Fitness / Running

How to Breathe When You Run: Trainer Tips and Techniques

The way you breathe can make or break your run. Here's how to get your oxygen intake under control.

What if we told you one of the most important parts of running had nothing to do with the shoes you wear, how far you run, or even how fast your pace is? You might not give a second thought to the way you breathe when going about your day, but when it comes time to hit the treadmill, those inhales and exhales can make or break your run.

Learning proper breathing technique is especially essential for those who are new to running. Understanding the ins and outs of breathing can help ease cramps, keep pace, and in some cases, prevent injury. Ultimately, regulating your breathing makes for a much more pleasant run. Follow our step-by-step guide below to master the simple art of breathing.

Aaptiv trainers can help you learn how to regulate your breathing with their classes in-app—and we’ve got classes for every level.

Step 1: Assess your breathing.

First, thing’s first: you need to understand where you’re going wrong with your breathing. Many new runners (mistakenly) think they can quickly get oxygen in and out of their lungs by breathing solely through their mouths, says Aaptiv trainer Rochelle Moncourtois. Instead, this quick staccato form can cause stitches or side cramps. “Breathing in through your nose and exhaling out your mouth is the most effective way of breathing to fill your lungs with air,” explains Moncourtois.

A second common rookie mistake is breathing with your chest instead of your belly. According to Moncourtois, belly breathing is actually the preferred technique for runners. Now, we know what you’re thinking, don’t you want to breathe through your chest? But here’s the reality of it: belly breathing, not chest breathing allows you to breathe with your diaphragm a.k.a. the powerhouse of the oxygen show.

Step 2: Focus on the belly.

Now, it’s one thing to talk about belly breathing and another thing to actually do it. For starters, understanding the physiology behind this method helps you to visualize what your body needs to do. By performing deep belly breaths, your lungs are able to expand to their greatest volume and fill up with the largest amount of air possible. The oxygen then flows through your system to all those muscles that are hard at work to keep you running.

You can practice your belly breathing while you’re running or while you’re at home watching TV. All you need to do is focus on keeping your chest and shoulders still and raising only your belly while inhaling and exhaling.

Step 3: Find your rhythm.

Another important way for a new runner to regulate their breathing is to concentrate on your rhythm, says Moncourtois. She says it’s best to time your breathing with the pace you are going. “You can always use music as a guide to help with a breathing pattern,” she adds.

(This is particularly easy when you’ve got some great playlists in every Aaptiv class that are designed to help keep you on beat!)

Rhythmically impaired? Many runners rely on the 2:2 method, which has you breathing in and out for equal counts. Your breathes might go something like this: “in-two, out-two, in-two, out-two.”

Step 4: Get back on beat.

Sometimes runs are unpredictable—you get a leg cramp, the weather doesn’t cooperate, you’re not in the zone—and your breathing pattern falls to the wayside. As soon as you notice that your breathing has become irregular, take it down a notch.

“The best way to get your breathing back is to slow down your pace and start to focus on your breathing pattern again,” says Moncourtois. “Keep the focus only on your breathing if you’re having trouble regulating it!” This means for the rest of the run, forget about pace, forget about what you’re eating after your run, and certainly forget about what happened during that big meeting today—focus on that in-through-the-nose, out-through-the-mouth method and visualize your belly rising and falling with each step!

Step 5: Prepare for the elements.

Alas, even the most masterful breather can get thrown for a loop when a little weather gets in the way. Moncourtois explains that the weather can absolutely affect your breathing. We all know that hot weather can make the air seem heavy and thick, but it can also make your breathes irregular and shallow, thus causing side stitches or dizziness.

But running when it’s icy cold, isn’t ideal either. With really cold climates, Moncourtois suggests taking quicker breaths filtered through your nose. “It doesn’t feel the best, but this lessens the shock value to your lungs!”

At the end of the day, running is so much more than your foot to the pavement. It’s a full body sport that takes some training even with something as simple as breathing.

Train with Aaptiv. We’ve got treadmill and outdoor running classes for all levels, ranging all different lengths.

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