Running is a form of aerobic exercise. Quite literally, ‘aerobic’ means ‘with oxygen’. We need to breathe to get oxygen into the lungs. Although this sounds obvious, some runners have a shallow or laboured breathing style. However, there are some cases where this style of breathing results in severe muscle cramps, side stitches, poor performance or premature fatigue. Not only that, shallow breathing can also result in anxiety, which can be counter-productive if you run for relaxation. Anxiety also causes physical tension which can result in a loss of energy – resulting in less energy for your workout.
The majority of runners only use the upper two thirds of their lung capacity. However, diaphragmatic breathing, which fills the lower part of the lungs, can increase a runner’s aerobic capacity, reduce stress and even help to eliminate the dreaded runner’s cramps.
Deep breathing exercises can be performed prior to a run or during a run. However, depending on when they are performed, there is a slight variation in technique. Prior to a run, take a deep breath in through the nose and hold for five counts. Then, slowly release the breath through the mouth. Holding the breath during a run is not recommended. Simply breathe in for five counts, and then breathe out for five counts. Keep in mind that it is not always easy to breathe through the nose while running. If this is the case, go ahead and breathe through the mouth.
Many runners do not realise that while they run, they are holding tension in their shoulders, wrists, hands and jaws. The exhalation phase of the deep breathing exercise is a good time to release this tension. As you exhale, you can shake out your hands, roll your shoulders and open your mouth to relax your jaw.
Although rhythmic breathing may be difficult to master, it can be an excellent way to coordinate your breathing patterns with your running movements. In fact, elite runners use this method as a means of ensuring an even rhythm to their running. Most elite athletes use a 2-to-2 breathing rhythm. This means that they take two steps per inhale, and two steps per exhale. At the end of the race, they might switch to a 2-to-1 rhythm, which involves a two-count inhalation followed by one-count exhalation.
The Cleansing Breath
When you wake up feeling congested, it may be difficult to motivate yourself for a run. Provided that you are not seriously ill, the cleansing breath can open your sinuses and clear out congestion, which might make it easier to go for a run.
The cleansing breath is borrowed from yoga. Use the two middle fingers of your left hand to close off your right nostril. Breathe in for four counts through your left nostril. Then, use your thumb to close the nostril. Hold the breath for four counts, and then release your fingers from your right nostril, and let the breath out for eight counts.
Repeat the process on the right nostril, using your right hand to close off the left nostril. After you’ve repeated the exercise a few times, you might want, and in fact be able to blow your nose.
Warming up your breathing muscles
These breathing techniques for running will help with your running performance, but don’t forget that you also need to warm-up your breathing muscles before a run, just as you warm –up your other muscles to help prevent injury. Warming up your breathing muscles can help to eliminate excessive breathlessness during the start of your run, and help you get into a natural breathing rhythm. Inspiratory muscle training targets your breathing muscles and is ideal for a pre-run warm-up and to help improve running performance.