Running is simple: you put one foot in front of the other for as long as you can. The faster you go, the better (in general). And lo, you’re running. However, after that, there are all kinds of things to learn. You need to learn posture, gait, pace, speed, heart-rate monitoring, foot striking, arm movement.
And most important is learning how to breathe while running.
Fortunately breathing exercises are the simplest skills to master for a new runner–or at least get pretty good at. And this coming from a guy with asthma. (Unless you’re all deformed and corrupted by the Dark Side like Darth Malgus up there. I don’t think any number of breathing exercises is going to really fix that hot mess.)
So unless you’re trapped in a breathing apparatus like a Sith Lord, there are two really simple rules for breathing while you run. Just two. And they’ve never let me down.
How to breathe while running
breathing exercise 1: one breath for every three steps
There is a lot of back-and-forth about whether a runner is better off mouth-breathing or nose-breathing. And honestly, in my experience, it boils down to whatever works the best for you and your situation.
Some people claim they can’t get enough oxygen when they inhale through their nose, while others claim that mouth-breathing not only dehydrates them, but also chaps their lips, mouths, and throats.
Honestly, I’ve experienced both downsides and in general, neither seems to be any better than the other.
But when you’re learning how to breathe while running, you want to be careful not to hyperventilate. It’s easy to breathe too much and just gulp down air. You’ll hurt yourself that way. You can get lightheaded, stomach cramps, or trigger an asthma attack.
So you will want to breathe at a consistent rate.
The best rate is three footfalls for every inhale, and three footfall for an exhale. This keeps you able to focus on your body and assert control. If you’re struggling, try to inhale through your mouth and exhale through your nose.
Just count as you run, and your feet should hit the pavement three times during each breath you take in, and then another three as you breathe out. This is by far the best way to breathe while running, especially if you’re struggling in any way.
To me, of any breathing exercises that I’ve tried, this is by far the one that has gotten me through the most hard times.
breathing exercise 2: when the going gets tough, fill your belly with air
I don’t remember where I read it, but some of the best advice on how to breathe while running that I’ve ever been given was go fill by belly with air.
When you’re really struggling–in any way, breathing, muscle fatigue, stomach cramps, whatever–breathe deeply into your diaphragm and fill your stomach with air before you breathe out.
If there ever was a miracle cure, this is it.
To make sure you’re doing it right, press your hand flat against your stomach just below your rib cage, and if your hand is pushed outward, you win! (Believe me, it’s much harder to breathe this way when you’re running at race pace, so you will want to practice.)
The first time I tried this breathing exercise was in the middle of summer humidity in Florida. Amazingly, it quelled an asthma attack when I was two miles from our condo–and my inhaler.
I told my wife about this trick, and she was skeptical. She was all like “I know how to breathe while running, dude!” But after she tried it, she uses it every time she laces up. She swears by it. (She even told me to make sure I included in this post how much she swears by it.)
She suffers from mid-run stomach cramps pretty often, and by breathing deeply and filling her gut, the cramps are settled and her runs go well. Score!
Remember, though, this trick is kind of slow and deliberate, so the three in, one out rule above should be suspended while you essentially recalibrate yourself.
Honestly, whether you’re a new runner who hasn’t been able to get a solid mile at once yet, or if you’re a road-race veteran, it’s important that you learn how to breathe while running. You have to pay attention to your breath, and if you’re worried about it, make sure you try out these breathing exercises.
It is one of the few things in the sport we can totally control. And one of the simplest.
So next time you’re out, keep these two tips in mind, and I can pretty much promise your run will go a bit more smoothly.