Improve Your Running with Proper Breathing

March 1, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Posted in Bareskin Towel, Fitness, Sports and Rec, tips, Weight Loss | 1 Comment
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Author: Dave Elger

There seems to be a great deal of confusion these days over the proper way to breathe while running or jogging.

According to the text Physiology of Sport and Exercise by Wilmore and Costill the need to breathe increases in direct proportion to the intensity of work. A mild workload such as brisk walking prompts expansion of the lungs and deeper breathing. As the work becomes more difficult, the rate of breathing also increases.

With the exception of conditions such as asthma, breathing should not limit your ability to run or perform exercise, even at hard efforts. The volume of air entering the lungs is not the problem; it is the bodys inability to extract and use enough oxygen to meet the increased demand that causes you to be out of breath (inspired air contains roughly 20 percent oxygen while expired air has about 16 percent).

Many beginning runners have been misled to believe that the proper way to breathe is to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. While it is true that air is dryer and cooler when inhaled through the mouth, this should not pose a problem unless you are prone to exercise induced asthma.

I call this nose breathing technique self-induced asthma, since inhaling through the nose severely limits the volume of air that can be delivered to the lungs. I suspect breathing this way has a negative impact on running performance similar to asthma, particularly as speed increases.

Runners should be inhaling and exhaling through both nose AND mouth to a set pattern or rhythm. According to Jack Daniels, a well-respected coach and author of Daniels Running Formula, most elite runners breathe to a 2-2 rhythm. They breathe in while taking 2 steps and out while taking 2 steps. At an easy pace they may switch to a 3-3 rhythm.

2-2 breathing rhythm

Left foot- begin exhale
Right foot- continue exhale
Left foot- begin inhale
Right foot- continue inhale

One problem with this approach is the habit of always inhaling or exhaling on the same footfall, which some experts and coaches believe could lead to side stitches. If you are one of those unfortunate runners prone to side aches, try periodically switching which footfall you exhale on, or even change your breathing rhythm to exhale on alternating right and left footfalls. That gets a little tricky since you will have to adapt an uneven 3-2 or 4-3 breathing pattern (breathing out for more counts than breathing in).

3-2 breathing rhythm

Left foot- begin inhale
Right foot- continue inhale
Left foot- begin exhale
Right foot- continue exhale
Left foot – continue exhale
Right foot- begin inhale

According to DePaul University Track Coach Bill Leach, uneven breathing cycles are effective because pressure in the lung is lower than the atmosphere, causing air to rush in quickly. Take a little extra time to exhale, since leaving residual carbon dioxide in the lungs can impede the delivery of oxygen on the next inhale.

It will help if you practice your breathing pattern while walking before you start running. Carry the technique over to easy jogging and finally during hard race pace running.

Before long your new breathing pattern will become second nature during races and hard training sessions.

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About the Author

Dave Elger is a well respected authority within the running community having written hundreds of articles on the topics of running and wellness. You can contact him at He also supports the Okinawa Running Club.


1 Comment »

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  1. (Not medical advice, just a personal relection!) My Internet literature search on drug-free asthma methods has now led me to the Powerbreathe device, which may be considered as a means of intensifying nose breathing. It is obviously scientifically indicated for asthma, more so in fact than the many crudely effective and merely symptomatic and non-curative asthma drugs presently officially part of the identity of westerners.

    With Powerbreathe and the many other similar gadgets inspiration is choked by breathing in through an adjustable aperture. The manufacturers speak of a training of the inspiratory muscles or “specific inspiratory muscle training” abbreviated as SIMT.

    However what obviously must occur to an asthma-minded person is that we here have a remedial exercise for correcting mouth breathing, which is a well known cause of asthma, the details of the causative mechanism not being relevant here.

    The manufacturers also show that not only nose breathing but also diaphragmatic breathing is trained.

    The devices simply divert all input breath via the nose and this is much simpler than learning pranayama, which incidentally does not measure anything on a scale like said devices.

    However, to put it in a nutshell, the purchase of a device is at least provisionally not required, because sucking air past/over a finger held between the lips but otherwise sticking to the devices’ instructions works just as well or better. In fact, the resistance to the inhale can be varied and the effect intensified toward the end so that diaphragmatic breathing is emphasized. RF

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