Breathing is always important. Vital, even. But when we’re doing exercise, we tend to focus on the process a lot more.
How we breathe when we’re running can make a big difference. If you’ve ever found yourself gasping for breath or clutching at your chest after sprinting up a big hill – you’re not alone. But changing the way we breathe and increasing our awareness of our breath can help us become better runners.
Exerting our bodies physically during a run means our muscles, blood cells and organs need more oxygen – so, we need to breathe deeper and harder than we do normally.
Your ability to breathe easily and with rhythm during a run can be an indicator of your fitness level or how well your body is responding to the intensity of your workout. You may experience shortness of breath, wheezing, or tightness in your chest if you’re pushing past your capacity.
Most runners will have techniques that they swear by for breathing during a run. Maybe that’s aiming to breathe only through the nose, or lengthening each breath for four counts. Whatever it is, having a system can keep you on track and help to take the pressure of your respiratory system.
‘My first piece of advice for anyone struggling to regulate their breathing when running is to observe whether you are breathing through your nose or your mouth,’ says head of yoga at BLOK, Leo Oppenheim.
‘When breathing through the mouth and taking in large gulps of air, you are actually upsetting the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the body. It is likely that a difficulty in regulating the breath while running is also related to C02 tolerance in the body.’
Leo says your should train your breath as you would other elements of your running practice, like time or pace.
‘An excellent way to regulate the breath while running is to start nasal breathing,’ he says.
‘The nose creates resistance that allows the body to utilise inhaled air more effectively. Nasal breathing while training also increases the body’s C02 tolerance.
‘Mouth taping is an effective way to do this while running and is also an excellent way of improving your sleep.’
Yes, Leo literally means whacking a piece of tape over your mouth while you’re running. You might feel a bit silly, but it is an effective way to train your breath. Read on for more specific tips on how to try this for the first time.
‘Another way of increasing this tolerance is to practice breathwork and breath retention outside of your running practice,’ he adds. ‘Breath retentions have a similar benefits to altitude training and can improve your running PBs.’
Leo says that an awareness of breath and its pace is often neglected in a runner’s practice, yet a rhythmic breath can have huge benefits for running times and can even help to mitigate injury.
‘Try to find and observe the rhythm in which you are running and how your inhalations and exhalations match that of your steps,’ says Leo.
‘Start to include running sessions in your program that are specifically focused on how you are breathing.’
Breathing techniques to help you tackle a long run
Breath is one of the most powerful training tools we possess. It’s also one of the most underutilised.
Harnessed correctly, it can unlock a long list of benefits, from improving performance and energy efficiency, to priming your body for your next long run – which is particularly useful for anyone in marathon training.
To explore its potential, breathwork facilitator and BLOK trainer Craig Seaton has shared his top techniques to help runners tap into the power of their breath:
Best for: A natural pre-run boost
Before any run, Craig recommends taking 20-30 deep belly breaths to raise your blood oxygen saturation and prime the body for action.
‘If your breath is quite stagnant or stuck in your chest, you’re not going to perform anywhere near as well,’ he explains.
Sit calmly and place a hand on your belly.
Take a deep breath in through your mouth – watching to see your hand rise, then breathe out through your mouth (this is an indication that you’re breathing into the pit of your stomach rather than taking shallow chest breaths).
Without pausing, breathe in for four seconds, out for four seconds.
Best for: Priming your body for a long run
Breath holds flood your body with oxygen, trapping bubbles of O2 around the cells to enhance your aerobic output.
‘Take 10 full breaths in and out through your nose without pause, then on the next breath, inhale and allow the breath to stay within the body, ensuring you don’t tense up,’ says Craig.
Best for: Improving energy efficiency during a long run
Breathing in and out through your nose teaches your body to utilise oxygen and process carbon dioxide more efficiently. If it’s your first time nasal breathing, Craig suggests practising during a warm up run to help you get used to the sensation.
To help further develop the familiarity of nasal breathing, BLOK’s Leo Oppenheim suggests adopting mouth taping whilst running. Mouth tape helps to ensure that your lips remain sealed so that oxygen is coming from the nose rather than the mouth, increasing efficiency and endurance.
If you’re new to mouth tape, Leo recommends mouth-taping for the first five minutes of your run, increasing the length of time you keep it on to ten minutes, fifteen minutes and so on.
‘Draw each breath in deeply and try to stay calm,’ he says, adding that you won’t run out of oxygen.
‘If panic starts to creep in, keep coming back to your breath. It will help channel your focus and train your body in such a powerful way, improving your energy consumption and even bringing elements of meditation into your physical practice.’
Breath of fire
Best for: Reaching that PB
If you need to get revved up for a particularly intense run, Craig suggests using an exercise called ‘Breath of Fire,’ that uses your abdominal muscles to draw in short, sharp breaths.
‘Breath of Fire generates an intense heat in the body and triggers a more assertive energy,’ says Craig. ‘It aims to get you primed and ready to go.’
Straighten your spine, take half a full breath in, then pump your navel, drawing your belly button toward your spine in a rapid but rhythmic fashion.
Breathe through your nose throughout and aim to perform this for up to four minutes.
‘The belly should do the work, rather than your nose,’ Craig adds. ‘The heat and fire you create can then be channelled into your exercise.’
Best for: Stretching post-run
Breathwork, when combined with an audible release of pent-up tension, can play a rejuvenating role in recovery after exercise too.
‘When holding each stretch, breathe deeply in through your nose, then as you exhale through the mouth, let out an audible sigh to actively expel stress from your mind and body,’ says Craig.
‘Don’t force it. Let your breath guide your body.’
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch by emailing [email protected].