I’ve never really worried about how to breathe while running. I mean, come on – it’s breathing. It’s a natural process. Sure, it becomes more pronounced while running, but I never thought about whether I was doing it right.
That is, until this summer.
I’ve had mild allergies most of the season, which would occasionally cause a stuffy nose. Usually no big deal. In fact, I didn’t notice the stuffiness unless I was running. It was most apparent during a tough half marathon I ran in June. It was hot, very hilly, and at high altitude. I had already hit the wall and then I discovered could not breathe through my nose. I was fine, it just added salt to the wound of my first real bonk.
Since then I’ve tried to pay attention to how I breathe when I run, and research what I should be doing. I’ve come across a few different schools of thought for how you should breathe while running.
Some experts purport that nose breathing is best for running. The logic is that nose breathing helps warm the air before it enters the lungs, which makes breathing easier. This is helpful information for those of us who continue to run during the winter months. (and could possibly account for why it was such a shock to me when the seasons changed). Nose breathing may also be more beneficial for runners with asthma.
Almost everything I’ve read so far indicates that mouth breathing is the best way to breathe while running. The belief is that mouth breathing is natural and maximizes oxygen intake. Some experts say forcing air through the nostrils tightens your jaw and facial muscles, when of course you want your face to be as relaxed as possible while you are running.
Musicians who sing or play wind or brass instruments will be familiar with diaphragmatic or “stomach” breathing. The idea is that as you inhale, your stomach expands, and as you exhale, it contracts. “Breathing is about exhaling,” said Coach Scott Young. Chest breathing is too shallow to bring in maximum oxygen, and your lungs don’t fully expel all the air. As you breathe, your chest remains still, and your stomach should expand and contract as the air is brought in and forced out.
You can practice this type of breathing by laying on your back and placing a book on your stomach. You should be able to see the book rise and fall as you inhale and exhale.
All Of the Above
What Coach Scott recommends is basically a combination of all of this. “Inhale (through your) nose and mouth, and as you exhale, make a tiny circle with your lips.” This will force the air out more efficiently.
As it turns out, I think this is how I naturally breathe while running, judging by some race photos I’ve seen of myself. I definitely over thought things and panicked a bit when my nose was stuffy. I have heard another notion that learning to nose breathe during the easy parts of a run (say, the flat portions) conserves air and makes the breathing more efficient during the difficult parts (uphill, for example) when you would switch to mouth breathing. I’ve just started experimenting with this concept a little and will see if it makes any difference.
Do you pay attention to how you breathe when you run? How have allergies, colds, or weather affected your performance? I’d love to hear your comments!