Breathing While Running: 4 Ways to Dial It In

breathing while running

There are a lot of things to obsess about while running. How’s my posture? Am I taking 180 steps per minute? Why is my pace slower than normal? Is my heart rate in the correct zone? Am I going to fall into a pothole? The list goes on and on. For a sport that claims to be so relaxing, you can really stress yourself out by worrying about all of the factors that come into play as you put on foot in front of the other.

So, why add breathing to the list? Well, if you haven’t noticed already, breathing is pretty darn important to life on this planet. What’s remarkable is that, given how essential it is, we’re able to breathe without even thinking about it a majority of the time. Isn’t biology cool?!

When you begin to research “breathing while running,” you’ll be overwhelmed with techniques, practices, and tips to help you breathe more effectively. While there’s merit to this information, our bodies already have this breathing thing figured out. From experience, overthinking your breathing while running could be counterproductive and stress you to the point where your body becomes confused about how to breathe in the first place (wait, is that just me?).

The whole goal of breathing while running is forgetting you’re doing it. While you may be breathing harder than normal, it should be just as natural. So, if you’re finding that this isn’t the case, here’s some tips to develop a natural and easy pattern of breathing while running.

Develop a Pattern

Finding a pattern for your breathing will help you regulate your input and output and avoid the consequences of becoming short of breath. There’s debate as to the perfect number of seconds of inhalation and exhalation for peak running performance. In my opinion, it depends. While it may work for you to inhale for two steps and exhale for two steps, you might feel better with three.

Be aware that your pattern may need to change from run to run. A tempo run may necessitate faster breathing than an easy run. In addition, you may need to adjust your pattern mid run to accommodate your fluctuating exertion level. So, develop a pattern, but don’t get attached to it.

Slow Down

I love sprinting. There’s nothing more fun to me than feeling my legs hit the ceiling of exhaustion and my lungs pop out of my chest.

I don’t breathe normally while sprinting. 

When you’re on a regular run though, you shouldn’t be gasping for breath the whole time. When your body isn’t getting as much oxygen as it needs, this is a sign that it isn’t accustomed to the level of exertion you’re offering it. There are times, such as sprinting, when this is desirable. In fact, sprinting is a great way to increase your lung capacity, as it helps your body become used to increasing levels of hard work. As time goes on and your fitness improves, you’ll find that it becomes easier to normalize and ease your breathing. This does not mean that all of your workouts should be full-force sprints though.

Learn From Your Breathing

When gasping for air, we have a tendency to take short, quick breaths that resemble hyper-ventilation. While this is the body’s natural defense system kicking it, it’s counterproductive to your running progress. If you’ve found yourself breathing in this way during a run, you’ve likely found it hard to fully catch your breath until you finally stopped and took some long, deep breaths.

If the goal is to breathe normally while running, it would make sense that we can learn a lot from the times when we’re breathing normally. Without overthinking it, check in with your breathing throughout the day and passively observe it. When you’re resting and relaxed, what does your breathing look like? Feel like? Sound like? Are you breathing from your stomach or your chest? Are you breathing quickly? Slowly? There’s no need to overwhelm yourself with information; just take a minute to notice what’s happening.

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falling while running

I’ve become a big fan of breathing mindfulness meditations. Don’t worry; you don’t have to lay on your floor for hours at a time with only your breath as company. To better understand your breathing, all it takes is five minutes of mindfulness. So, find a comfy spot either laying down or sitting. Set a timer and do your best to focus solely on your breathing until that timer rings. Whenever you mind wanders to something else, bring it back to your breath.

Mindfulness mediation has a number of other benefits aside from assisting you with your running. If you want to dig in deeper, check out my favorite book on the topic.

breathing while running

Think About It; Then Forget It

It’s easy to overcomplicate simple things by thinking about them too much. As I’ve alluded to, my natural biological systems get very confused when I think too much about my breathing and try to manipulate it too much. My body says, “Hey, I’ve already got this figured this out! Stop trying to mess it up!”

Really, though, your body has been breathing your entire life, so let it keep doing what it does best. Take note of your natural breathing practices and how you’re progressing with your breathing as a runner, but don’t become obsessed with it. The times I’ve found myself breathing most easily while running are when I’m engrossed in a great podcast or audiobook and not thinking about my breathing at all.

There’s a lot to worry about as a runner, and as long as you’re doing it in the first place, breathing should be at the bottom of your list.

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