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Looking for a way to take your breathing while running to the next level? Then it’s time to embrace deep breathing

Also known as belly breathing, deep breathing engages your diaphragm, a powerful muscle, which is a technique that can improve your running performance and stamina.

Most recreational runners are chest breathers, but, but switching to deep breathing can help you improve your oxygen intake and reduce the risk of issues like hyperventilation and side stitches.

In this article, I’ll share with you the full guide to deep breathing while running, highlighting the benefits of the practice and delving into the exact step-by-step system you need to incorporate this powerful technique into your running routine.

Sounds like a good deal?

Let’s get started.

The Fallacy of Chest Breathing

s mentioned earlier, many novice runners often succumb to the trap of shallow breathing, characterized by chest breathing. It’s akin to sipping air through a narrow straw, resulting in inadequate oxygen intake and higher carbon dioxide retention, ultimately leaving you feeling fatigued, lethargic, and breathless.

Chest breathing is akin to opting for a straw when you could have the entire glass! It represents an inefficient method of obtaining the necessary oxygen during your run.

Belly breathing, on the other hand, actively involves your diaphragm, enabling you to draw in more oxygen and expel a greater amount of carbon dioxide. It’s analogous to trading that straw for a revitalizing drink from a tall glass.

The Benefits of Belly Breathing

Before we dive into the “how” of belly breathing, let’s explore the incredible benefits it brings to the table.

Trust me; these perks will make you want to embrace belly breathing in every facet of your life, not just during your workouts.

Enhanced Oxygen Uptake and Utilization

Belly breathing allows you to take deeper breaths, which means more oxygen is inhaled with each breath. This increased oxygen uptake can help you to efficiently fuel your muscles and delay fatigue.

Improved Blood Flow and Circulation

The “European Journal of Applied Physiology” published findings that rhythmic, deep breathing enhances blood flow, particularly to the brain and heart, which is essential for endurance sports like running.

Lowering Blood Pressure

A study published in the “American Journal of Cardiology” found that deep breathing exercises can effectively lower blood pressure. The study revealed that participants who practiced deep abdominal breathing for a few minutes daily experienced significant reductions in blood pressure levels.

Stabilization of Heart Rate

Deep, rhythmic breathing has been shown to stabilize the heart rate, making it more efficient during prolonged physical activity. This can come in handy in distance running, where keeping a steady heart rate is key to endurance.

Reducing Stress

Research in the “Journal of the American College of Cardiology” highlighted that slow, deep breathing reduces the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, which lowers stress levels and positively impacts heart health. This reduction in stress can decrease the risk of stress-related heart conditions.

Enhancing Lung Function

A study in the “Journal of Pulmonary Rehabilitation” reported that diaphragmatic breathing exercises improve lung function. As you can already tell, improved lung function can enhances oxygen intake and efficiency while logging the miles. That’s a good thing if you ask me.

Improving Clarity

While deep breathing can indeed improve emotional well-being, its most direct impact for runners is in stress reduction and mental clarity. The calming effect of belly breathing can help you maintain focus, reduce anxiety, and stay mentally sharp during races or long runs.

Impact on Mental Health

The “Harvard Medical School” has published articles explaining how deep breathing techniques like belly breathing can trigger a relaxation response, leading to improved mental well-being. This is crucial for athletes in managing anxiety and maintaining focus.

Better Core Engagement and Postural Alignment

Engaging the diaphragm fully in belly breathing also means better activation of core muscles. This not only helps in maintaining good posture while running but also contributes to more efficient movement and potentially reduces the risk of injury.

How to Practice Deep Breathing

So, you’re ready to unlock the power of belly breathing, but you’re wondering how to make it work for you?

The answer is simple: practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the better you’ll become. There’s no way around it. So, let’s dive into the process of practice with a classic deep breathing exercise.

Find a Quiet Space: To practice deep breathing, find a quiet and comfortable place where you can focus without distractions.

Get into a Comfortable Position: Sit or lie down in a relaxed position. You can do this before or after your run, as well as during your cool-down or stretching routine.

Place Your Hand on Your Abdomen: Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your ribcage. Place the other hand on your chest.

Inhale Slowly: Breathe in through your nose slowly and deeply. As you inhale, focus on expanding your diaphragm, which is the muscle located just below your lungs. Feel your abdomen rise and push your hand outward while keeping your chest relatively still.

Exhale Slowly: Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth. As you exhale, feel your abdomen fall and your hand move inward.

Focus on Your Breath: Pay attention to your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Try to make your inhales and exhales smooth and even.

Count Your Breaths: You can practice deep breathing by counting your breaths. Inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, and then exhale for a count of four. Adjust the count to a pace that feels comfortable for you.

Repeat: Continue deep breathing for a few minutes, allowing your body and mind to relax. You can gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable with the technique.

Incorporate Deep Breathing into Your Runs: Once you’ve practiced deep breathing in a relaxed setting, try to incorporate it into your runs. Focus on deep, diaphragmatic breaths rather than shallow chest breaths. It may take some practice to make this a natural part of your running technique.

Additional resource – Guide to running lingo

Mastering Belly Breathing in Your Running Regime

Now that you have some insights into deep breathing, let’s explore how you can effectively integrate it into your running regimen. However, it’s important to note that transitioning from practicing belly breathing in a calm environment to applying it during running can be a bit challenging. But fear not, with the right guidance, you can smoothly adopt this technique into your routine.

Start with Low-Intensity Runs

If you’re new to belly breathing, it’s advisable to begin by incorporating it into your low-intensity runs or jogs. This allows you to concentrate on your breathing pattern without the added stress of high exertion. The practice is straightforward – strive to maintain deep, steady belly breaths as you run at a comfortable pace.

Gradual Integration into Higher Intensities

Once you’ve become accustomed to belly breathing during your easy runs, gradually start implementing it into more intense training sessions. Begin with short intervals of high-intensity running, all while focusing on maintaining your proper breathing technique. Afterward, return to a slower pace to catch your breath and reset, if necessary. This gradual approach will help you build the skill and confidence needed to employ deep breathing effectively during more demanding workouts.

Mindful Breathing During Long Runs

When embarking on long-distance runs, it’s crucial to periodically check in with your breathing. Ensure that you are engaging in deep abdominal breathing rather than relying on shallow chest breaths. If you catch yourself predominantly chest breathing, consider slowing down slightly to re-establish your belly breathing rhythm.

Adapting to Different Running Conditions

Keep in mind that various factors can impact your breathing rate, with terrain and temperature being among the most prominent. Be attentive to these variables and be prepared to adjust your pace and breathing accordingly. It’s perfectly acceptable to take walking breaks as needed to stabilize your breathing, especially as you’re mastering this technique.

Breathing Exercises as Part of Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Incorporate belly breathing exercises into your warm-up and cool-down routines. This not only readies your respiratory system for the run but also contributes to a quicker recovery after your run.

Monitoring and Adjusting

Consider using a heart rate monitor or running app to monitor how your breathing patterns affect your performance. With time and practice, you’ll enhance your endurance and running efficiency, ultimately improving your overall running experience.

Listen to Your Body

The most important aspect is to listen to your body. If you feel dizzy, light-headed, or overly fatigued, stop and take a break. It’s important to recognize your current limits and gradually build up your ability to sustain belly breathing throughout your run.

Perfect Your Upper Body Form

Proper upper body form is crucial for efficient deep breathing.

Here’s what you should focus on:

  • Maintain an upright posture with a slight forward lean.
  • Keep your chest out and your back flat.
  • Ensure your shoulders remain relaxed, avoiding any hunching over, even when tackling inclines.

For more on proper running technique, check out the following posts:




Rhythmic Breathing Running

Rhythmic breathing, also known as locomotor-respiratory coupling or cadence breathing, is a powerful technique to enhance your running performance. It involves synchronizing your breath with your running gait, creating a rhythmic pattern that boosts your efficiency and endurance. Additionally, it’s a valuable method for honing your deep breathing skills, as it places emphasis on synchronized breath. Here’s how to master this technique:

  1. Start Slow: Begin practicing rhythmic breathing at a slow pace during your runs. Focus on maintaining the chosen breath-to-step ratio consistently. It may feel challenging initially, but with practice, it will become more natural.
  2. Consistency is Key: Like any skill, rhythmic breathing improves with practice. Incorporate it into your training consistently, and over time, it will become second nature.

Further Deep Breathing Exercises

Incorporating the following exercises into your daily routine can significantly impact your running performance. They aid in building lung capacity, enhancing breath control, and reducing stress – all crucial elements for a successful run. Remember, consistency is key, and if you’re new to these techniques or have any health concerns, it’s advisable to seek advice from a professional.

The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

Crafted by Dr. Andrew Weil, this technique is a runner’s secret weapon for stress relief and focus. Here’s how it works:

  • Inhale for 4 seconds, filling your lungs and gathering your focus.
  • Hold this breath for 7 seconds, providing a moment of calm before the storm.
  • Exhale smoothly for 8 seconds, releasing any tension or anxiety. This technique serves as an excellent ritual for pre-run mental preparation or post-run cooldown.

Roll Breathing

Visualize your breath rolling through your body like a wave, from the depths of your belly to the top of your lungs. This exercise is fantastic for increasing lung capacity, a must-have for long-distance runners. It teaches you to fully utilize your lungs, ensuring that every breath during your run is maximized for efficiency.

Morning Pranayama Practice

Begin your day with Pranayama to supercharge your lungs and sharpen your focus. These ancient breathing techniques from yoga are ideal for runners seeking to enhance their breath control and mental clarity. A regular Pranayama practice can lead to noticeable improvements in your running performance, particularly in how you manage your breath during challenging runs.

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