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Runners obsess over the small stuff—finding the perfect shoes or eating the exact same breakfast on race-day morning. But we often overlook one of the most important components of running, the one thing we can’t live without—breathing.
We have all been there: We’re running up a steep hill or turning the final corner of the track and suddenly feel like our lungs are burning and our breath is out of control. This uncomfortable sensation can’t always be avoided—but it can be helped. Proper breathing technique can be learned and implemented over time to help you run faster and feel better with every stride.
Mariane Fahlman, Ph.D., professor of health education at Wayne State University explains, “The key to being able to run for long periods of time is the body’s ability to supply working muscles with oxygen. Proper breathing enables the runner to take advantage of complete filling and emptying of the lungs, thus increasing the amount of oxygen the blood has to transport.”
To breathe optimally, it’s crucial for runners to take in air slowly and deeply, rather than in short, shallow pants. Tommy Boone, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Exercise Physiology at The College of St. Scholastica, adds that proper breathing all originates from the diaphragm—not expanding your chest or raising your shoulders. “Excellent runners understand the importance of breathing deeply using the diaphragm muscle. It’s a consciously learned process.”
Not sure if you’re breathing from your diaphragm? Boone recommends this simple test: Lie on your back with your hands resting flat on your stomach, just below your belly button. (Resist the temptation to expand your chest.) As you inhale, make sure the area under your hands is moving upward. As you exhale, it should relax.
“Once you get used to how this feels, practice it in a sitting and standing position,” says Boone, who recommends being mindful of your breathing during everyday activities like walking around the grocery store or sitting at your desk. “As with anything else, if you do it enough times it becomes a habit, and then you can run without thinking about breathing,” he says.
Once you learn to engage your diaphragm and are ready to hit the road, it is important take note of your running form to get the most out of this technique.
Don’t let cold weather take your breath away!
“When running in the cold, many runners experience ‘lung freeze,’ which feels like a burning sensation in your lungs,” shares running coach Stephanie Cosina. “What I tell my runners is to relax. It only takes a few cold runs to get your respiratory system to adapt to running with frosty air.” If your chest feels tight, simply slow your pace until your body warms up. It will—we promise!