Breathing Techniques for Runners | The Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans LLC


If there is one comment I’m getting over and over from my new Couch to 5k runners, it’s “I can’t catch my breath”.  Many new runners complain that they feel their breathing is out of control, even on short, easy runs.  It’s a little known fact, running will make you breathe harder. 🙂  Our muscles need oxygen.  It is the fuel that produces energy to move.  Therefore, better breathing can result in better running.

Learning to control your breathing is, in my opinion, one of the more difficult aspects of running if it doesn’t come naturally to you.  Yes, there will definitely be times when you will be out of breath while running – speed work, a hard 5k race, etc.  Depending on the workout, breathing hard is acceptable.  Finishing a hard sprint and needing to catch your breath for a few seconds is normal.  IT’S OK TO GET A LITTLE BIT UNCOMFORTABLE. Gasping for air for several minutes isn’t ok.  At least not at this stage in your running.  Keep in mind, running is not the same as walking and you are working harder.  For new runners, getting uncomfortable and recognizing that’s alright is often a challenge.  However, learning to keep your breathing easy and relaxed will make for a more pleasant running experience as you increase your overall fitness.

Here are a few breathing techniques for runners which may help those intervals go a bit more smoothly.

  1. Your breathing should be slow and controlled, with deep breaths.  Breathing rapidly is often too shallow to not only take in adequate oxygen but expel the carbon dioxide.  This takes practice.  Try focusing on your breathing during a slow walk and see if you can maintain that control as you increase your running pace.
  2. Think about breathing as it relates to your foot strike.  Try breathing in for 2 steps and out for 2 steps.  Now, while this might be ideal for some people, others may feel better with a 3-2 or 2-4 or 3-3 pattern.  Experiment.
  3. Learn how to “belly breathe”.  It’s important to expand your rib cage when you breathe.  You can practice by laying on your back with your hands your sides.  Breathe into your hands. Visualize those muscles relaxing and expanding.
  4. If these strategies to control your breathing don’t help, try changing your pace.  You may be running too fast.
  5. Running in very cold air can cause some people to experience more breathing challenges.  I have friends who swear by scarves or balaclavas to try and warm the air a bit.
  6. You should seek medical attention if you suspect asthma.  We aren’t doctors here.

It’s important to know that your breathing WILL get better.  Even if it seems impossible now, as you run more, your body will become more efficient.

Are you a veteran runner?  Do you have any tips or techniques when the “OMG I CAN’T BREATHE!” thoughts strike?

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