Breathing right to improve running performance03 July, 2013 0 comments
Breathing right to improve running performance
There’s probably nothing more familiar to a runner than feeling out of breath. Increase the intensity or distance of your run and sooner or later you’ll feel like your breathing cannot keep up anymore. Of course, your legs get tired, your energy gets expended – and you train on so that next time they will be a little bit stronger. But what most everyday runners forget to think about is that our lungs can be trained as well, so that the way you breathe will support your effort as much as possible and urge you forward instead of holding you back.
Researchers at the Centre for sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunei University in England studied just that phenomenon, examining the fatigue levels of both respiratory and leg muscles of marathoners. Their findings are an illustration of the power of a strong respiratory system – claiming that runners with weaker respiratory muscles will suffer from more work in their legs, while stronger respiratory muscles can improve running. As Mindy Solkin, a running coach from New York explains, “It’s a simple equation: Better breathing equals more oxygen for your muscles, and that equals more endurance”.
But how can you start to train your breathing for better running performance? Read on for a breathing strategy that supports your running effort effectively!
Learn to take deep breaths
You see, there are two styles of breathing that you will use at any given time. The first of them is breathing through your chest, which is what most people tend to do, including the majority of everyday runners. When you breathe through your chest, you will feel it rise and lower with each breath. This, however, is not the strongest way of breathing. Note how shoulders tend to rise as well, and tense up together with the neck as you breathe through your chest – spending energy on this movement can be minimised by choosing another breathing style.
You’ve probably heard of singers using their diaphragm while breathing to get a more powerful voice – it turns out singing is not so different from running after all! The second style of breathing is through your belly, and works the diaphragm, so that your lungs can expand to their greatest possible volume. The bigger your lung volume, the more oxygen you can take in with each breath – simple. And what is more, as your diaphragm gets stronger, it will take longer for it to get tired, and for you to feel out of breath. The muscles that support breathing through the chest – called the intercostals – are smaller than the diaphragm and will naturally fatigue more quickly. Therefore, it makes most sense to concentrate on strengthening your ability to breathe from your diaphragm. Below are some steps that can help you do just that.
- Learn to breathe through your belly – To make sure you are breathing deeply, place your hand on your stomach. Now, as you breathe in, your belly should expand as if it were a balloon. At the same time, take note of your chest – it should remain relatively in place, making sure that you are breathing minimally using your chest. Take several deep breaths like that and examine how it feels. Opening your mouth in addition to breathing through your nose can be helpful since it is possible to take in more air at once like this, and a relaxed open-mouthed face will make it easier to breathe.
Make deep breathing a normal part of your life – Breathing style usually emerges naturally as people run, and isn’t really controlled much. If you want to make deep breathing as natural as breathing through your chest, it isn’t enough to only practice it while you run. Try to take breaths through your belly as you go about your daily activities until it feels natural and automatic.
Monitor your breathing as you run – If you want to become a better breather, you should be more conscious of your breathing at all times during a workout. It is easier to change your breathing style during slow runs, while you might be more prone to returning to previous habits as intensity increases. Therefore it is especially important that you focus on deep breathing as your running workout gets tougher to make breathing from your diaphragm an integral part of you as a runner.
Add breathing exercises to your routine – To improve the strength of your respiratory muscles, it can be a good idea to incorporate workouts that focus on breathing. A number of elite runners have taken up Pilates with this aim in mind, as Pilates routines are coordinated with deep breathing.
- Try breathing in patterns – if you’re not doing this already, take note of your breathing patterns. How many steps does it take you to breathe in? Or breathe out? By breathing rhythmically, it can be easier to monitor your breathing style, and to strengthen your diaphragm. Try a 3:3 pattern (breathe in for three steps, then out for three steps), then adapt to your workout’s intensity and landscape.
If you haven’t tried deep breathing during your runs yet, why not take it up the next time you put on your running shoes? There’s nothing to lose here – this tweak is as easy and cheap as it gets! Or maybe you already practice deep breathing during your runs? Do you feel it’s been helpful in improving your performance? Share your experience in the comments!