Optimize Your Breathing To Improve Your Run
Breathing is one of those things that people tend to take for granted, specifically when it comes to fitness. In fact, the simple act of taking a breath is often used to illustrate that something is easy or can be done without thinking. And this does make sense.
You focus on your form, your gear, your goals and a host of other aspects of your run but how much attention do you pay to your breathing? For the most part, you probably don’t feel like your training has suffered by taking this sort of mindless approach to breathing. Science, however, says otherwise. There is strong reason to believe that using specific breathing techniques can both improve your performance and enhance your enjoyment of those runs.
Why Does It Matter?
The issue of why breathing is important is actually pretty obvious. Your muscles need a steady supply of oxygen in order to produce energy and perform a myriad of other chemical reactions throughout your run. The real question then is this: Why does proper breathing matter?
When you head out for a run, the oxygen demands of your muscles steadily increase along with the intensity of your workouts. In response, you start to breath faster and faster. Think about what that requires. In order to successfully inhale and exhale, several different muscles surrounding the lungs to contract in unison. Logically, this becomes more challenging as oxygen needs rise.
In the same way that you would train any muscle and correct the form of any movement related to your runs, it’s vital to make sure that these respiratory muscles are strong enough to keep up. You also need to check your breathing form so that you’re using those powerful muscles as efficiently as possible. Granted, all of this makes complete sense in theory. But, does it hold up under scientific scrutiny?
Indeed it does. Numerous studies, in fact, have found that respiratory resistance training (which will be covered in more detail later on) can produce significant improvements in athletic performance. Depending on the study, improvements of anywhere from 5 to 15 percent have been observed. To put that in real-world terms, this type of respiratory training could shave about 3 to 5 minutes off of a 60-minute run.
Respiratory Resistance Training
It’s important to note, however, that there are two very distinct – but complementary – techniques often championed in this discuss. The first, respiratory resistance training, essentially amounts to weight training for your respiratory muscles. But how, precisely, does one apply weight to these internal and highly-specialized muscles?
As you might expect, the most common method involves the use of small devices specifically designed for this purpose. Traditionally, these breathing trainers have been used pretty exclusively in medical and therapeutic settings but athletes have steadily started to repurpose the devices as well.
Similarly, elevation training masks – which are intended to simulate the stresses of exercising in a high-altitude environment – could also have some benefits. Interestingly, these masks don’t actually work for the reasons that people would expect. In order to effectively simulate high-altitude training, the masks would have to decrease the amount of oxygen found in the air. They don’t. Instead, these devices make it more challenging for you to inhale and exhale. As a result, your respiratory muscles are forced to get stronger and more efficient.
If investing in specialize equipment doesn’t appeal to you, though, there are other options. Simple mindful breathing exercises will increase the strength and coordination of these muscles while also helping you to improve how you use these often ignored machines.
In addition to focusing on how you breath and what muscles are at work during the process, you’re also going to purse your lips as you exhale. While it might seem a bit strange, this simple adjustment fulfills two purposes. First, your pursed lips will essentially place resistance against your exhalation, forcing the muscles to work harder. But puckering your lips will also make your breath produce a pretty noticeable sound, drawing your attention to the act so that it becomes something mindful and deliberate.
- Stand upright and relax your neck and shoulders. Place one hand on your diaphragm.
- Inhale deeply through your nose for 2 seconds. As you inhale, focus on expanding your diaphragm. Your chest and shoulders should not move.
- Purse your lips and exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds, pushing the air out with your diaphragm.
Repeat this pattern for 5 minutes. As you progress, purse your lips more and more to apply more pressure against the exhalation. You can also steadily increase the length of both your inhalation and exhalation. The length on your exhalation should always be double that of your inhalation.
Breathing While You Run
What about when you’re actually out on your runs, though? How can be adjust your breathing to be most effective?
The trick is to use your pace as the metronome for your breathing. Not only will this enforce mindful breathing, but it allows you to scale your breathing based on the intensity and speed of your runs. Which is pretty important. To start, your basic rhythm would likely look like this:
- Inhale for 2 steps
- Hold for 2 steps
- Exhale for 4 steps
Adjust these counts based on what feels natural for you while maintaining this same basic pattern. As a rule, your inhalation and hold should always be the same length; exhalations will always be twice as long.
In addition to applying this counting to your runs, focus on the form you practiced before. Inhale through your nose and out through your mouth, powering the whole process with your diaphragm.