You might think that being taught how to breathe properly is a ridiculous idea. Surely, we KNOW how to breathe? Isn’t it instinctive? It is, after all, one of the very first things you ever did when you entered this world (unless there was a problem, in which case it was an emergency!).
But for a lot of runners, especially early on, the pattern of breathing is a stumbling block, and they may feel a bit ‘awkward’ to ask about it, given that it’s kind of assumed to be done without any need for ‘teaching’.
Breathing is, for obvious reasons, one of the key requirements for running, but it’s also so much more. If you get it right, it’s a way to help control your pace, manage your exertion, relax and build confidence.
The trick is rhythm. Running imposes a certain rhythm on you because your strides dictate a pattern. That, in turn, helps create a pattern for breathing, because you can plan to breathe in and out for a given number of steps, and then use that to create deeper breathing.
And deeper, controlled breathing is crucial. What you don’t want is to ‘pant’ – shallow breathing is counter-productive, and so you need to imagine that you’re filling your lungs from the bottom up. That means a nice big breath, where you fully engage your diaphragm and your intercostal muscles.
But don’t overthink it – just make sure you extend the breath for as long as you can, rather than gasping or panting. And as I said above, the best way to extend the breathing is to match it to your steps.
For instance, when you are doing an easy run, you should be able to breathe in for three steps, and out for three steps. So that would mean you start breathing in when your right foot lands, keeping going for the left foot, then the right, and then you start breathing out when your left foot lands, and keep it going for the right foot and left foot again. If you think about this, and practice it on your next run, you’ll quickly realize that in order to breathe in for three steps, you have to really control the breathing – a calm, constant breath in that last three steps, and then a measured exhalation that lasts three steps. You can’t just ‘suck air’ like it’s urgent – you actually have to apply yourself. And that’s key.
If you run slightly faster, then it might change to three steps to breathe in, two steps out. A 5km time trial, or your hill and interval training sessions might be two in, two out, or even two in, one step out.
The point is that you can match up breathing to steps, and then be more aware of pace. The beauty of this, if you get it right, is that you’ll create such great awareness of your pace – if you can’t match the 3-3 pattern, for example, it probably means you’re going too fast, so slow it down slightly, until you can, and now you’re at the right intensity.
The other thing that happens is that when you go uphill, obviously the effort changes, and so your breathing will have to get deeper and faster. If you’re aware of your pattern, you’ll never NOT be in control.
Another tip when running, especially uphill, is that you must not “suffocate yourself”. You see a lot of runners tend to crouch over, their posture gets quite poor on the hills, and then you can’t fill your lungs nicely. So, keep “tall”, shoulders up and back, if you can, and visualize getting air in without obstruction.
So, the key words, your breathing mantra, would be: “Deep, calm, controlled”, and if you can do that, and match it with your steps, then running will become so much easier! – Ross Tucker