Breathing Techniques for Running

Before we run, we think about many things – Do my shoes and socks feel okay? Are my clothes comfortable? Do I have a good mix ready to play? How far am I running today?

But how many people actually think about their breathing while they’re running? Probably not many, especially if you’re new to running, but you should. Your breathing techniques can have a significant impact on your running efficiency.


A lot of people talk about breathing to your cadence. I’m not going to get into that today. Let’s keep this very simple and basic. Once you understand your breathing, how to control it and how it effects your runs, then we can talk about breathing to a cadence.

What type of breather are you?

There are two different kinds of breathers – belly-breathers and chest-breathers?

Belly-breathers take in long, deep breathes, from their belly. Their chest hardly moves but their abdomen expands and contracts with every breath.

Chest-breathers on the other hand take short, quick breaths and their chest is doing all of the moving.

Chest-breathing is the least efficient way to get your oxygen. You may think that the quicker you take in air, the more air (i.e., oxygen) you’re getting. In this case, that’s not true.

The capillaries that deliver oxygen to your blood and muscles are located in the bottom portion of your lungs. Taking short breathes (chest-breathing) only makes you more short of breath and inhibits oxygen from circulating through your system.

Your muscles need oxygen to keep you running, so you have to breathe more efficiently to get that oxygen delivered.

Let’s do an exercise. Put both of your hands on your stomach near your belly button. Purse your lips, as if you’re going to use a straw. Push out as much of the air from your lungs as you can by bringing your belly button towards your spine.

Once you’ve emptied out as much air as possible just relax your belly and the inhale will happen on its own.

See how your belly expanded but your chest didn’t? That’s the type of breathing you want to do when you’re running. The best way to learn this is to practice this type of breathing when you’re not running. It will then come second nature to your as soon as your run starts.

Why are you out of breath?

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There are a few common reasons why you may feel out of breath. Let’s visit each one briefly.

– You’re new to running and aren’t comfortable with it yet.

Rapid breathing is very common for new runners. New runners are still concentrating on everything else and breathing seems to be the last thing that’s focused on.

It would benefit your runs more if instead of concentrating on how fast you’re going, you instead concentrate on how you’re breathing. The running will eventually become easier and more natural if you’ve got your breathing under control.

When you first start out, run/jog at a pace when you can inhale and exhale through your nose with those belly breaths that we talked about earlier.

This means you should be able to carry on a conversation with someone. Once you get more comfortable with your breathing, your pace will naturally pick up.

– You’re too tense – relax!

Are your shoulders pulled up to your ears? Are you clenching your teeth? Are you squeezing your muscles? Relax! Drop your shoulders. Relax your jaw.

Don’t think about your butt. Just run. Running should be fun. Relaxing. You should be floating on air. You shouldn’t feel tense and drained just a few minutes into your run.

Do you remember as a child how you felt you could run around the yard all day? Or maybe you see kids running around a playground today and you wonder how on earth do they just keep running like that?!

It’s because they’re not thinking about themselves running! You weren’t thinking about running as a child, you were just playing. They’re relaxed. They’re having fun. You were relaxed and having fun. So take a deep breath, relax your body, and enjoy your run through nature.

– You’re breathing with your chest.

We talked about this before. Stop breathing with your chest. Your body needs oxygen. It needs that deep lung, belly breathing. Will your breathing get quicker when you pick up the pace? Yes, absolutely. But the breaths should still be belly breaths. You’ve got to get the oxygen to the rest of your body.

Breathe DEEP. Breathing deeply naturally slows down how quickly you’re taking breaths and you’ll feel like you’re getting more oxygen.

Nose v. Mouth breathing

Most people will tell you that breathing through your mouth is the more efficient way to breathe while running. If you’re doing sprints, breathing through your mouth can’t be helped. It will allow you to get more oxygen in your belly breathes.

However, for those long runs, breathing mostly through your nose should be effective enough. It forces you to keep yourself at a steady pace and to take those deep, belly breaths.

When I first began running I was 100% a mouth breather from the very first step. Now, for my long runs, I’m breathing through my nose. My jaw is relax and my lips may have a slight part in them, but the air is going through my nose.

It helps me to keep my breathing deep and it lets me know how much I’m exerting myself so I can determine whether I need to pick up the pace or slow it down.

Ultimately, I think this comes down to what’s comfortable for you so long as you stick to those belly breaths – that’s the key.

So next time you’re out running, concentrate on your breathing. Don’t focus on your feet or your legs, think about the air in your lungs. It takes some practice, but you’ll notice a significant difference in your runs in just a matter of a couple of weeks. Relax. Belly breath. Take in the scenery.

And have fun! Until next time…

Stay fit and healthy

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