Now that the sun has slid away from the shadows and summer’s just around the corner, perhaps you’ve decided it would be a good time to take up running? Maybe you even got yourself a brand-new pair of running shoes, chose the trek on which to run, and selected the playlist you’re going to be listening to? It might sound like you’re pretty set to go, but there is one vital element which should not be overlooked- breathing. Correct ways of breathing while running can determine the success, safety and pleasure of your experience.

How often do you hear stories of people excitedly taking up running and soon quitting because of problems such as cramps, breath shortage or injury? Perhaps you yourself have been the star of this storyline. Too often people blame this on ‘not being fit enough’, when actually, it can all be down to not knowing the optimal breathing techniques for running.

Regulating your breath the right way is particularly important for those who are new to running. Not only to ease the experience and prevent injury, but to also develop a good habit from the get-go.

Get familiar with the best breathing techniques before putting your running shoes on and get the most out of your experience!

Tips for breathing while running

Nose or mouth?

mouth breathing

During any intense workout, many people have a tendency to breathe using solely their mouth, as this gives the illusion of maximized oxygen intake. However, doing so while running (or any other form of physical exercise) can actually cause side stiches and cramps. What you should aim for instead, is inhale through your nose, and exhale through the mouth. This way, you will increase your performance by raising your oxygen intake, without the risk of getting stitches and cramps.

Deep belly breathing

Most of the time we primarily engage our chest when we breath. But actually, diaphragmatic (aka belly) breathing is the best way to breathe while running.

This is because when you inhale through the chest, your lungs get filled with oxygen. But when you exhale, your chest muscles are not able to remove all of the carbon dioxide without the help from the diaphragm. This leaves a good chunk of CO2 in your lungs which can cause cramps and stiches. Switching to belly breathing instead can help avoid these problems. Also, the diaphragm is the most efficient muscle of breathing, meaning that by breathing with your belly, you will optimize your running experience.

Diaphragmatic breathing isn’t a complicated skill but might take a little bit of practice and extra focus. You need to keep your mind’s eye on the abdomen area, and visualize the air flowing through. You know you’re doing it right when you can feel your belly expand and contract.

Regular breathing

Another way to be persistent with your running is by being persistent with your breathing. This means breathing for regular counts, as opposed to changing your breathing pattern every few seconds.

What pattern you choose is dependent on a number of factors, like training intensity, experience, and personal preference. However, a common rhythm for beginner runners is 3:2. Here, you inhale for three counts (1, 2, 3) and exhale for two (1, 2). If you find it a bit difficult to keep up with this pattern, you can try breathing in and out for regular counts (i.e. in for 2, and out for 2).

In the end, the exact pattern you choose does not matter much. What’s important is sticking to ONE rhythm during your run. This will get more oxygen to your muscles and improve your respiratory efficiency.

When you notice that your breath has become irregular again, slow down your pace and bring your attention back to the breath.

You may count in your head, out loud, or use music to guide your breathing rhythm.

Whatever the weather

It’s no secret that different climates affect our breathing. Hot weather can make air seem thicker and more humid, making it more difficult to catch your breath. On the other hand, breathing cold air can send a burning sensation to your lungs. Such conditions can make it more challenging to keep up proper breathing when running.

However, the heat or the cold shouldn’t shy you away from running. You can still safely enjoy this activity with just a few things in mind…

Running in the cold…

winter run

Whilst cold weather can bring some discomfort when running, it will not freeze your lungs or cause any other great danger as some may think. The key is to keep your breathing steady and stick to the inhale-through-nose, exhale-through-mouth method. The cold air is less harsh and warms up easier through your nose than through your mouth.

To reduce discomfort, consider loosely wrapping a scarf to cover your mouth and nose. This will help to warm up the air before it enters your nostrils.

Running in the heat…

In the heat, your body uses more energy to maintain body temperature, thus leaving less to spare for breathing. A solution to this is to keep cool as much as possible, and there are a few strategies for doing so:

  • Apply high factor sunscreen
  • Splash some cold water to the back of your neck and face at regular intervals
  • If possible, avoid running during the hottest hours of the day
  • Choose a track with many shaded parts