How to Run Without Getting Tired or Winded

8 Simple Tips to Improve Your Endurance

Female runners
Chris Leschinsky

New runners will often feel frustrated when they find themselves getting winded soon after starting a run. While some people will tell you that you're simply out of shape, more often than not it's not your fitness level at issue, it's the speed at which you are running and the way you are running.

As important as it is to start working out, you will get far more out of a run if you learn proper running form and technique. Equally important is how you prepare for a run, including the foods you eat and the amount of time you spend warming up.

Preparing for a Run

There are a few things you can do before your run that might help prevent you from getting winded during your run.

Understand RPE

Before you head out the door, it can be helpful to set a target intensity level for your run. Many runners get winded too quickly because they run at a pace that is too fast. For this reason, it may be helpful to use a tool called the RPE scale during your run.

RPE stands for "rating of perceived effort." There are different types of RPE scales. The easiest one to follow is a simple scale from 1–10, where the number one represents the least amount of effort and the number 10 represents the most extreme effort.

Some studies have shown that your rating of perceived effort is one way to predict your heart rate (HR) during certain exercise efforts. So, for example, a rating of 2–4 on the RPE scale would correspond to a heart rate that is 50 percent to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Use this scale to rank your intensity level during your running workouts.

RPE (Rating of Perceived Effort) Scale
RPE Feels Like... Estimated HR
2–4 Light exertion. Appropriate for a warm up and cool down 50–60% of max
4–5 Moderate effort. You're breathing deeply but comfortably. 60–70% of max
5–7 Moderate to vigorous effort. The run is challenging and you're not sure how long you can continue. 70–80% of max
7–9 Vigorous to extremely hard. You begin taking short, gasping breaths and you want to quit. 80–90% of max
10 Ultimate effort 100% of max

Easy runs should rank at about a 3 to 4 on the scale. Moderate intensity runs should feel like a 4 to 7, and more challenging runs (such as speed workouts) rank higher.

Keep in mind that some researchers feel that many factors impact the effort ranking of an RPE scale, making it less accurate. But most agree that it is the easiest and least expensive way to know if you are working too hard.

If you have a heart rate watch, you can also simply use the heart rate provided on your watch as an indicator of your intensity level.

Warm Up

Another key tip is to take the time to warm up properly to prepare your muscles for more strenuous activity. This is especially important if you are running in the cold.

Start your warm-up with an easy jog or a walk. Aim for about 10 to 15 minutes of activity to get your blood pumping and to increase your core temperature. If you choose, add a few running drills or dynamic stretches.

Fuel Properly

Running requires an ample supply of fuel in the form of glycogen. If you participate in longer runs (lasting more than an hour) you should be especially careful about making sure that you eat well before you run. This is why you hear about carb-loading prior to a marathon; for shorter runs, your usual diet will be sufficient.

Glycogen is the stored form of glucose (sugar) which our body warehouses in muscles and liver for future use.

The moment you start a strenuous activity, such as running, your body will convert glycogen back into glucose to use as fuel. If you have too little in your body, you will burn out quickly. This is true even if you are in relatively good shape.

8 Tips to Avoid Getting Winded

To avoid getting winded during a run, do what the pros do. Check your form, control your breathing, and pace yourself.

Monitor Heart Rate

Your maximum heart rate (MHR) is the upper limit (determined in heart beats per minute) of your cardiovascular ability. The most simplified way to estimate your MHR is to subtract your age from 220.

When you first start out, keep your heart rate around 65 percent of MHR or lower. If you are able to run at this pace without getting winded, you can gradually increase until reach 85 percent of your MHR.

Check Posture

Always hold your torso upright and avoid bending at the waist while running. Proper posture will help you breathe more efficiently by preventing the compression of your diaphragm. Slumping or hunching decreases your lung capacity while increasing your breathing rate.

Belly Breathe

During your runs, breathe from your belly as opposed to your chest. Try to use your diaphragm to completely fill and empty the lungs. Belly breathing gives your lungs much more room to expand and helps avoid side stitches that can develop when you breathe too quickly.

Swing Your Arms

Keep your arms at a relaxed 90-degree angle while running. They should swing naturally from the shoulders without swaying across your chest. As you step with your right leg, the left arm will naturally move forward. The pattern reverses on the other side. This contralateral movement will help propel the body forward so that your legs don’t have to work as hard.

Relax Your Breathing

If you allow yourself to breathe deeply but comfortably, you may notice that your breathing starts to sync with your footstrikes. This is called locomotor-respiratory coupling (LRC). All mammals do it, but humans have greater flexibility in the way that they use it.

Many runners fall into a natural 2:1 LRC pattern, meaning that for every two steps they take one breath. Try not to force yourself into an unnatural pattern, but simply find your natural rhythm and relax into it as you run.

Run at a Conversational Pace

While running, you should be able to talk to someone in complete sentences, not just one-word responses. If you're running by yourself, you should be able to sing "Happy Birthday" without gasping for air.

If you can't complete a full sentence without a gasp, slow down and take a walking break. (In fact, a run/walk approach is often a great way to build endurance when first starting out.) When you catch your breath, begin again at a more manageable pace.

Focus on Endurance

Use your breathing as a guide and think about running further (or for a longer period of time) rather than running faster. If you are able to run a certain distance without getting winded, you can gradually pick up the pace as long as you follow the same rules regarding form and breathing.

If You Get Tired

If you try each of these approaches and you still get winded during your runs, don't worry. It happens to everyone, even the most seasoned runners. In fact, you may notice that you have days when you get winded no matter how slowly you run. It's normal to have good days and bad days.

If you have a bad day, simply scale back and take steps to rest and regroup. Don't worry too much about a single workout. Instead, focus on your overall training plan and stay consistent with your workouts. Change happens incrementally. If you stick to your plan, you'll see results over time.

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Article Sources

  1. Scherr J, Wolfarth B, Christle JW, Pressler A, Wagenpfeil S, Halle M. Associations between Borg's rating of perceived exertion and physiological measures of exercise intensity. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013;113(1):147-55.

  2. Helms ER, Cronin J, Storey A, Zourdos MC. Application of the Repetitions in Reserve-Based Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale for Resistance Training. Strength Cond J. 2016;38(4):42-49. doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000218

Additional Reading

  • Ciolac, E. G., Mantuani, S. S., Neiva, C. M., Verardi, C., Pessôa-Filho, D. M., & Pimenta, L. (2015). Rating of perceived exertion as a tool for prescribing and self regulating interval training: a pilot study. Biology of sport32(2), 103–108. doi:10.5604/20831862.1134312

  • Faulkner, J., Parfitt, G., & Eston, R. (2008). The rating of perceived exertion during competitive running scales with time. Psychophysiology, 45(6), 977–985. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8986.2008.00712.x

  • Muyor J. M. (2013). Exercise Intensity and Validity of the Ratings of Perceived Exertion (Borg and OMNI Scales) in an Indoor Cycling Session. Journal of human kinetics39, 93–101. doi:10.2478/hukin-2013-0072