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How To Increase Lung Capacity: Lung Capacity Guide With Exercises

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Athletes typically have a greater lung capacity than non-athletes which works to their advantage while exercising. In addition, some sports in particular, such as competitive swimming, build the athlete’s lung capacity even more than others.

Runners are no exception to this because athletes use their lungs more, their oxygen intake increases. This usage results in stronger lungs, which means the person can take in more air.

Runners, and other athletes, often strive to build lung capacity, so what are the best lung exercises?

What Is The Best Exercise For Lungs?

If you are trying to increase your cardiovascular and pulmonary systems, aerobic activity is where it’s at. Activities such as brisk walking, running, and cycling will get your heart pumping and have you breathing faster.

As mentioned before, in a workout such as swimming, the swimmer focuses diligently on breath control. Many athletes use swimming as a way to build lung capacity.

A person new to swimming and bilateral breathing may find that they have to breathe every couple of strokes in the beginning. However, as you get more efficient at swimming and can hold your breath longer, often you find yourself breathing on a less frequent cadence.

Is Running Good For Your Lungs?

Faced with the question of whether running is good for your lungs causes a need to evaluate your physical health. Unless you have underlying health conditions that might make it dangerous to breathe deeply or work so hard you become breathless, running is most assuredly good for your lungs.

Having said that, running can often make lungs stronger, even in those with medical conditions!

Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, ncaa.org

Did you know that famous track and field athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee had asthma but, through running, overcame her obstacles? If you’re a Pittsburgh Steeler fan, you have heard of Jerome “The Bus” Bettis. Bettis had an asthma attack in a nationally televised football game and became a hero for children everywhere living with the infliction.

Running is a great way to strengthen your lungs. Just remember that if you are struggling to breathe while workout out and do not gain control back once you stop exerting yourself, this could be a sign that you need medical intervention.

Click here for a quick guide on how to breathe while running. 

Ways Running Strengthens Your Lungs

Running increases the capacity of your lungs.

Vigorous physical activity helps you to grow capillaries which get oxygen to your lungs faster.

You grow alveoli as you run, which helps move oxygen more efficiently.

How To Increase Lung Capacity For Running

When building your lung capacity, it is important to remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. When working to increase your lung capacity, you need to start small. When starting out, think about keeping your pace at a conversational pace. This will help you build capacity and improve your breathing.

If you are into cross-training, swimming the front crawl with bi-lateral breathing is a good way to increase lung capacity. What is this?

swimming and lung capacity

This is where you turn your head to the side and breathe, then put your face back into the water. Your goal should be to take more strokes between breaths as you improve with breath-holding and swimming fitness.

Another way to increase lung capacity is to engage in breathing exercises.

Breathing/Lung Exercises

These exercises should help you to both relax and increase your lung capacity.

Pursed Lips Breathing – This exercise is a great one for beginners!

  1. Inhale very slowly through your nose.
  2. Through pursed lips, exhale very slowly.
  3. Repeat.
  4. Time your inhale and exhale. The exhale should take approximately twice as long.

Diaphragmatic Breathing – Otherwise known as belly breathing

  1. Sit back or lie down.
  2. Gently place one hand on your chest and one on your belly.
  3. Inhale slowly through your nose, focusing on feeling your stomach move the air.
  4. You should feel your stomach move more than your chest does.
  5. Through pursed lips, breathe out slowly. Press on your abdomen while you exhale.
  6. Repeat.

Deep Yoga Breathing – Also known as pranayama breathing

  1. Sit cross-legged on the floor.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply, focusing on drawing breath from your abdomen.
  3. Hold the air.
  4. Exhale slowly and purposefully.
  5. Once your lungs are empty, hold.
  6. Repeat.

Why Do I Struggle To Breathe While Running?

lung capacity and running

A sign of physical stress, it is normal for beginners to struggle to breathe while running. Your body is trying to tell you to slow down!

However, if you listen to your body 100% every time it gets a little hard to breathe, or you start to pant a little, you won’t feel the growth in running like you perhaps hope to.

Other factors could make it hard to breathe. Some things to consider:

✓ Heat and humidity are contributing factors to breathing difficulties.

✓ Extreme cold can make it harder to breathe while exerting yourself.

✓Allergens in the air, such as a high pollen count, can make it harder to breathe.

✓ Intense effort, such a speed work, can strain your lungs.

✓ Sickness, such as a cold or getting over a respiratory infection, are also factors to consider.

If you normally breathe easily and are suddenly struggling, ask yourself if one of the above factors is in play.

How Can I Improve My Breathing While Running?

To improve your breathing while running, you should always warm up properly. This gets your body ready to exert itself. Once warmed up, you should focus on form.

The better running form you are using, the more likely you will find it easier to breathe. It is common for runners to see a breakdown in form as they fatigue. Don’t let this happen to you!

When you start to struggle to breathe, try to focus on rhythmic breathing. Many athletes find breathing on a cadence is helpful. This means to inhale for a few steps (try every third) and to exhale every so many steps. Some people find that even cadence helps get rid of the dreaded side cramp, while others prefer an odd one.

Just remember that the faster you are moving, the harder it is to focus on breathing.


  1. Denis Bubnis, 9 Tips for How to Breathe Better While Running, Health Website
  2. Gerhard Whitworth, Breathing Exercises to Increase Lung Capacity, Health Website

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