How to breathe correctly while running?

Initiating a running routine can often present challenges in establishing an appropriate breathing rhythm. Proper breathing during running is crucial for sustaining long distances effectively. We provide several tips to ensure you maintain your breath and avoid running out of air shortly after beginning.

Proper breathing techniques for running

The key to optimizing your breathing while running lies in self-awareness and understanding your unique running style. Identifying the ideal breathing rhythm is a personalized journey that may require several weeks of consistent running practice. Over time, this process becomes more intuitive, allowing you to naturally adjust your breathing to match your pace and endurance levels.

Adjust your breathing to match your pace

A fundamental principle in running efficiently is to synchronize your breathing with your pace. As you accelerate, it’s crucial not to hold your breath but to quicken your breathing rhythm instead. Holding your breath can lead to an oxygen deficit, forcing you to slow down to recover.

To avoid uneven, labored breathing, establish a consistent breathing pattern that allows you to complete your runs without gasping for air. Experiment with various breathing cycle frequencies until you find one that suits you best.

For optimal breathing while running, consider coordinating your breaths with your steps:

  • Inhale over 3 steps, then exhale over the next 3 steps.
  • Take 4 steps while inhaling and another 4 steps during exhalation.

Alternatively, you can time your breaths by seconds:

  • Inhale and exhale each for 3 seconds.
  • Inhale for 2 seconds, then exhale for 3 seconds.

It is often suggested that an ideal running cadence is 180 steps per minute, translating to about 3 steps per second.

Try to align your breathing with your stride rhythm, making adjustments based on your physical sensations during the run. The priority is to ensure your breathing feels unforced and natural, without constraining it in any way.

Two effective breathing techniques for runners 

Running efficiently requires mastering specific breathing methods, each with its unique benefits and applications:

  • Diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing: This technique focuses on deep, abdominal breathing to enhance oxygen intake and facilitate quicker recovery. To practice, lie down and place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Breathe deeply so that your belly rises with each inhalation and falls with each exhalation. This method is particularly effective for long-distance running as it helps to fully utilize the lungs, potentially reducing the occurrence of side stitches and improving overall performance.

  • Thoracic (chest) breathing: This method involves breathing with the upper part of the lungs, making it less efficient for recovery since it restricts the amount of oxygen taken in. However, thoracic breathing can be useful in short bursts of effort, such as sprints, where quick, shallow breaths are needed.

It’s important to note that many runners may neglect diaphragmatic breathing, though it’s crucial for endurance and efficiency.

Regardless of the method, maintaining a slightly open mouth during runs allows for inhalation and exhalation through both the nose and mouth, optimizing oxygen flow.

Breathing through the nose alone may suffice at lower intensities, but as pace increases, it’s essential to use both the nose and mouth to avoid oxygen deficiency. Emphasizing slow, controlled exhalations can help in emptying the lungs completely, thereby improving the effectiveness of each breathing cycle and ensuring a steady supply of oxygen during runs. This focus on complete exhalations over inhalations helps in maintaining a balanced and efficient breathing rhythm.

Final advice for you next run

A practical tip to gauge whether your breathing rhythm is on point is the “talk test”: if you’re able to converse with a companion while running, your pace and breathing are likely well-balanced. If speaking becomes challenging, it’s a sign to slow down and focus on deepening your breaths, preferably using the abdominal breathing technique for more efficient oxygen intake.

Warming up before a run is essential to prepare both your body and your respiratory system for the physical exertion ahead. It helps in gradually increasing your heart rate and lung capacity, making the transition to more intensive effort smoother.

For beginners, running without music initially might help in maintaining a steady pace, allowing you to focus more on your breathing pattern without getting swept up by the tempo of the songs. Music can be reintroduced into your routine as a motivational tool once you’ve established a comfortable breathing rhythm.

Finally, you can download the RunMotion Coach app for free, which offers personalized training programs whether you aim to run continuously for 30 minutes, an hour, or wish to improve your running performance overall, such tools can provide structured guidance and support.

Have a good run!

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Mailis Durif-VarambonMailis grew up in the mountains, where she went hiking and biking every weekend. She loves outdoor activities where she can relax at the end of the day. At RunMotion Coach, she is responsible for community management.