Breathe Easy and Run Farther: 2 Key Breathing Strategies to Run Like a Pro

Learn how to breathe while running to unlock your best performance yet.



Stop running out of breath (pun intended). We all breathe, but did you know that intentional breathing techniques can help you improve your running performance? Yes, research shows breathwork goes beyond relaxation and focus; it can help you elevate your athletic game.

Proper breathing techniques also boost running performance and overall comfort. While your breathing patterns will adjust instinctively in response to physical activity, specific techniques can make you more efficient and stave off common nuisances such as stitches and cramps. Breathing correctly maximizes oxygen intake and expels carbon dioxide—a process vital for converting glycogen into the energy that fuels your strides.

But not all breaths are created equal. Depending on the intensity of your run, the method—through the nose, mouth, or a combination—can shift to meet escalating oxygen demands. Knowing how to breathe while running influences endurance, pace, and overall running experience.

Ahead, learn more about how breathing impacts your running experience, the pitfalls of improper technique, and how to breathe while running for your best performance yet.

Why Breathing Is So Key To Running

Muscles demand more oxygen to produce energy when running, so efficient breathing is crucial for performance. An efficient breathing process ensures muscles receive the maximum amount of oxygen possible, so maintaining pace and endurance is less taxing. Two common breathing styles are diaphragmatic and chest breathing, each impacting running performance differently.

Diaphragmatic breathing is the best method, while chest breathing is a physically costly habit many runners adopt without realizing it. Taking shorter, shallow breaths from your chest makes it harder for your body to get enough oxygen and can lead to fatigue and even lightheadedness.

Techniques such as slower diaphragmatic and rhythmic breathing from the nose and mouth allow for deeper breaths and increase oxygen intake to fuel muscles for better performance, while faster mouth breathing patterns can sometimes be better for faster runs and sprints.

Improper breathing techniques can negatively impact performance and comfort during runs. Shallow and rapid breathing, also known as chest breathing, limits your oxygen intake, which can quickly lead to fatigue and that familiar heavy leg sensation. A poor breathing pattern is often the culprit behind those pesky side stitches and cramps, which can sideline even the most experienced runner.

2 Key Breathing Techniques for Running

Experts recommend two basic techniques for breathing while running: diaphragmatic and rhythmic breathing.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is a technique that maximizes oxygen intake and is best for efficient running. While shallow chest breathing can lead to quicker fatigue, belly breathing encourages full oxygen exchange, which maximizes your endurance.

How to Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing

  1. Lie flat on your back, placing one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Breathe deeply through your nose, aiming to raise the hand on your belly higher than the one on your chest. Think of your torso as a balloon, inflating fully with each breath to engage your diaphragm.

  2. Once you are comfortable with belly breathing, practice while standing or sitting, focusing on engaging your diaphragm.

  3. Now, try this breathing technique while running. Start your run slowly, concentrating on breathing deeply into your belly. It might feel unnatural initially, but with practice, it will become second nature.

Rhythmic Breathing

Sarah Pelc Graca, NASM-Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), experienced marathoner, owner, and head coach at Strong with Sarah Health Coaching, practices rhythmic breathing, a technique recommended by the American Lung Association for runners that facilitates efficient oxygen travel throughout the body. “Rhythmic breathing can time the force of impact with an inhalation, which will provide more stability in our core muscles and diaphragm,” she explains.

Creating this stability then reduces the impact of running on your joints, bones, and muscles. Pelc Graca gives these tips on incorporating rhythmic breathing into your runs using a 5-step (3:2) rhythmic pattern.

How to Practice Rhythmic Breathing

  1. Inhale through your nose for three steps and exhale through your mouth for two steps.

  2. Alternate leading legs to distribute the impact of running more evenly across your body, providing more core stability and reducing overall stress.

  3. Start with this pattern at a walking or slow jogging pace. It might feel unusual to inhale slower than you exhale, but gradually increase your pace while maintaining the breathing rhythm as you get used to it.

As your pace increases, you can shift to a 3-step (2:1) pattern, inhaling for two steps and exhaling for one, a technique favored by seasoned runner Michael Mazzara, CEO of Half Marathon Guide. “Fatigue is sometimes caused by lack of oxygen being provided to muscles, so [taking] two breaths in ensures you're providing enough oxygen for muscle use,” he says.

Ultimately, it’s best to find a rhythm and stick to it. “I wouldn't get too hung up on it, " says Mazzara. Instead, he stresses focusing on overall breath control and sticking to a rhythm that lets you breathe without struggling. “Most of the training adaptations for running happen in Zone 2, which is described as a conversational pace, so steady, controlled breathing is really important for knowing you're exerting the right effort,” he says.

Using Music to Control Your Breath

Running to a song with a beat of 170-180 beats per minute can provide an auditory cue to keep your legs and breathing in sync. Humming your own tune can cue active exhales by adding airway resistance and dramatically increasing nitric oxide production, leading to better blood flow. This can lower blood pressure and reduce demand on the heart and skeletal muscles, which is especially beneficial for distance runners.

Additional Considerations

While the technique is important, there are a few other ways to optimize your breathing on the run. Breathing effectively while running involves paying attention to your posture, the weather, and your warm-up and cool-down routines.

Be Mindful of Your Posture

Being mindful of your posture is essential for optimal breathing while running. With good posture, there is more space for your diaphragm and lungs to expand to achieve deeper and more efficient breaths. This means you’ll get a steady oxygen supply to fuel your best run. This isn’t possible when you slouch or hunch since that constricts your breathing, limits oxygen intake, and potentially leads to faster fatigue and discomfort.

Pelc Graca says the best running posture is when your spine is neutral and your core muscles are slightly engaged. “Use your glutes, quads, and hamstrings to propel you forward with each step. Although your core muscles are slightly engaged, don't think of "clenching" or "squeezing" your abs, as this will restrict the movement of your belly and diaphragm as you breathe,” she adds.

Cross-training with posture-focused exercises, such as yoga or Pilates, is a smart way to improve your running posture and support your breathing efficiency.

Make the Most of Your Warm Up and Cool Down

You can sneak in some additional work that improves your lung capacity and breathing efficiency by adding specific exercises in your warm-up and cool-down routines.

Warm-up: Begin with dynamic stretches that open the chest and engage the diaphragm, such as arm circles and torso twists. Follow up with a few minutes of brisk walking or gentle jogging to gradually increase your heart rate and breathing.

Cool down: End your run with a slow jog or walk, gradually bringing your breathing and heart rate down to a resting state. Incorporate deep breathing exercises, such as inhaling deeply for four counts, holding for four counts, and exhaling for four counts, to help clear your lungs and relax your body.

Adapt to Weather Conditions

Weather conditions can impact your breathing and overall running experience, so it’s wise to know how different conditions might affect you. Cold air has less moisture and can be harsh on the respiratory system, causing airways to tighten. Some people might experience uncomfortable symptoms such as a runny nose or dry throat. Pelc Graca recommends wearing a scarf or mask over your nose and mouth during cold weather to pre-warm the air before it enters your lungs.

High-humidity air can also make it feel harder to breathe since the moisture makes the air feel heavy. This can lead to a higher heart rate and quicker time to exhaustion, especially if you’re sweating. In hot and humid weather, stay hydrated, reduce your pace, and try to run during cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening.

Another factor to be wary of is polluted or high allergy environments. Air quality can affect your breathing. On days with high pollution or pollen counts, it might serve you better to keep running indoors or travel to areas with better air quality.

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