Breathing Basics for Runners

Running is one of the very best, most popular cardiovascular activities you can do to relieve major stress, build stronger bones, improve your heart health and burn calories.

However, if you’re just starting a running routine, you will likely need to learn to breathe correctly while building up your physical stamina. These breathing basics will help you get into a smooth running groove in no time at all!

Breathe deeply, from your belly

Many of us aren’t breathing properly. We tend to take shallow breaths, using only our chest muscles rather than taking full, deep breaths with our bellies and diaphragms. The difference? Expanding your diaphragm to its fullest potential allows your lungs to fill with the largest amount of air. And of course, you will need this for running. The more air you inhale, the more oxygen is pumped through your circulatory system to your moving muscles.

You can practice belly breathing by doing the following:

  • Lie down on your back, keeping your chest and shoulders still
  • Place your hands on your belly
  • Breathe through both your nose and mouth — focus on raising your belly as you inhale and lowering it as you exhale, breathing deep into your stomach instead of your chest
  • Do at least 10 of these belly breaths before each run as part of your warm-up

Form a Breathing Pattern

After you’ve mastered the basics of belly breathing, you can think about establishing a breathing pattern for your runs. Runners typically practice “rhythmic breathing,” which helps regulate your breath by timing your inhales and exhales with your footstrikes. For instance, many runners adopt a 2:2 pattern of rhythmic breathing, meaning they inhale for two footstrikes and exhale for two footstrikes. You can play around with what works best for you.

Start slow with a run/walk

When you’re just starting a running routine, every part of your body — not just your lungs — will need to become acquainted with your new hobby. Otherwise, it can quickly lead to injury and exhaustion. Be sure to start any new running program with a combination of a run/walk. For example, do your daily “run” by walking briskly for five minutes, then jogging for one minute. Alternate until 30 minutes is up. As you feel your stamina build, you can begin to decrease your walking time and increase your running time. This will help you manage your breathing and control the pace that feels most comfortable for you.

Hydrate and eat enough beforehand

When you’re not well hydrated or fed before your run, you’re likely to huff and puff a whole lot more. Experts recommend drinking about one liter of water in the hour prior to your run, and also eating a light, balanced meal around two hours before. Many runners find that this produces the optimal “performance zone” for a nice 30 to 60 minute run.

Don’t forget strength training

Health professionals agree that mixing cardio with strength training is the best way to improve and maintain your overall health. But as a runner, adding strength training to your exercise routine will also make it much easier to breathe on your runs. Studies have shown that runners whose breathing was the most strained also had the most leg weakness. Do a few sets of bodyweight strength exercises like squats, lunges, and bridges two or three days a week to feel your lung capacity improve on your runs.

Try a treadmill before the great outdoors

If you’re a true running beginner, you might want to start out on a treadmill, where you can easily control the “terrain” (incline) to match your breathing ability. Jogging outside in San Diego can be wonderful, but hills, traffic, and uneven surfaces like dirt, rocks, or stretches of unpaved road can leave new runners gasping for breath. Treadmills are also softer than concrete and reduce the force of impact as you run, which lessens the chances you’ll develop painful shin splints.

Are you looking for a primary care doctor to consult about your new exercise routine? Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups’ expert, caring physicians are ready to see you now.

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