Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Do you know how to breathe while running?

When we aren’t exercising, we don’t really think about breathing.  It’s just natural, we breathe in and then breathe out.  We have been doing it our whole lives without out really thinking about it.  When it comes to exercising though, that all changes.  After 3 years of running, I am faster and stronger than ever.  My biggest foe is my breathing.  When I really push myself, I can’t seem to get enough air.  I also have had shin splint issues because of the impact that I was mainly putting on my right side.

I recently came across an article on the Runner’s World website, Running On Air: Breathing Technique by Budd Coates and Claire Kowalchik. The article starts off by discussing some of their early running experiences.  Coates and Kowalchik then talk about a study by Dennis Bramble, Ph.D., and David Carrier, Ph.D., that explains that “the greatest impact stress of running occurs when one’s foot strike coincides with the beginning of an exhalation.” (1)  Basically if you exhale on the same foot each time, you are drastically increasing the force on that side of your body and therefore increasing the risk of injury on that side. 

When you are running, the force of the impact upon your foot striking the ground is 2-3 times your bodyweight.  The basic idea of rhythmic breathing is to spread that impact over both feet by not always exhaling on the same foot.  I, like many runners, breathe in for two foot strikes and then out for two foot strikes.  This means that I am exhaling on the same foot every time.  The article recommends alternating that pattern to an odd number of foot strikes.  More on that in a bit.

One important breathing technique is called Belly Breathing.  Before you learn to alter your breathing rhythm, it is important to learn how to breathe properly.  By belly breathing, you are learning to breathe from your diaphragm.    The key idea behind belly breathing is that by inhaling into your belly, you increase the amount of air that you take in.  The more air you inhale, the more oxygen your body has to transfer though your circulatory system to your working muscles.  Most people, myself included, breathe from their chests.  These muscles are smaller and will therefore fatigue more quickly than your diaphragm will.  You can train yourself to breathe from your belly by practicing.  Here is what you do:

Belly Breathing Exercise:
1. Lie down on your back
2. Keep your upper chest and shoulders still
3. Focus on raising your belly as you inhale
4. Lower your belly as you exhale
5. Inhale and exhale through both your nose and mouth
*This process was taken directly from the article (1)
Now that you know how to belly breathe, you can focus on rhythmic breathing techniques.  Try breathing in for 3 steps and out for 2 steps.  This is called the 3:2 cadence.  By using this breathing method, you’re alternating which foot you start exhaling on, spreading out the impact between your left and right sides.   If you are really pushing yourself (i.e. fast tempo runs, races, intervals, or running up hills) where you are having difficulty breathing, you can switch to a 2:1 cadence.  That is where you’re breathing in for 2 steps and out for 1 step. 

Practice these breathing techniques and if you are interested in more information on Budd Coates breathing technique, read the article from Runner’s World or buy his book, “Running on Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter.” You can find the book for $13.95 (paperback) or $9.99 (kindle) on Amazon.  I will be focusing on my breathing technique over the next few months to reduce my risk of injury and increase my performance.  Who’s with me?

(1) “Running On Air: Breathing Technique” by Budd Coates and Claire Kowalchik

Note: I am not a doctor.  The information that I am providing is strictly information that I have gathered.  I am not an expert and my blog post should not be taken as medical advice.

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