How should we breathe when we are running? Just in and out – right? Wrong! There is a lot more to think about when it comes to breathing when we run. Many experts think that breathing “well” can play a big role in efficiency, performance and even injury prevention.
There are two main areas that we need to consider: how we are breathing and how often – or our breathing patterns.
How to breathe
Firstly, we should breathe in and out through our mouth rather than our nose when we run – this is the most efficient way to get the oxygen in that we need. A little bit of nose breathing will be fine – but you should focus on your mouth.
And, the best way to breathe in is with your diaphragm rather than your chest. The aim is to push your diaphragm down when you inhale so that chest can expand to its full potential and your lungs can fill with the largest volume of air. Read more here on how to activate your diaphragm when you breathe.
A breathing pattern or rhythm describes the number of steps you take while you are breathing in and out. So, for example, a 2:2 pattern would mean that you take two steps (left, right) when you breathe in and two steps (left, right) as you breathe out.
Some experts suggest an even pattern, 2:2, or 3:3 depending on the pace of the run. A 3:3 pattern would be good for easy paced run while tempo and marathon pace runs would generally need a 2:2 pattern. Very hard interval sessions or race efforts may need more oxygen still and a 1:2 (in:out) or 2:1 (in:out).
But there is another school of thought led by Budd Coates author of Running on Air that suggests that runners should breathe in odd patterns 3:2 for example because breathing in an even (2:2 or 3:3) pattern means that you will always be breathing out striking with the same foot. According to Coates, this places an additional to one side of your body that can lead to injury.
Most coaches agree that, whether even or odd, having an awareness and practicing your own pattern and rhythm helps you as an athlete become more pace aware and able to maintain a specific pace over a period of time. Find out what feels good for you!