A whopping number of runners quit halfway through their first marathon due to fatigue. Using right breathing technique for running could be the solution.
Running is by far one of the most accessible sport as you can practice running almost anywhere. Running is easy and it needs nothing. Well, almost!
Today, when people are increasingly becoming health conscious and indulging in different physical activities, a substantial number of health enthusiasts have dusted their running shoes and are ready to hit the tracks.
But running isn’t just about hitting the tracks. So, before you start running slavishly, take a pragmatic view. Running is intense workout and one of the best aerobic exercises.
When it comes to running, endurance is the name of the game.
Enthusiastic runners often tend to overlook a critical factor when they start. It is about breathing right while running. There are other variables such as posture, pace and stride also which come into play, but it is imperative to use right breathing technique for healthy running, as it is a key factor for better performance. Whether you are just getting started or back from a long break, there are some simple tips and breathing techniques for runners that can help you immensely in sustaining healthy running in the long run.
Some of you might think, breathing comes naturally to us. Who needs a lesson on breathing? We have been breathing since the day we were born, and, apparently, we are doing quite all-right.
Even if you are not aiming for a podium position and you want to run for the fun of it, or, you are just interested in keeping your belly under check, right breathing will help you gain maximum benefits out of your daily sessions and make running sustainable, less straining and enjoyable over a period of time.
Why is breathing right while running is crucial?
Our body needs oxygen to survive as it plays a key role in fueling all our activities. When we breathe, we facilitate intake of oxygen into our lungs, which is then pumped by heart to various body parts for cellular respiration through blood. When a person runs, or indulges in an arduous activity, body consumes more energy and thus needs more oxygen to function optimally. In addition, we also need to remove carbon dioxide build up from lungs. You would have noticed yourself taking deeper breaths after a vigorous activity like running or climbing a set of stairs. That is your body responding to a sudden surge in oxygen consumption. When the level of carbon dioxide in your lungs returns to normal, your breath becomes normal. Your body simply responds to the intensity of your workouts.
Breathing through nose vs breathing through mouth
The inhalation or air intake through nasal cavity is known as nose breathing. This casual form of breathing is most common as we are accustomed to it by using it unconsciously in most idle conditions. We use nasal breathing for walking or even during a casual run. Nasal breathing is usually OK when you are going for short distance jogs. But, during strenuous running, nasal breathing cannot accommodate increased rate of air intake needed as it is smaller as compared to mouth. When you force more air through nostrils, it also tends to tighten the jaw muscle which hinders the flow of air. Some people also practice inhaling through nose and use mouth to exhale to accommodate this surge.
In mouth breathing, we use our mouth as primary source for inhaling air and make nose as a secondary source. When you go for intense running like sprint, it is better to breathe through mouth. Mouth breathing is considered the best way to breathe while running, primarily because you will get more oxygen through mouth as compared to the nose. But correct breathing isn’t entirely determined by these choices.
Deep Belly Breathing
How you circulate air once you inhale affects your breathing as functioning of lower airways during breathing is more complex than the upper airways and has deeper impact on a runner’s performance. Inner breathing or air circulation can be divided into three categories.
• Clavicular breathing
• Thoracic breathing
• Diaphragmatic breathing
Clavicular breathing is the most common form of breathing among the three, which most people use as unconscious patterns. Commonly known as chest breathing, it is a shallow form of breathing that draws minimum air into your lungs using primarily intercostal muscles and doesn’t fully expel air when you exhale.
Now, this is crucial!
Breathing mainly refreshes air in our lungs. But, at the end of passive expiration, our lungs do not exhale entire volume and hold back about 2.5 liters of air, which is called the ‘functional residual capacity’ (FRC). So, in essence, when we breathe, we inhale only about 350 ml of fresh air that mixes with the pre-existing FRC.
This is where ‘Diaphragmatic breathing’ comes into play.
Diaphragmatic breathing or ‘Deep belly breathing’ engages your diaphragm and is considered deepest form of breathing. In deep belly breathing, a muscle located horizontally between the thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity is contracted and your abdomen expands instead of the lungs. It is most relaxed form of breathing and is considered a natural way of breathing in mammals. Diaphragmatic breathing enables you to breathe maximum amount of oxygen. Breathing right is crucial for long distance running because, the way you breathe will directly impact your performance.
If you get fatigued and feel shortness of breath quickly while running, you should pay attention to your breathing. Most people tend to breathe through the chest which is the least efficient form of breathing. It is too shallow to inhale oxygen optimally and sustain running for a longer duration. In the US, nine out of ten adults are only chest breathers. There could be various reasons for it. Bad posture, clothing choices or weakness of muscles involved in breathing could all lead to chest breathing.
But, through training, you can modify the way your body’s respiratory system responds to intense physical activities like running. You can make alterations in your habits and re-train your body to breathe with your belly. Deep belly breathing will extend the action of inhaling and exhaling further down into your stomach. As a result, your chest will remain almost static and your stomach will expand instead as your diaphragm forces air into your lungs. Through deep belly breathing, you will inhale more oxygen into your blood stream resulting in better respiration as well as endurance.
Breathing and foot strikes
Another key factor that runners tend to ignore is the coordination of their foot and rhythm of their breath. Breathing and foot strike coordination plays a key role in optimizing your run.
There is no single winning formula for it, but we almost always practice some rhythmic breathing pattern while running. This syncing of breathing and footstrikes is called Locomotor-Respiratory Coupling or LRC. Most runners tend to have an even number of foot strikes for each inhale and exhale. But there are no hard and fast rules and every runner will have different patterns that will work optimally for him or her. Only way to figure this pattern is through practice.
Some studies suggest that a 2:1 coupling ratio is most favoured. That means for every two strides, you should take one breath.
Budd Coates, a running expert and author of “Running on Air” proposes breathing patterns that would alternate which foot was striking during inhalation and exhalation. For example, taking three footstrikes for every inhale and two footstrikes for every exhale.
What differentiates a long-distance runner from a short-distance runner is the length of stride rather than the rate of stride.
But do not let the idea of patterned breathing for enduring a longer run overwhelm you.
Research has also suggested that thinking too much about running and breath can lead to a decreased efficiency in running mechanics.
As you become more experienced runner, you will establish your preferred breathing pattern. Your body will automatically adjust to the intensity of your runs and start responding accordingly by choosing from a range of possible patterns. Finding this rhythm during your running may help to steady your nerves and sustain you for extended runs.
Tips for breathing better
Every new runner faces the same breathing issues and experiences almost the same struggles when they start.
It will take practice to control your breathing. Through practice you can modify your breathing patterns by altering the rhythm and the depth of your breaths.
You can start by focusing on slow deep breathing while going on short walks and make a conscious effort to expand your belly while breathing. You should maintain an even breathing pattern and pay attention to the strides. You will be taking multiple strides with each inhale and exhale.
Gradually, pick up the pace while you focus on maintaining the same even breathing patterns. This will warm up your lungs and give your diaphragm time to adjust to harder breathing later.
Always maintain a good posture while running as a slumped posture can literally decrease your lung capacity. You should hold your head up and run with a tall spine. A good runner’s posture should be upright and slightly tilted forward.
You can also influence your breathing positively by conscious breathing exercises that will help you recondition your respiratory patterns.
Tips for runners with Asthma
When you think of asthma, running does not appear as a convenient sport. But, before you jump to conclusions, think about this, “Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain, who was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 14 is a marathon-world-record holder.”
And Paula Radcliffe is not alone. Famous athletes Jerome Bettis, Amy Van Dyken and Dennis Rodman, all have asthma. But they all accomplished great thing by overcoming their asthma.
So, do not let asthma curb your dreams. Asthmatics can not only indulge in such intense sport, but also excel in it. However, here are few tips that will aid and enhance your performance.
You should always consult your doctor before starting out. You doctor will advise you to take precautions based on the severity of your asthma and help you develop a running routine. Runners with preconditions can avoid asthmatic attacks by taking a dose as directed by a medical expert minutes before the run starts to manage asthma symptom.
Have a plan for emergency
You should consult your doctor beforehand to create an asthma action plan. You must know whether you should call your doctor or get relief with a rescue inhaler in case of an emergency. The plan should include steps to follow in case of an asthma attack as well as preventive measures to control your flare-ups.
Never skip a warmup session as getting your lungs worked up before the main run can help avoid a serious spasm. The idea is to work your lungs to induce some wheezing as there is a refractory period for bronchospasm. “It normally takes about 4-5 hours before you have a second attack.”
It is a good idea to give yourself a ten minutes cooling time also after running.
Know your limits
Always start small. Go for shorter distances or low intensity runs in the beginning and stop when necessary. In due course of time, you can add to it. Once your body gets used to it, you can add more miles and start running faster.
Pay attention to your body
It is easy to miss out on the signs while running, but it’s important to be aware of the signs your body emits. You should be familiar with the normal signs of exercising as well as symptoms that are not normal.
Run in the morning
Morning is a good time to run outside. Running during warmer months is better for asthmatics as the weather will be gentle in the morning. Pollen as well as pollution is typically low during this time.
If you are going for a longer run, it is advised to check on the weather. Extreme cold or hot weather can cause asthma symptoms aggravate.
Take regular breaks
Long-distance running can trigger an asthma attack, as it requires prolonged breathing. So, make sure you take regular breaks.
Always try to have a partner to run with. They can come in handy in case you experience asthma symptoms. Avoid going to remote areas where getting quick medical assistance in case of emergency could pose a challenge.
There are several breathing exercises that people with asthma can benefit from. These breathing exercises may help in enhancing your breathing patterns and benefit you in your runs. For example, if you feel shortness of breath, you can practice pursed lip breathing. This technique helps more oxygen enter your lungs and slows down breathing.
You can also practice:
• The Papworth method
• Buteyko breathing
• Nasal breathing
• Deep yogic breathing
Running as a health activity has many benefits. Teaming it up with the right breathing techniques will enhance your performance as well as experience. Be realistic and do not make overtly ambitious plans in the beginning as failure will bring anguish. Start small and add more miles to it gradually. If you can run 2 kilometers comfortably, run 2 kilometers for a week. Every successful run will inspire you to push further and trigger you to go for running the next day. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Don’t follow others as every runner has different fitness level. What works for one may not work for other. It is always better to know your body’s limitations and then work on it gradually. Once comfortable with a speed and duration, you can challenge yourself further.
Use deep belly breathing and try different foot-strikes and breathing rhythms. Experiment with different speed and distance to figure out a pace that lets you run without a struggle.
Always run at a pace that feels natural and lets you breathe easily. It may be a personal choice but, majority of runners believe that mouth breathing is better suited for running. You should also practice breathing exercises to improve your breathing mechanics.
Finally, consistency, dedication and right technique is the winning formula that will yield rich dividends.