Are you a heavy breather while running? Does your duration run feel like a struggle to reach the finish line? Improving your breathing technique will make your runs much more energy efficient!
At rest a breathing frequency (respiratory rate) of less than ten breathes per minute should be sufficient. Many of us have a much higher respiratory rate at rest. You can easily measure your own breathing frequency with a stopwatch (or the timer on your phone): count the number of breaths in 1 minute. Note that one breathe is 1 inhalation plus 1 exhalation.
Daily stress increases our Breathing Frequency
Nowadays we all seem to have a busy life with full agendas. And in between work, family, and social life, we try to squeeze in our training sessions. By the time we head out for a run at the end of another busy day, our breathing frequency (at rest) might already be 19 to 22 before we even have started our run.
At a higher breathing frequency, our heart rate is higher as well. So, our bodies receive a paradoxical signal: we are not being physically active (yet), but to our body, it seems as if we are running at 8.5 km / h.
More efforts needed
If we would start our run at this state, our breathing frequency will remain almost the same (19-22) for the first few minutes. In the beginning, this may feel relaxed, because that breathing frequency is actually appropriate for the physical effort. But shortly after, we will notice that we are getting out of breath very easily, and the run will become more challenging.
No pain, no gain?…or not?
Many of us may think it is necessary to be out of breath and sweat a lot, in order to improve our fitness. We aim to run faster (or further). We will work extra hard to get sweaty and try to forget about the daily stress. And since we have only limited time, we’ll push ourselves to the limits, during this workout. It will make us feel good and proud of our efforts. We all like to achieve something. “No pain, no gain!”, right? Or not?
Waste of energy
What happens when we start our run on the already increased breathing frequency, is that it actually makes us run faster than necessary for the aimed effect. And that’s a waste of energy.
We may feel good immediately after the training, but 36 hours later we will pay the price for this, as we have gone beyond our limits. Instead of feeling more energized, we are actually overusing our energy. It will take us much longer to recover. And if we don’t allow enough rest and recovery time, we are not building up our fitness level at all.
Long term risk for injuries or overtraining
So while we thought we had been working so hard to improve fitness and become a better runner, we actually did the opposite. And in the long term, we put ourselves at risk. If overreaching becomes our “normal way” of training, we even might end up injured or feeling constantly tired and having low levels of energy throughout the day.
Variation of training intensity
If all of your runs are at high intensity, it wouldn’t support your energy level. But when you only train at low intensity, you would not make any progress. Your body needs and loves a varied stimulus. Therefore it is important to vary your training sessions. You can exercise longer or shorter, slower or faster, or you could run more or less frequently. But other than running, you can do other sports to vary the types of muscles you use.(yoga, walking, gym).
Regulate your breathing
On duration runs, we usually run slower than during intervals or sprints. Controlled breathing is crucial to sustaining the long distance. There are many breathing exercises to control your breathing frequency.
Before, during and after the run
Before you start your run, it is very useful to calm down your body first, by slowing your breathing frequency. Slower breathing will help you release some stress. Even if you don’t notice any increased stress level, it is a good mental and physical preparation for the run.
When you start your run at a lower breathing frequency, it will avoid the struggle of getting out of breath at a too early stage of your training. During your run, controlled breathing (with an extended) exhalation will help you sustain the run longer. Not being out of breath, will prevent you to stop running halfway through. You will feel much better when you were able to run smoothly and if you finish your training feeling more energized.
Breathing exercise before and after running
Simply take a few minutes and focus on slowing down your breath before you start your warm-up to prepare your body for the physical exercise to come. If it helps you, close your eyes. After your run, you can use this same exercise again to recover your breath and lower your heart rate. It will help your body to relax and recover.
Nasal breathing with extended exhalation:
- Sit or stand op straight.
- Keep your mouth closed, and in- and exhale only through your nose.
- Now, extend your exhalations, which means that the exhalation should take longer than your inhalation. If it helps you: count: for example inhale in 3 counts and exhale in 4 or 5.
- Repeat this nasal breathing with extended exhalation for a few minutes until you feel relaxed and your breath has slowed down. Your body and mind will be better prepared for the run.
3 Breathing techniques while on a duration run
The next three breathing techniques exercises will apply only to duration runs. Sprints or interval training require different breathing. Check out which one works best for you.
Counting steps and breaths:
- Match your breathing rhythm to the frequency of your steps.
- Inhale at a lower number of steps than you exhale. For example: breathe in three steps and breathe out in five steps. It is important that your exhalations are longer than your inhalations. So inhaling two steps and exhaling three or four steps is good as well.
- Find the number of steps that work for you.
If counting your steps and breathes is too confusing for you, try the pursed-lip exercise.
- Open your mouth slightly, with just a small opening between the lips.
- When exhaling try to apply a bit of counter pressure with your lips, to delay the release of the air.
- This way, you lower the pressure in your lungs, which leads to better oxygen uptake.
Inhale and exhale in portions
If neither of the previous exercises works for you, this third one maybe your best option.
- Inhale if possible through your nose.
- Extend your exhalation by exhaling in three shorter portions.
- So exhale a little bit, pause shortly, exhale a bit again, pause shortly again, and then exhale the rest at the third time.
Extended exhalation is key!
A controlled breath during a low/moderate-paced duration run ensures that you’ll maintain a lower heart rate at the same pace. Your heart rate will fluctuate less frequently which will help you sustain longer.
There are several reasons why an extended exhalation contributes to better energy levels.
First of all oxygen uptake by the muscle cells will be much better. Exhaling too fast will release the carbon dioxide too quickly and cause a chemical disbalance of our blood. As a result, our blood vessels will narrow and oxygen will not easily reach the muscle cells.
Secondly slowing down our breathing will make our bodies burn fat. People who breathe too fast at rest, are continuously burning their sugars. Sugars are that are stored in the muscles are called glycogen. But our glycogen stock is only limited and sugars burn very quickly. We have much more body fat and fats are much more energy efficient to burn. That’s why on a duration run, we’re better off using fat as our primary source of energy. We have more of it and they last longer!
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 easily check this with the heart rate monitor on your sports watch, if you have one. If you keep on running at the same pace, and you do the breathing exercise properly, your heart rate should drop.
Feel the difference!
Not everyone wears a running watch, but you can FEEL the difference as well. Once you have gained more experience with breathing techniques, you will notice that you will be able to better control your breathing while on a duration run! You will recognize that you will run much more energy-efficient and stress-relieving. And the beauty of it all is, you will have much more energy left áfter 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.
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