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Diaphragmatic Breathing: 3 Key Exercises

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How you breathe when you run is vital to how difficult or easy running feels. And there are breathing techniques and breathing exercises for running you can harness to get more oxygen, build carbon dioxide tolerance, and make running more enjoyable.

Getting enough oxygen is key when running because your muscles need oxygen to convert fuel into energy. When they don’t get the oxygen they need, that’s when running feels harder!

The more you run, the more efficient your body becomes at utilizing oxygen.

However, many runners shortchange themselves by not breathing properly when they run. They take too short or shallow breaths, cheating their bodies of much-needed oxygen. This makes them feel tired prematurely and creates a feeling of anxiousness.

In this article, we will teach you how to do diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breathing harnesses a powerful muscle in your body, the diaphragm, to optimize your breathing.

We will also share three critical breathing exercises for running that will help your running feel easier!

So, let’s go!

Why Do I Struggle to Breathe When Running?

Many new runners make running feel harder by running too fast and taking too short breaths.

This makes running difficult because it doesn’t give your muscles the oxygen they need and increases the level of carbon dioxide in the blood, which signals your body needs more oxygen. This causes a distressed reaction with a higher heart rate and quicker, shorter breaths.

Why Do I Get Side Stitches When I Run?

New runners often get side stitches because of their breathing! The theory is that when you run, there is increased pressure on the diaphragm, decreasing blood flow to the muscle and triggering a spasm.

This spasm leads to side stitches and pain in your side.

To ease or avoid a side stitch:

  • Stop running and take deep, slow breaths from your belly. Force the air out of your mouth as you exhale.
  • Next, stretch out your side by raising your arms overhead and arching to one side. Hold for 15 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.
  • To avoid side stitches, do not eat large meals before you run.
  • Keep running! As you become more consistent with your training, you will improve your ventilatory threshold (the rate at which your breathing rate increases).
  • Be sure to stay relaxed and in a controlled pace when running.
  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing while running which can strengthen the diaphragm.

What is Diaphragmic Breathing?

Runners should practice diaphragm breathing to minimize side stitches while optimizing the amount of oxygen your body intakes when running (diaphragmic breathing is also called abdominal breathing and belly breathing)

.Diaphragmic breathing uses your diaphragm, a large dome-shaped muscle at the base of your lungs, to help fill your lungs with air to energize your running.

When you perform diaphragmatic breathing, you will feel and see your abdomen expand with air rather than your chest.

Diaphragmic breathing has lots of benefits for runners and overall health:

  • Relaxes the body by reducing heart rate and blood pressure.
  • It helps you stay calm, steady, and smooth when running.
  • Strengthens the diaphragm to power your breathing further.
  • Lowers stress and anxiety levels.
  • Increases blood flow for digestion
  • Promotes better sleep.
  • It improves mood and lowers cortisol levels.
  • It allows you to use the full capacity of your lungs to get the most oxygen with your breath.
  • Lowers the effort and energy needed to breathe.

Is Belly Breathing Better for Running?

Yes, belly breathing is good for running as it allows you to harness your diaphragm for maximum oxygen uptake. Shallow chest breathing doesn’t allow you to get as much oxygen as your body needs to power your running.

When you breathe from your chest, the air is only in the lungs for a short time, preventing a complete exchange of air. Belly breathing holds the air longer in the lungs, allowing for a full exchange.

How Should You Breathe While Running?

Breathe in through both your nose and mouth when running. This will engage the diaphragm for maximum oxygen uptake. It also helps you exhale carbon dioxide quicker.

Many advocate for nasal breathing, which can help raise your carbon dioxide tolerance. However, nose breathing while running is challenging and can cause tightness in your face and jaw. Tension is not good for running!

Can Breathing Exercises Help With Running?

Yes, you can do breathing exercises to help power your running. Performing the following exercises will help you breathe better on the roads while also strengthening your lungs.

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise

Diaphragmatic breathing exercise at home:

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position with your hands resting on your stomach.
  • Relax the muscles in your shoulders and neck.
  • Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose with your mouth closed for 7 seconds.
  • Feel the air pass into your tummy as it inflates your lungs and belly. Feel your stomach move outward.
  • Exhale for 8 seconds.
  • Repeat for about 5 minutes.

Diaphragmatic breathing exercise while running:

  • Before running, practice diaphragmic breathing at home as part of your warm-up.
  • Then as you walk outside, do more belly breaths.
  • Slowly ease into your run, continuing belly breaths.
  • You can use both your nose and mouth when inhaling and exhaling now.
  • Breathe in a pattern in which your breath matches your steps. Use a 3:3 or 4:4 pattern for easier paces in which you inhale for three or four steps and exhale for three or four steps. Quicken to a 2:2 pattern in which you breathe in for two steps and out for two steps.
  • Continue to focus on your breath coming from your tummy rather than your chest. Feel free to focus on your breath for segments of your run, not the entirety.

2. Breath Hold

  • Stand relaxed as you slowly bend down at the waist, pushing air out of your lungs.
  • Stand back up slowly and inhale into your belly to its full capacity.
  • Hold your breath for 20 seconds.
  • Raise your arms over your head as you inhale.
  • Then slowly lower your arms as you exhale.
  • Repeat 5 times.

2. Carbon Dioxide Tolerance Exercise

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your neck and shoulders relaxed.
  • Inhale for 8 seconds using your belly breathing.
  • Hold for 4 seconds.
  • Then slowly exhale for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • You can progress by inhaling, holding, and exhaling for longer periods. Make sure your exhale is longer than your inhale.

Ideally, you could perform these exercises at least three times per week. You can also focus on belly breathing throughout the day.

In addition to strengthening your lungs, these breathing exercises for running will heighten your breath awareness which will help your running become more relaxed and fun!

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