On the surface, running doesn’t seem complicated, but your running style and how effective you are at enhancing your workout depend upon proper breathing techniques while running. Done correctly, breathing can sustain your run and help you achieve your goals.  Done incorrectly, breathing can ensure that your exercise sessions are cut short, and your goals remain elusive.

woman running on the beach

Although running isn’t complicated from a mechanical standpoint, coordinating your breathing with your body movements and coping with the sheer physical exertion can be.  Here are a couple of respiratory therapy tips to help correct bad breathing habits while running.

The first breathing technique requires you to concentrate on what your feet are doing! Running, like walking, requires both left and right strides.  You’ll need to pay attention to what stride you’re taking, so you should practice this technique initially in a relatively safe place that doesn’t require complete awareness of your surroundings. If that’s not possible, slow down your run while you master this technique and don’t get discouraged if you’re not immediately coordinated. With a little practice, this technique will become second nature, and you’ll see significant improvements in your stamina and running abilities.

Soldiering On

The goal is to take in and release the proper amount of air, but you’ll do this in an asymmetrical fashion.  Inhale completely on your first left, right, left (LRL) combination, then exhale just as completely on your next right-left (RL) combo.  Then inhale on the RLR combo and exhale on the LR follow up.  This requires a more smooth, controlled inhale and a more rapid, complete exhale.  With practice, this “3:2 technique” will become habit and you’ll see improvements in your energy. You’ll also reduce or even eliminate cramping caused by poor oxygen management.

When you’re not exerting yourself, you normally breathe by expanding and contracting your chest. This kind of breathing is natural when you’re not engaged in some kind of demanding physical activity. When you’re singing, exercising or otherwise exerting yourself, your body simply needs more oxygen.  If you engage your diaphragm while exerting yourself, you increase the amount of oxygen you take in one breath. This technique enables you to manage the oxygen you’re taking in more effectively, which will help your running.  This exercise is designed to strengthen your diaphragm, and you can do this either while running or sitting still.

Belly Breathing

Inhale rapidly and deeply.  As you inhale, your diaphragm will contract sharply. You’ll feel this motion. If you don’t feel the motion, you’re not inhaling fast enough.  Try raising your hands over your head and inhaling rapidly again. You should feel a flex below your lungs, in your abdomen. The flex comes from your diaphragm. This is the muscle you want to engage when breathing while running because it automatically increases your breathing capacity.

Getting rid of air efficiently while running is just as important as getting into your body.  After you’ve done a deep inhale, note the size of your expanded chest.  Try to force the air back out of your lungs while maintaining your expanded chest size. This will require you to use your diaphragm to push the air out of your lungs.  You may want to practice this diaphragmatic breathing while sitting, until you get the hang of how it feels.  Once you know where your diaphragm is and how to control it for better oxygenation, try combining belly breathing with the 3:2 breathing technique described earlier in this article for a powerful breathing combination.

Janelle Wyatt is a freelance writer and an avid runner. When she’s not running Janelle is usually writing about respiratory therapist schools and programs as well as other education and health topics.