How To Breathe When Running: The Best Techniques

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While breathing is an automatic process, that doesn’t mean that most of us can’t stand to benefit from learning improved breathing techniques. This especially holds good when we are running. The increased demands that running places on our breathing can become a struggle.

If you’re wondering how to breathe when running, it only feels natural if you’ve been doing it correctly!

When running, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, unless sprinting. Focus on breathing with your diaphragm to take deeper, slower breaths. Using rhythmic breathing to alter your locomotor-respiratory coupling can help avoid injury.

Correct breathing techniques while running shouldn’t be a struggle, but many of us have gotten into bad breathing habits that make it an effort to draw a breath when exerting ourselves.

Learning good breathing techniques can improve our performance, increase our endurance and lessen our chance of injury. Let’s find out how!

Best Breathing Techniques To Use While Running

How to breathe when running

Some of these techniques are suitable to implement while running. However, it is important not to overthink things and cause yourself to tense up.

You can always do breathing exercises in your downtime and then slowly integrate them in to your training once you have mastered each technique.

Should You Use Your Mouth Or Nose To Breathe When Running?

Breathing in through your nose is preferable, as this helps filter out dust particles and other pollutants and warm and moisten the incoming air.

These benefits are of particular advantage if you have asthma.

While we are on the subject, you can run if you have asthma. Discuss it with your doctor, use your pumps before running (particularly if you have exercise-induced asthma), and follow the tips we will give you in this post for running with asthma. Exercise helps improve breathing efficiency and is beneficial to people with asthma or other breathing difficulties.

This combination of nose and mouth breathing (in through your nose and out through your mouth) is efficient and comfortable when running at a moderate pace. If you run at a relaxed speed, like a gentle jog, you can breathe entirely through your nose.

However, if you are struggling to breathe or cannot comfortably hold a conversation with the runner next to you, try breathing entirely through your mouth.

During high-intensity running, such as sprinting, interval training, or hill climbs, it’s better to breathe through your mouth as this is more efficient.

When doing interval training (or any running where you vary your intensity, such as fartlek, you can also change up whether you breathe through your mouth or your nose – match the technique you use to the intensity of your running.

Breathing in and out through your mouth lets more oxygen into your body to resupply your muscles, helping you perform more efficiently. It also reduces tension in your jaw muscles, which can aid in relaxing your face and body.

A more relaxed body will run with better form (avoiding some of the common pitfalls) and therefore breathe better.

Belly Breathing Will Improve Your Running Performance

Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, fully engages your diaphragm in breathing.

As your diaphragm contracts and lowers, your lungs have more space to expand and breathe air, increasing lung capacity and elasticity. Belly breathing, therefore, slows your breathing rate and heart rate and helps you breathe more comfortably.

It’s called belly breathing because the movement of your diaphragm results in your abdominal wall moving noticeably during the breathing cycle.

As you inhale, your diaphragm moves down, and your belly moves out.

As you exhale, your diaphragm moves up, and your stomach moves in. It’s best to practice this when you are not running.

Breathing Rhythmically While Running Distributes Stress

Your natural breathing tendency is to match your breathing to your cadence, so you inhale for 2 steps and exhale for 2 (for example).

However, when you exhale, your diaphragm and related muscles relax, resulting in less stability in your core. 

When your footstrike coincides with an exhalation, your body experiences more stress. Thus, the theory goes that if you follow your intuitive breathing pattern and match your breathing to your cadence, you’ll always be exhaling when the same foot strikes the ground, laying the foundation for a unilateral injury pattern.

Now, there may be something to this; indeed, anecdotal evidence and some studies have suggested that changing one’s breathing pattern to an uneven one can reduce injury.

However, other studies have concluded that even-foot breathing patterns have no detrimental effects.

If you are experiencing a unilateral pattern of injury that seems to match up with which foot strikes the ground as you exhale, try experimenting with rhythmic breathing.

Doing so creates an odd/even pattern so that your right and left foot strikes alternate with the rhythm of your breathing, sharing the impact stress of your running.

Use a 3:2 pattern where you inhale for 3 footstrikes and exhale for 2, or use a 2:1 pattern if you run faster.

Tips For Good Breathing When Running

Controlled running and breathing exercise

You can do some basic drills to help yourself breathe correctly while running.

Follow these tips:

Maintain Good Running Form To Breathe Correctly

Maintain good posture while running so that your lungs can work most efficiently. Keep your neck aligned on your spine, and relax your shoulders while keeping them open (not hunched). Keep your torso straight, not leaning forward or backward from the base of your spine.

Warm Up Your Breathing Before Running

Always warm-up before running to get your lungs working and your blood flowing. Doing so helps you to breathe more easily. Try breathing exercises before running to enable you to belly breathe correctly. Warming up is especially important if you are asthmatic. Remember to ease into it.

When you have finished your run, wind down to give your lungs a chance to cool down gradually rather than abruptly.

Take It Easy When You Begin Running

How easily you breathe can indicate your fitness level or how well your body responds to the pace and intensity of your workout (or the altitude at which you are training). If you experience shortness of breath, tightness in your chest, or wheezing, you may be pushing your body past its capacity. 

Especially when you are beginning, you should not push yourself too hard. Try running with someone else and maintain a conversation with them while you are running. If you can’t, you’re running too hard. You can try pushing your body into higher-intensity workouts as you gain fitness.

Your VO2 Max is a good marker of your ability to make use of oxygen – which is why it makes for such a great performance indicator.

Try To Breathe Clean Air When Running

It’s easier to breathe if you’re breathing clean air, especially if you have asthma. If you have to run in an area with air pollution from traffic, try running when traffic is at its lowest, and choose the quiet backstreets.

Doing so also allows you to maintain a more sustained pace, as you won’t have to keep waiting for traffic.

If you’re asthmatic, check the pollen count before running, and run when it is at its lowest (generally in the morning or after rain). If you’re an asthmatic who has to run during peak traffic or high pollen counts, wear a mask, shower after your run, and wash your running clothes to remove contaminants.

Another tip if you’re asthmatic is to run in warmer weather, as warm air contains more moisture, making breathing easier. If you have to run in cold weather, wear a mask to moisten and warm the air you breathe.

Breathing Exercises To Improve Your Running

Practicing the following breathing exercises can benefit your running by enabling you to breathe more efficiently, relax your body, and improve your lung capacity, respectively.

Begin with 5 minutes a day (or even just 2 if that’s too long), and practice multiple times a day.

How To Practice Belly Breathing

Follow these steps to practice belly breathing:

  1. Sit comfortably or lie down
  2. Place a hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  3. Inhale through your nose for 2 seconds. Concentrate on your belly, moving out. It should move more than your chest does.
  4. Exhale for 2 seconds while pressing on your belly.
  5. Lengthen your exhalations, so they’re longer than your inhalations.
  6. Repeat.

Try incorporating it into your running at a slow pace, to begin with. As you master it, you can increase your speed.

Practice Box Breathing For Deep Relaxation

Box breathing or square breathing has been used by yogis for thousands of years in pranayama breathwork to aid relaxation. The US Navy Seals now teach it to their soldiers as tactical breathing to help them manage intense stress during training and battle. 

To practice box breathing, first master belly breathing. Then follow these steps:

  1. Inhale deep into your belly.
  2. Hold your breath and count to 4.
  3. Exhale deeply.
  4. Hold your breath and count to 4
  5. Repeat at least 12 times.

Pursed-Lip Breathing Can Improve Your Lung Capacity

Pursed-lip breathing slows your breathing down, keeping your airways open for longer. Doing so makes lung function more effortless and builds lung capacity over the long term.

To practice pursed-lip breathing, follow these steps:

  1. Inhale slowly through your nose.
  2. Purse your lips as if to whistle.
  3. Exhale slowly through your pursed lips, taking at least twice as long as you did to inhale.
  4. Repeat.

Our Verdict On How To Breathe When Running

We can improve our breathing patterns while running in several ways, from the proven, such as belly breathing, to the controversial, such as rhythmic breathing.

As we incorporate new breathing practices into our running, they gradually become automatic, and our endurance and performance will improve.

However, do keep in mind – this change does not happen overnight.

It can take several weeks of focused mindful training before your new breathing technique is fully automatic. And that’s when you’ll begin to see the benefits on race day.

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