Do you run to build fitness and clear your mind after a stressful day? But does your run often feel like a struggle to reach the finish line? You may be a heavy-breather. Improving your breathing technique will make you much more energy efficient!
When we are at rest, a respiratory rate (or a breathing frequency) of less than ten breathes per minute should be sufficient already. But many of us have a higher respiratory rate at rest. The higher your breathing frequency, the higher your heart rate. And at a higher heart rate, your body will use more energy.
Daily stress increases our Breathing Frequency
Nowadays, many of us “suffer from” full agendas with work, groceries, household, family, and social life. And as we wish to live a healthy lifestyle, we will also try to squeeze in a few training sessions. When we finally head out for a run after a busy working day, our breathing frequency (at rest) might already be 19 to 22 before we even have started our training.
Wrong body signals
With an increased breathing frequency at rest, our bodies receive a paradoxical signal: we are not being physically active (yet), but to our bodies, it seems as if we are running at 8.5 km/h.
More efforts than necessary
If we begin our run training in this physical state, we will start off at a pace where our breathing frequency will remain almost the same (19-22). The breathing frequency is now appropriate for the physical effort. For the first few minutes, this may feel like a relaxed pace. But shortly after, we will notice that we are getting out of breath very easily and the run will become more challenging. The running soon feels like a struggle, and we will have to go slower or take a break even. But the die-hards will push beyond.
No pain, no gain!…or not?
Many of us may think it is necessary to push ourselves: to be completely exhausted after training. We might this, this is the way to go to improve our fitness and get rid of the daily stress. So we aim to run faster and we will work extra hard to get sweaty. And since we have only limited of time, we’ll push ourselves to the limits during our workouts. It will make us feel good to be proud of our efforts and to achieve something. “No pain, no gain!”, right? ….Or not?
Don’t waste energy
What happens when we start our run at an increased breathing frequency and push ourselves beyond? It will actually make us run faster or further than necessary; a waste of energy. Yes, we will feel satisfied afterward, and yes we will sweat and burn calories. And maybe we can do it more frequently, but it simply doesn’t do what we are aiming for.
We may feel good immediately after the training, but the post-workout satisfaction soon will make place for exhaustion. Our energy level will drop to an unnecessarily low level. As we have gone beyond our limits, it will take us much longer to recover. And it will take much more effort to regain new energy for the next (stressful) working day.
Long term risk of injuries or overtraining
So while we thought we had been working so hard to improve fitness, we actually put ourselves at risk. If we repeatedly train like this, especially without enough recovery time, we might end up being injured, constantly feeling tired and unenergised throughout the day. And in the long term, we may even get overtrained.
Regulate our breathing
In order to build our fitness, empty our stressful minds, ánd maintain our energy levels, we rather regulate our breathing frequency. There are many effective breathing exercises that we can perform before, during ánd after our run. Maybe this sounds like a lot of extra effort and time-consuming practice, but don’t worry, a few minutes of better breathing will already make a big difference!
The importance of CO2
Most of us know that oxygen (O2) enters the body through inhalation, and carbon dioxide (CO2) leaves the body by exhalation. And although it is the oxygen that we need, it isn’t true that CO2 is “just a waste product”. Because CO2 is very important. For optimal oxygen uptake by the muscle cells and organs, we need a certain amount of CO2.
Our blood is always saturated with 95-98% of oxygen. The oxygen can be transported from the lungs to the muscles/organs, while it is carried by the protein Haemoglobin in our red blood cells. CO2 will regulate the pH value of the blood. (The pH scale measures how acidic or alkaline something is). Our body works constantly to carefully control the pH levels of blood. It will regulate the wideness of our blood veins and how easily (or not) the oxygen will be released from the Haemoglobin when it reaches the muscle cells or organs that need the oxygen.
Narrowed blood veins
Exhaling too fast will release the carbon dioxide too quickly and cause a chemical disbalance (raised pH value, alkalosis) in our blood. This will narrow our blood veins, which makes the blood flow slower. Due to that, oxygen will not easily reach the muscle cells.
Slower oxygen release
Another thing happens when CO2 levels are too low. The chemical bond between oxygen molecules and Haemoglobin becomes tighter, which makes it harder to be released to the muscle cells.
Extended Exhalation is key to safe energy
To give the CO2 enough time to do its job, a slower exhalation will be very useful to make sure the oxygen reaches its target destination. Better control of our breathing before and during a low-paced duration run will help us maintain a lower and less fluctuating heart rate.
A lower and regular heart rate will help us save energy and better sustain the long distance.
We basically have two dietary sources of energy: fats and sugar. Slower breathing with extended exhalation will make our bodies burn fat to produce energy. Fats burn slowly and they last long.
Fast breathers are continuously burning sugars. Sugars are stored in the muscles as glycogen, but our glycogen stock is only limited. Because sugars burn very quickly and produce a high peak of energy. But they won’t last long. We will run out of sugars pretty fast.
If our running goals are maintaining fitness and release some of our daily stress, slower duration runs with slower breathing would be much more effective than high-impact training. As we would then make use of fat as our primary source of energy, and they last much longer!
Pre-workout Breathing Exercise
Before your duration run, simply take a few minutes to focus on slowing down your breath and heart rate. Your body ánd mind will be better prepared for the run.
Nasal breathing with extended exhalation
- Stand or sit up straight, and if it helps you, close your eyes.
- Keep your mouth closed. In- and exhale only through your nose.
- Now, extend the exhalation, which means that the exhalation should take longer than your inhalation.
- Repeat this nasal breathing with extended exhalation for a few minutes until you feel relaxed and your breath has slowed down.
It will be very useful to start with (and keep) a smooth and easy running pace to avoid the struggle of getting out of breath at an early stage of your training.
Breath well while running
During your run, controlled breathing will make you sustain longer as it will help you release the daily stress and finish your duration run. You will recover better and faster and feel more energized afterward!
3 Breathing Techniques during Duration Runs
The following three breathing techniques will apply to low-paced duration runs. Sprints or high-impact interval training require different breathing. If, along the run, you feel this type of breathing is causing problems, please slow down your pace to such a level that you can resume the breathing technique. In the beginning, it may make you feel slow down a lot. But after some practice, you will manage to maintain this type of breathing at a higher pace as well.
1. Counting footsteps and nasal breaths
- In- and exhale through your nose only
- Match your breathing tempo to your step frequency. You may need to slow down your pace to stick to nasal breathing.
- Exhale one or a few steps more than you inhale. For example: inhale during three steps and exhale during five steps. It is important that the duration of your exhalation takes longer than your inhalation. So inhaling two steps and exhaling three or four steps is good as well.
- Find the number of steps and breaths that work well for you.
2. Pursed-lips breathing
If counting steps and nasal breathings doesn’t work well for you, try the pursed-lip exercise.
- Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth.
- Keep your lips pursed. Open your mouth slightly, with just a small mouth opening. When exhaling try to apply counter pressure with your lips. By breathing in this way, you will lower the pressure in your lungs, which leads to better oxygen uptake.
3. Inhale and exhale in three portions
If neither of the above exercises feels right to you, there is a third exercise that may work well for you.
- Try to keep inhaling through the nose. Slow down the pace so you can!
- Extend your mouth exhalation by exhaling in three shorter parts. So exhale a bit, pause shortly, exhale a bit again, pause shortly again, and then exhale the rest at the third time.
Measure the effects
Experience shows that at least one of the above exercises will work well for almost every runner. If you are unsure whether you are doing an exercise properly, you can check this with the heart rate monitor of your smart or runners watch: when your heart rate drops, the exercise works well.
When you start using these breathing techniques, you will notice you will run at a slower pace than you were used to. Don’t worry about that: your pace will catch up again after some time. Trust the process!
Post-workout breathing for Better Recovery
After your run, allow your heart rate to get back to rest. You can repeat the same breathing exercise as the pre-workout exercise: in- and exhale through your nose only, and extend your exhalations.
Feel the difference!
Once you have gained more experience with these breathing techniques, you will notice that you will be able to better regulate your breathing on a duration run! You will run much more energy-efficiently so that you will have more energy left after your training.
Want to learn more?
If you would like to learn how to optimize your breathing, maybe Mindful Run is something to consider. During Mindful Run we combine a light, responsive running style, with energy-efficient breathing and mindfulness. It will make your runs more enjoyable, you will clear your head and gain more energy.
Mindful Run courses
MoreFun2Runoffers Mindful Run courses in Budapest, Hungary Please check out the dates of our next course dates.
I hope this article will help you improve your breathing and you can feel the difference! You will benefit from it in all aspects of your daily life. Please share it with other runners and on social media. 😉 Thank you! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com or leave your comment below.