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How to Breathe When Running

2016/7/21 10:45:21

Many runners experience shortness of breath. It's not a bad thing. In fact, it's supposed to happen in certain circumstances, most commonly if you're running faster than your body is conditioned to go, or if you're just starting out on a run.

Whether you're a beginning runner or in the middle of marathon training, there are ways to optimize your breathing. If you don't get enough oxygen to your muscles, they can't burn fuel. The more efficiently your body can extract oxygen from the air and transfer it to your muscles, the easier your running will feel at any speed.

More: 3 Exercises to Increase Your Lung Power

Follow these tips to breathe easy:

1. Don't be embarrassed. I've had many runners tell me they intentionally taught themselves to breathe slowly so no one would know how out of shape they were. Meanwhile, they were killing zillions of brain cells. Breathe hard if you need to, and commend yourself for simply getting out there. The more you run, the easier your breathing will become.

More: Breathing Tips for New Runners

2. Build aerobic capacity. When you're just starting a running program, you can expect to be out of breath. Your body is using muscles it doesn't usually use, and those muscles are not equipped to take in the additional oxygen needed to sustain the increased workload. The best way to increase your aerobic capacity is by doing LSD (long slow distance) runs once a week. Run your LSDs at a comfortable, conversational pace. This type of running triggers your body to produce more extensive "capillary beds" in your muscle tissue so they can take in oxygen at a higher rate.

Nose-breathing is a great way to see if you're running at an aerobic pace. Exhale and inhale only through your nose, and if you have to open your mouth to gasp for air, you're running too fast.

More: 6 Tips for Running With Asthma

3. Practice "belly breathing" (or diaphragmatic breathing). There are no alveoli (little air sacs in your lungs that exchange carbon dioxide with the oxygen from the air) in your upper lungs. If you're only breathing into your upper lungs, you're not getting as much air into your blood supply, even though you might be breathing really hard and fast. The cure for this is to breathe deeply into your lower lungs and fully exhale. Many Eastern disciplines, such as yoga and meditation, teach this breathing method.

How to "belly breathe:"
  • Place your hands over your belly button.
  • Purse your lips like you're trying to blow a candle out and exhale, emptying your lungs by pulling your belly button in towards your spine.
  • After you've blown out as much air as you can, just relax your belly and the inhale will take place on its own. You'll feel it expand with air.
  • Take more time to breathe out than you do to breathe in.

Practice breathing this way during your daily activities, and introduce it into your running once it's comfortable.

4. Learn how to relax with Chi Running. When your muscles are tight or tense, it is much more difficult for oxygen to squeeze its way into your muscle cells because the oxygenated blood from your lungs cannot enter dense (tense) muscles. On the contrary, soft muscles act like sponges and do a good job of soaking up all that oxygen-laden blood.

The cure for this is easy. Just relax! Drop your shoulders. Smile. Keep your muscles and joints loose. Look around you and enjoy nature. Learn more about how relaxation can make all aspects of running easier in the Chi Running book or DVD.

More: How to Run Relaxed

5. Troubleshooting side stitches. There are several theories about what causes side stitches, but the exact source is unknown. Many believe running creates a downward "tug" on the stomach and liver, causing pain on the right or left side. There are a few ways to avoid side stitches:
  • Run smoothly. Make sure you're rotating your hips to drive you forward instead of pushing with your legs and/or feet. This reduces impact and bouncing.
  • Pace yourself. If you tend to get side stitches, start your runs very slow and gradually increase your pace.
  • To relieve side stitches while running, apply gentle pressure to the affected area and be sure to belly breathe.

More: How Chi Running Reduces Injuries and Promotes Healthy Running

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