The problem with writing about “How to breathe while running” is anyone who’s writing about the topic is already an experienced runner. It’s so hard to remember the pain of those first few runs.
A lot of advice for beginners is along the lines of “just do these simple exercises and you’ll find it easy to breathe as you run”. Seriously! Who are they kidding?
I even found a piece of advice claiming you can “replicate altitude training” by doing some breathing exercises. (I can tell you right now the only way to train for the lung-bursting, stomach-retching effects of running at altitude is to run at altitude).
This article aims to help with your breathing while running. I’ve done my research but I’m backing it up with years of experience running in all conditions.
That’s the problem, I can only vaguely remember what it was like to breathe as a new runner. So if you’re a newbie runner, struggling to breathe, I’d love you to jump on the comments at the end of this post and tell all about your experiences.
Start Breathing From Your Gut
When it comes to running breathing techniques, I think this tip helps the most.
Lie down on your back, legs, and arms stretched out and relaxed. (The corpse pose or savasana if you’ve done any yoga but there’s no need to get technical).
Be aware of how you breathe.
Is your chest rising and falling? What about your gut – your belly? As your lungs expand and fill with air how far down does the air flow?
Try placing one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly as you breathe steadily. Feel where your breath is flowing.
When you breathe into your belly first and then let the air flow up into your chest, it’s called diaphragmatic breathing. You’re using the diaphragm to create more space for your lungs to expand. More space means greater lung capacity and more oxygen-rich blood flowing to your hard-working muscles. Less gasping for air when you’re running.
Practice breathing into your belly first and then filling your chest area before breathing out normally. (If you’ve ever been a singer or played a wind instrument this should come naturally).
The next time you run, try running at an easy pace for around 5 minutes and practice this running breathing technique. Fill your lungs from your diaphragm (belly) upwards.
In time you’ll start to naturally adapt diaphragmatic breathing when you run.
✅ Yoga can really help runners – it’s good for your breathing and preventing muscle imbalance.
Do You Breathe Through Your Nose Or Mouth When Running?
Years ago I had a spell of trying to breathe through my nose when running. I must have read an article like this one suggesting after extensive training it’s possible to match your nose-breathing running pace to your mouth-breathing pace.
Why on earth did I try this?
Breathing through your nose can help protect against infections. It also warms and adds moisture to the air you breathe so there’s less irritation to your lungs in cold, dry air. It’s the reason most mountaineers end up with hacking coughs after a few weeks at altitude.
This nasal breathing can be really helpful for asthmatic runners. People like me. (I’m fortunate I don’t suffer from exercise induced asthma, but it still helps to avoid the irritation of cold, dry air).
Breathing through your nose when you run is so hard! I can never manage it except at a very slow pace.
When you’re running you need to maximize your oxygen intake. That’s almost impossible unless you breathe through your mouth.
It may be okay for experienced runners to give nasal breathing a try. If you’re new to running, stick to mainly breathing through your mouth.
Some people manage to breathe through their nose and mouth at the same time but again don’t try this unless you’re an experienced runner.
When you’re a beginner runner the aim is to run at a steady pace without gasping for breath. It’s a lot easier with mouth breathing.
How To Breathe While Running – Try Counting
It can help to match your breathing to your cadence. For example, inhale for two steps and exhale for two steps. This helps you get into a regular rhythm.
For easy runs, you might manage to inhale for three steps and exhale for three steps. I’ve even heard of some ultra-distance runners managing four steps for every inhale and exhale.
If you’re upping the pace, your breathing naturally gets quicker. For fast interval running, you could be breathing hard inhaling on one step and exhaling on the next. You don’t want to be doing this for more than short intervals. (Try it and you’ll find yourself hyperventilating).
Instead, it’s normally better to inhale for two steps and exhale for two steps but because you’re running faster, your cadence will be faster and so will your breathing. I find it helps to really concentrate on your breathing when you start to run hard.
Does An Even Breathing Rhythm Lead To Running Injuries?
Ignore the claims that an even rhythm, such as inhaling for two steps and exhaling for two steps, can lead to injury because the exhale with the highest impact is always on the same foot.
It’s a myth based on outdated research. This more recent study suggests a 2-2 rhythm is best but again the research is inconclusive with only a small study group.
Counting is there to help beginner runners get into a steady rhythm of breathing and running. It can also help ultra-distance runners improve their running efficiency. If it helps you – great – if not try another running breathing technique.
If breathing when running is difficult, it’s a good idea to practice breathing techniques before you start running.
Alternate nostril breathing is perhaps the best-known method.
It’s a great way to reduce stress and works to improve your lung function. Practicing for a few minutes can help to get your breathing under control before you start your run.
Good Posture Helps Your Running Breathing
If you double over when running, it’s not only an inefficient running style, but it also affects your lung capacity. Keeping upright and relaxed, with your head in line with your spine makes it easier to breathe.
Try to keep your shoulders low – not scrunched up around your ears, and avoid bending forward as you run.
There are so many reasons to start a run slowly and your breathing is one of them. Ease into your runs – your body will thank you and you’ll find it easier to breathe. Starting slow is also one of my top tips to run without getting tired.
Running Breathing Advice If You Have Asthma
It’s not much fun being an asthmatic runner on our congested streets. Most runners will struggle with air pollution and suffering from asthma just makes it worse.
It can be just as bad living in the country. Crops such as rapeseed are a real hazard to asthma sufferers in the summer months.
Try and plan your running times and routes to minimize pollution and pollen exposure. On bad days a treadmill may be your best option.
Covering your mouth and nose with a buff or face mask may help. It can also warm and moisturize the air you breathe in cold weather.
Warming up is important for every runner but it’s essential when you’re an asthma sufferer. It’s sudden stresses that are most likely to cause an asthma attack.
There are several breathing techniques to help with asthma and it’s best to learn the correct techniques from a respiratory physiotherapist.
Nasal Strips For Running
Some runners swear by using nasal strips. Originally designed for snoring, you’ll see an increasing number of athletes using them in races.
Nasal strips help to open up your nasal passages. It makes sense this could help if you’re trying to breathe through both your nose and mouth but some athletes claim it helps with all breathing methods.
Takeaway Tips For How To Breathe While Running
It’s best to breathe deeply from your belly (diaphragm) and try to maintain a steady rhythm to your breathing.
Most runners breathe through the mouth. There are some benefits to nose breathing but unless you’re an experienced runner it’s really hard to take in enough oxygen.
Don’t sweat it. If you’re struggling to breathe while running slow down. As your running improves, your breathing will get easier.
Seek medical advice if you’re in any doubt and especially if you think you might be asthmatic.
Did you find these tips helpful? Or maybe as a new runner you can add to this advice. I’d love to know your own experiences of breathing while running!
Frequently Asked Questions
Start breathing from your belly (diaphragm) to maximize your lung capacity and breathe through you mouth to maximize your oxygen intake. Try getting into a rhythm matching your breathing to your cadence. Start a run slowly – easing into your runs will help with breathing. Aim for an upright posture and practice breathing techniques to warm up before running.
Breathing through your nose helps to prevent infections and by warming and adding moisture to the air you breathe can protect against the impact of cold, dry air. Yet unless you’re an experienced runner and prepared to work hard at breathing through your nose while running, it’s very difficult to stick to anything more than a very easy pace. Most runners breathe through their mouths to maximize air intake.
A good way to control your breathing is to match your inhales and exhales to your cadence. For example, breathe in for two steps and out for two steps. A regular breathing pattern can make it easier to run at a steady pace. Start your runs slowly to build a breathing rhythm before picking up speed.