Go faster and longer. Some of the earliest advice I received during training was to focus on my breathing technique and cadence. But what exactly did that mean? Do I breath through my mouth? Through my nose and out my mouth as I’ve always heard? It turns out that bringing awareness to your breathing builds more efficiency, a steadier pace, and a calmer mind.
Six weeks into training and my breathing cadence had finally come natural to me without thinking; filling up my diaphragm with air, expelling through my mouth as I match my run stride with each breath.
The team over at Runner’s World breaks it down like this:
BREATHING CADENCE (Click Here)
Breathing Basics: Slow Down and Belly Breathe
The most common reason new runners gasp for air? They haven’t regulated their response of “fight or flight” to “rest and digest.”
This impacts their heart and lungs enough that they can’t run without reaching their ventilatory threshold, the point at which you can’t breathe deeply or quickly enough to fulfill your body’s demand for oxygen, says running coach Erik Bies, D.P.T., M.S., a physical therapist and clinic director at Movement Systems in Seattle. Once you near this point, your body’s stress response kicks in, causing you to panic and struggle even more.
To avoid this, slow down at first. Stick to a pace that allows you to speak a few words or sentences (throw in walk breaks every few minutes if you have to). Jordan recommends inhaling through your nose and out through your mouth for the best gas exchange at an easy pace.
With a few weeks of consistent training, your body adapts in ways that increase your ventilatory threshold—for instance, your muscles sprout new blood vessels, says Kyle Barnes, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise science at Grand Valley State University.
The Intermediate Trick: Focus and Find Rhythm
From there, it’s time to take focused breathing on the move with rhythmic patterns. Gracey recommends starting by inhaling for two counts, then exhaling for two, a pattern called 2:2 breathing. This will help you pace yourself better—the steadier you’re breathing, the less likely you are to go out too hard—and ensure a steady flow of oxygen to your muscles.
Try it walking first, then on easy runs, beginning with one minute at a time every mile or two and gradually increasing the duration of your focus. As you grow more comfortable with focused breathing, you can use it for faster runs, such as intervals and tempo. Paying attention to your breath can help you gauge your pace and tolerate the discomfort of speedy paces, so you can improve your ventilatory threshold even further, Bies says.
Start by using 2:2 breathing during strides—15- to 20-second bursts of faster running—or 30-second hill repeats, Gracey recommends. Eventually, you can extend the rhythm throughout longer intervals—say, faster half-mile or mile repetitions.
On easy runs, try 3:3 or 4:4 breathing, she says. Others recommend experimenting with a longer inhale than exhale—2:1 for faster running, 4:3 or 3:2 for easier running—to see what feels more natural for you. Doing so may better distribute the impact across both sides of your body.
Many new runners breathe from their chest instead of their diaphragm, further limiting their oxygen intake. Combat this with belly breathing. For five minutes in the morning or before you run, lie down and place your hand on your stomach. Take slow, deep breaths that lift your hand as you inhale and sink it as you exhale. Once you’re comfortable on the ground, try taking belly breaths when walking, then running.
An Advanced Hack: Count and Train Your Diaphragm
During workouts and races, Gracey uses 2:2 breathing paired with mentally tallying her strides. The first four-count inhalation and exhalation is one. The second is two, and so on. She counts from one to 100, then starts over again. “It gives me small goals to work toward,” she says, “and keeps me focused and present.”
Counting breaths proves especially useful in races like the Boston Marathon, which features varying terrain, she says, because it’s harder to breathe on uphills and easier on downhills. Keeping your respiration steady rather than freaking out about numbers on your watch ensures you’ll net out around your goal pace. While consistent running strengthens your breathing muscles, you can take them to boot camp for a bigger boost using a device like POWERbreathe. “Essentially, it’s like dumbbells for your diaphragm,” Barnes says. Experts call this inspiratory muscle training. Start with two sets of 30 breaths at two different times of the day, using a resistance that’s challenging but that you can complete with good form. (Think: breathing from your belly, not shrugging your shoulders or straining your neck.)