Anyone who has taken a yoga class can contest to the fact that most instructors tell you to “breathe through the exercise”, it’s what gets you through the class. That same theory of breathing can be applied to running. If you match your breathing pattern to your run, you’ll find that your run will be much more enjoyable and comfortable both physically and mentally.
First of all, you need to learn to become a belly breather. Breathing from the belly allows you to expand your lungs fully, thus sucking in more vital air. You can practice belly breathing by lying on your back and placing your hands on top of your stomach. Keeping the chest area and shoulders still, inhale for three to four seconds and focus on raising the belly. Likewise, exhale for three to four seconds and feel your belly collapse. This exercise helps strengthen the diaphragm, one of the larger muscles needed for lung expansion and contraction.
Once you feel confident with belly breathing, I suggest trying to find a breathing pattern that feels comfortable for you. Some runners inhale for two steps followed by exhaling for two steps, the 2:2 ratio. Others feel more comfortable with the 3:3 ratio, inhaling for three steps while exhaling for three steps. This breathing pattern, known as rhythmic breathing helps to maximize inhalation while slowing down the breathing rate, making your breathing pattern feel much more controlled and relaxed. This pattern also causes you to exhale on alternative legs during foot strike which is important for injury prevention.
When it comes down to it, you should be just as conscious about your breathing as you are about where you’re running to and from. Any time your breathing pattern becomes inconsistent or irregular, your body is not receiving a steady flow of oxygen at a consistent rate which makes you feel as if you may need to gasp and flail for more air. Having a set pattern of inhales and exhales will help your mind focus and allow you to more easily fall into a running Zen. So before your next run, become accustomed to belly breathing, determine your breathing pattern, get running, and then just breathe.
Erica E. Hirsch - MPH, CPT
The Detroit Medical Center
Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan
Fitness and Aerobics Program Coordinator