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7 Steps To Breathe Easier On The Run

The phrase “as natural as breathing” doesn’t always apply when you’re huffing and puffing as the miles slog by. For beginners, trying to inhale and exhale while running can feel like a completely foreign pursuit. And while experienced runners may be more comfortable in this regard, there’s still a lot to learn about managing your oxygen. Tom Kloos, coach for the Bay Area Track Club and Saint Mary’s College of California, shares the ins and outs of proper airflow.

If you are having trouble breathing while running, consider these steps…

Slow down.

If your breath feels out of control, you’re probably running too fast. “Breathing is the most basic form of measuring your effort—people get fancy with heart-rate monitors, but your breath will tell you how hard you’re going,” Kloos explains. Sometimes it’s appropriate to be breathing heavily (during interval or hill workouts, for example), but the majority of the time, if you are struggling to get air in, you’re likely pushing more than necessary. Simply dial the pace in and relax.

Use both your mouth and nose.

“Some people have an idea that you should only breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, but that blocks air intake,” Kloos says. “I blame yoga for that myth.” When running, you want to be breathing through both airways at all times. This will maximize your oxygen intake—and make everything feel more normal.

Take off your headphones.

Get in touch with how your inhalation pattern sounds and feels. The best way to do this is, of course, to listen. “If your breathing is starting to become audible, that’s a precursor to becoming completely out of breath,” Kloos explains.

Consider your cheeks.

Because it’s an automatic function, the more you try to breathe, the more your breath can turn abnormal. If you are huffing and puffing and still gasping for air, you’re likely engaging in shallow breathing, “sucking air into your cheeks and spitting it right back out.” Kloos recommends making sure your core is expanding rather than your cheeks—feel the breath in your diaphragm. Focusing on the out breath will help, he says.

Stand up straight.

“If someone is slumping over, that’s going to affect how well the lungs work,” Kloos says. As you run, keep your shoulders back and your head up to allow for unrestricted airflow.

Count your steps.

For a normal run (aka not a super-hard effort), there’s a natural breathing pattern that coincides with your foot strikes: two steps on the in breath, two steps on the out. “That’s a threshold pattern, so if someone is breathing faster than that on a normal run, they are running too fast,” he explains.

Keep at it.

Because oxygen is critical for performance, training to be in tune with your breath is important for athletes of all levels. “It’s constant work,” Kloos says. The better you understand what your breath should sound like when you are running easy versus running hard, the better runner you will become.

Jessica Sebor

Jessica Sebor

Jessie Sebor is the Vice President of Women's Running at Competitor Group. After finishing her first marathon at age 18, Jessie has run everywhere from Singapore to Prague and competed in hundreds of races including the Boston Marathon and the Bare Dare, for which she won the title of National Nude Running Champion. Jessie’s work appears at ESPN.com, Ultrarunning Magazine and has been selected for Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Essays. A former romance novel editor, it’s at Women’s Running where her true passions lie. You can reach her at jsebor@competitorgroup.com.