How Should I Breathe When Running?

Woman running
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Proper breathing makes a huge difference in terms of your overall comfort and performance when running. While your body will probably do the right thing naturally, you may have some breathing habits that don't allow you to take the deepest breaths possible. Plus, you may have fallen prey to some fad theories about breathing and running. Learn how you should breathe while running.

Nose or Mouth Breathing While Running

Some runners have heard they should breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. This breathing pattern is promoted in yoga and some martial arts. However, it is not the best for a vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running.

You should breathe through both your mouth and nose when you're running. Your muscles need oxygen to keep moving and your nose alone simply can't deliver enough. You need mouth breathing to take in more oxygen. While your nose can warm and filter the air, it won't be able to keep up with your body's needs while running.

The second part of the formula is correct. You should exhale through your mouth and try to focus on exhaling fully, which will remove more carbon dioxide and also help you inhale more deeply.

Deep Belly Breathing

Make sure you're breathing more from your diaphragm, or belly, not from your chest—that's too shallow.

Deep belly breathing allows you to take in more air, which may also help prevent side stitches.

  1. Pay attention to your upper body form. Your posture should be straight, with relaxed shoulders that aren't hunched up or slouched forward. Your head should be in line with your body, not jutted forward. You won't be able to breathe deeply if you are hunched over.
  1. Breathe in through your mouth. Push your stomach out and, at the same time, push down and out with your diaphragm. Rather than your upper chest expanding, you should feel your belly expanding. This allows you to draw in more air with each breath.
  2. Breathe out slowly and evenly through your mouth.

Breathing and Footstrikes

Runners often fall into a pattern breathing in for two to three footstrikes and breathing out for the same number of footstrikes. There probably is nothing wrong with this even breath pattern. A research paper in 2013 noted that runners naturally couple their breathing with their footstrikes in an even pattern, which results in always exhaling when on the same foot. Some theories advanced in this paper led people such as Budd Coates, author of "Running on Air," to propose breath patterns that would alternate which foot was striking during inhalation and exhalation. For example, taking three footstrikes for every inhale and two footstrike for every exhale.

While you can try this alternate breathing pattern, it may or may not have any benefits. Reportedly, one of the study authors thinks it is improbable that even breathing patterns are detrimental.

How Fast You Should Breathe

As a beginner, try to run at a pace at which you can breathe easily.

Use the "talk test" to figure out if your pace is appropriate. You should be able to speak in full sentences, without gasping for air. This is also known as a conversational pace.

Slow down or walk if you're running out of breath. If you relax and slow the pace, breathing problems often take care of themselves. Don't overthink it.

Sources:

Daley MA, Bramble DM, Carrier DR. Impact Loading and Locomotor-Respiratory Coordination Significantly Influence Breathing Dynamics in Running Humans. Hug F, ed. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(8):e70752. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070752.

Morton D, Callister R. Exercise-Related Transient Abdominal Pain (ETAP). Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.z). 2015;45:23-35. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0245-z.