As a runner you need to focus on several aspects of your body and how it responds to your running technique while you’re on the track. Breathing is one of the aspects you need to focus and train yourself on. It isn’t enough to just let your body do its own thing if you want to improve your performance and run longer. A few simple breathing techniques when inculcated into your routine, will over time make your realise that you are running better and faster.
The first thing you need to keep in mind is that when you are running, feeding your muscles the oxygen they need is of paramount importance, and breathing in your natural state, whether through the mouth or nose, is the most effective way to inhale and exhale oxygen. Some runners prefer to breathe through their nose, and others through the mouth. There’s little evidence to clearly suggest one is better than the other, but one thing most experts agree on is that a runner shouldn’t work hard to breathe, so the natural method is the best route.
It is also important to minimise ‘chest breathing’ in favor of what’s called diaphragmatic breathing or ‘belly breathing’. Chest breathing is too shallow to bring in maximal oxygen and doesn’t entirely expel all the breath from your lungs when you breathe out. Using your full lung capacity is crucial, so breathe from your belly.
Breathing correctly gives you that burst of energy, giving oxygen to the energy-producing cells in your body allowing your muscles to spring into action. This takes time and practice to master: Pull in your abdomen with each exhale. When you inhale, oxygen will rush in through your throat and naturally expand your abdomen. Meanwhile, your chest should remain relatively still. The next time you go running, fight the urge to breathe through your nose and try and breathe through your diaphragm. It might take a few runs to perfect this, but when you do, the ease of running and breathing in this manner will be very apparent.
By definition breathing rhythms refers to the number of footsteps/falls you take with each foot while breathing in or out. Your breathing rhythm depends on the intensity of your workout/run.
A 2:2 rhythm would mean that you take two steps – one with your left foot and the other with your right – while breathing in and two steps while breathing out. Keeping this in mind, you’ll notice that a 3:3 rhythm – one step with right foot, one step with left and again one step with right – is the best for warms ups and easy runs. Plenty of oxygen is allowed into the lungs, used up and expelled without much effort.
In the same vein, moderate to harder runs need a 2:2 rhythm. This allows you to take up to 45 breaths in a minute, which is a good ratio for a steady paced run.
For harder, race-level runs a 1:2 rhythm (one step breathing in, two steps breathing out) or 2:1 rhythm (two steps breathing in and one step breathing out) is recommended. This will increase your oxygen uptake to 60 breaths per minute. But any higher will lead to shallow breaths.
These rhythms are recommended, but not considered hard and fast rules. Each runner responds to different breathing rhythms differently. If on an easy run you feel that a 3:3 rhythm is making you uncomfortable, then move to something more suitable to you. Breathing rhythms are not about pushing yourself, but about finding the right pattern for each run, and sticking to them so they become an ingrained part of your running.