Did you know that regular physical exercise can increase lung capacity by up to 15%?
The typical respiratory rate for an adult is of about 12-20 breaths / minute. But during and after exercise you may take between 35-45 breaths per minute or even 60-70 breaths per minute, if you’re an endurance sport athlete.
It is no wonder, then, that we do need a well-planned breathing technique when we train. Unfortunately, there are many myths out there regarding the proper way to breathe while running which do nothing else than to mislead beginners and often cause them to quit, feeling that they cannot possibly cope with sustained physical effort. But the good news is that, with some exercise and a good technique, anyone can learn to control his/her breath and, consequently, manage to run for longer distances.
Tip: Choosing to jog with a friend who is an experienced runner can be incredibly helpful, as long as he/she is willing to temporarily adjust his/her pace to yours. It can be the easiest way to learn how to breathe correctly while running.
Breathing through your nose – myth busted
One of the most widespread myths on this topic is that during running you should breathe in and exhale exclusively through your nose. Experts, however, say that this cannot be further from the truth. During running, your main objective should be to breathe in and exhale as much air as you can, and you definitely cannot do this by using just your nose. The most effective way to inhale large volumes of air is through your mouth. The best recommendation, therefore, is to keep your mouth open while running and to use both breathing paths – mouth and nose – to get as much oxygen as possible into your body. If, however, you run at very low temperatures, you should indeed try to breathe in through your nose as much as possible. Cold air is very dry and, when inhaled through the mouth, it can cause coughing and shortness of breath. The nose warms up the air, so the lungs don’t go through the shock of getting in contact with the cold air.
Try diaphragmatic breathing!
The lungs occupy most of the chest cavity, so they are quite large, but most of us only use them at approximately one third of their capacity. To increase the volume of air you introduce into your lungs, try to replace chest breathing, which is too shallow to provide the necessary oxygen during exercise, with diaphragmatic breathing. For this type of breathing, you’re using your diaphragm, the muscle between the abdomen and the lungs, which controls breathing, to force air in and out of your lungs. This will also contract and expand your stomach. During this process, the chest remains relatively still, but the quantity of oxygen you introduce into your lungs will be far larger.
Chaotic breathing – a common mistake among beginner runners
One of the most common mistakes beginner runners make is to breathe chaotically. It is very important to find a respiratory rhythm that is correlated with your running pace. For example, you can breathe in for three steps and exhale for three steps (3:3). The faster your run, the higher your breathing rate will be, so you may need to breathe in and exhale for just one or two steps at a time. Maintain the same respiratory rhythm even when you run uphill. Some scientists consider that synchronising your breath with your steps can significantly reduce the quantity of oxygen your body uses during running.
Watch your posture!
Your body posture and arm position during running are correlated with your breath. A poor posture can affect the quantity of air you breathe in and the way you move your arms can also affect the respiratory rhythm. So, in setting a respiratory rhythm, be careful to monitor not only your running pace, but also the movement and posture of your body and arms.
Check your heart rate!
To make sure that your body receives enough oxygen without too much effort, check your heart rate during the run. The maximum heart rate can be measured by subtracting your age from the number 220. Moderate physical exercise should keep your heart rate at a maximum of 70% of this value. For instance, if you are 30 years old, your maximum heart rate should be 190 and your heart rate during physical exercise of moderate intensity should be of maximum 133 beats per minute. A simple test you can do to determine if you’re running at a moderate pace is the “conversational test.” If you cannot finish a sentence without losing your breath, you’re probably either running too fast or you’re not breathing properly.
t’s not just about the technique
A poor breathing technique while running is not the only thing that can create problems. You can also have trouble breathing if it’s too hot, too cold, there’s too much humidity or the air is too dry. Also, make sure you’re well hydrated before you start running and stop to rest if you feel that you’ve lost your breath. When running at very low temperatures, covering your mouth and nose can help warm up and increase the humidity level of the air you breathe in.