Breathing is powerful. Doing it the “right” way can ease anxiety, boost your energy, and improve your sex life. And being able to time your breathing is even essential to certain workouts. See: yoga.
But is there a specific way you should breathe while running? If you're a beginner runner, you might just be concerned with getting enough air to keep going. If you're more advanced, you might be wondering how to breathe while running to maximize your performance benefits.
The Best Way to Breathe While Running
Anecdotally, you may have heard that breathing in time with your stride can help reduce your risk of developing a stitch (or cramp) while running. Another common tip is to focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth while you're moving, to keep your breathing measured and even.
Recent research published in the International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science found that nasal (nose) breathing is more efficient than mouth breathing during running, which may also help you stay more relaxed and improve athletic performance. Meanwhile, the American Lung Association recommends something called rhythmic breathing, where you time inhales and exhales to the number of steps you’re taking. For example, you might inhale for three steps, then exhale for two steps. This alternates which foot you’re inhaling and exhaling on (so you stress both sides of the body evenly) and helps establish a meditative-like base for your run. Research backs it up: A 2013 study found the fact that rhythmic breathing can help reduce fatigue in endurance running.
Sound like a lot of information? It is. That’s why it’s totally possible that focusing too much on your breathing while running can actually work against you. At least, that’s the word from John Henwood, a running coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City. “When you’re thinking about your breathing so much, you can get overstressed, and you have less space to think about your pace or water stops or everything else,” he says.
That's why he doesn't recommend trying to stick to any particular breathing plan while you're actually on your feet. Instead, put in a little prep work to tone up your breathing before you head out.
The Belly Breathing Technique for Running
“I see a lot of people trying to breathe through their chest, which takes more effort. That’s when you can start to feel like you’re choking, like you’re not getting enough air,” he says. A better technique is belly breathing, which is exactly what it sounds like-taking deep, full breaths so your stomach, not just your chest, expands with each inhale.
Try practicing belly breathing before you head out for a run. “Lie on your back, keep your shoulders down and your chest out and still. As you breathe in, let your belly rise up, and as you exhale, let it fall back down,” explains Henwood. When you’re actually working out, whenever you think of it or when you feel yourself struggling to catch a breath, make sure you’re still breathing deep like this. But don’t make a point of fixating on it. (Try these other breathing exercises for beginner runners to help learn how to breathe while running.)
The goal is for belly breathing to become your default while you run, says Henwood. (If you're ready to try rhythmic breathing, you'll use belly breathing during that too.) When you're taking deep breaths, you can relax and let your body take over, so all you have to think about is getting to the finish line.