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How To Breathe While Running: Tips and Techniques To Breathe Easy

Master these breathing techniques to make every run feel easier.

By Karen AspJune 1, 2023

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Every day, you take about 20,000 breaths, according to the American Lung Association. Yet how many times during the day do you stop and think about your breath? Probably never—until that is, you start exerting yourself in activities like running, for instance. Breathing while running can be challenging, but learn how to breathe properly while running and you might just improve your running overall.

If you’re new to running, you’ve probably already found that you’re paying more attention to your breathing than normal, and that’s a good thing. “I think of breathing as an awareness cue,” says Jeffrey McEachern, a Peloton running instructor. “You’re aware that your body is moving, and that breath then serves as an anchor, along with mindset and posture, that can carry you through the run.”  

In fact, how you breathe when you run can make you more—or less—successful in your running endeavors. And although you already know how to breathe, just a few tweaks can help you master the best breathing techniques for running. 

Why is it so Difficult to Breathe While Running, Anyway?

Anyone who has gone for a run, regardless of the distance or speed, understands how much demand running places on your lungs. Yet why is breathing so difficult when you run?

To answer that question, you have to learn a little about physiology. “To be able to run for more than 12 seconds, the average time to exhaustion of anaerobic exercise, the body needs oxygen to convert, produce, and release energy to the working muscles,” says Joseph McConkey, Boston Running Center exercise physiologist and author of Pliability for Runners. “To work efficiently, this aerobic system requires many components to run smoothly, including long and dilated capillaries, oxygen-rich blood, and an inflammation-free soft-tissue system.” 

If you’re a runner who has trained consistently and smartly, you’ve adapted and developed the characteristics mentioned above so that easy running requires less energy and thus a slower breath rate. However, if you’re new to running or haven’t trained wisely, your muscles will be asking for oxygen at a rate that your body can’t deliver. The upshot? “Your breathing rate will increase as your lungs struggle to keep up with the demand,” McConkey says. 

For some individuals, though, the biggest challenge with breathing happens at the start of their run, and there’s a reason for that. “There’s likely hypertension, inflammation and/or a lack of muscle coordination,” McConkey says. All of these can inhibit your muscles from functioning as well as they should. The good news, though, is that after five to 10 minutes of running, your breathing should improve. (So if you’re feeling discouraged early on, this is your sign to stick with it!)

You can also take steps to prevent these issues during the first part of your run by doing a pre-run foam rolling session and active warm-up walk where you walk with a variety of different steps or drills. For instance, you might walk with high knees, wide steps or low steps. 

Peloton App users can find Warm Up Walks in the Outdoor section of the App and those with a Peloton Tread can find many 5 and 10-minute Warm Up Walks available as well.

The Basics of Breathing While Running

So what is the best way to breathe while running? It’s more straightforward than you might think. Follow these four tips for how to breathe properly while running and you’ll be well on your way.

1. Use Your Mouth and Nose
You’ve probably wondered is it better to breathe through your mouth when running? Trick question. “Runners should always breathe in and out of their mouth and nose, so keep your mouth open,” McConkey says, adding that no elite runner has ever raced with their mouth closed. “To run your best, you need to inhale as much oxygen and exhale as much carbon dioxide as quickly and in as large amounts as possible.”    

2. Utilize Belly Breathing 
You should also use diaphragmatic breathing, which means you’re breathing deeply from your belly by contracting your diaphragm. Sounds complicated, yes? Not really. “Typically, this happens by simply not thinking about it,” McConkey says. 

3. Consider Your Posture
Posture plays an important role in helping you breathe better while running. If you’re using poor posture, perhaps leaning forward excessively, your lungs won’t be able to fully expand, oxygen won’t circulate throughout your lungs as it should, and your running performance will be hindered, McConkey says. 

Instead, keep your posture upright to allow for better circulation of oxygen into your lungs, says Peloton instructor Jermaine Johnson. Another benefit of using good posture? “You’ll automatically feel stronger and more confident,” Jeffrey says. In fact, that’s why he likes to cue students in his classes to avoid looking down when running. Instead, keep your gaze fixed straight ahead of you. 

4. Don’t Skip Your Warm Up and Cool Down
Finally, just as you warm up your body, you also need to warm up and cool down your breath. Jeffrey likes to start the breathing process when he’s getting changed into his running clothes. He takes a minute or two while changing to do some deeper breathing and exercises that open up the chest before moving into movements like jumping jacks to get his whole body ready for the run. Then after he runs, he’ll walk for a short time until his breath resumes its normal pattern. 

The Best Breathing Techniques for Running

Rhythmic Breathing

As you run, you should establish a rhythm to your breathing, something that can be easily measured by the amount of steps in between exhales or inhales. “This rhythm means you’re running at a steady state where the demands from the muscles are being met by your cardiorespiratory system,” McConkey says. 

So how do you do it? Align an exhale with a foot strike. Then notice how many steps are between your exhales (typically three to five steps). Now use this rhythm to count your exhales to 100. “It’s a great technique to get into rhythm, build your focus, and distract yourself from the rigors of running,” McConkey says.

You can then experiment to see what type of rhythm works best for your breath. “Your body will automatically adjust to the beat so do what feels natural to you,” says Jeffrey, who likes to program his runs to music with a tempo that can help him keep this rhythm. When he does higher-intensity runs, for instance, he likes to follow a two-two breathing cycle, inhaling for two steps and exhaling for two. If, though, he’s doing a longer, slower run, he’ll switch to four-four breathing, inhaling and exhaling for four steps each.

Of course, what rhythmic breathing pattern you choose relies solely on your personal preference. “There’s no clear evidence that a certain breath-to-step rate is more effective than another,” McConkey says.  

The Takeaway

By staying focused on your breathing as you run, you can help maintain that steady flow of oxygen to your muscles, which comes with numerous benefits. “This will help keep your foot turnover strong and your body relaxed, allowing you to run with more power and efficiency, even as you fatigue,” Johnson says.

Just remember to use good posture when you run and find a rhythm of breathing that feels natural to you. Do those two things, and you’ll find that running will be a much more enjoyable experience.

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