I get many questions about breathing in running. In response to one of those, I led some clients through the sequence below. Using the breath is one of the most accessible and effective skills in a runner's toolbox. Before continuing, I highly recommend taking a look at my earlier article on the art of the breath.
First things first. It's not super important whether you breathe through your mouth or nose. The nose is technically better because it works to remove foreign objects, humidify, and warm air before it goes into your lungs. However, there is always the practical consideration of getting enough air. And in that case, breathing through your mouth is what will happen. And that's ok!
Let's take a minute to learn how to belly breath. Any introduction of breathing must start with this basic skill.
Place one hand on your stomach, and the other hand on your chest. As you breath, take note of which hand is moving when. Typically, our chests rise or expand as breath in and fall when we breath out. Our stomachs rarely move at all.
To belly breath, begin to focus on getting the belly to expand as you breathe in. As you breathe out, it will naturally empty out. This may take some practice, but after a few breaths or a few minutes, you'll be able to expand the belly as you take a breath.
Some tips for those who might need it: as you attempt to expand the belly as you breathe, notice when you do manage to move it all. Remember how you did that for the next breath and see if you can exaggerate it. Bit by bit, that may help you find it.
Belly breathing can be combined with chest breathing for better running. Breathing into the belly, as you know by now, can unlock up to 70% of your lung use. Additionally, intentional chest breathing can unlock a little bit more to great effect.
With rolling breaths, you will find yourself taking advantage of far more of your lung capacity. It will also create a certain sense of ease and relaxation simply by focusing on breathing. It is actually one of the most common meditations out there- simply focus on your breath. The Zen meditation is based on breath, for example. Creating a sense of ease and flow is the same as getting into a 'zone' on purpose.
This breath can also be used to help maintain tall posture and relaxed shoulders while running. Allow the rolling breath to let you grow taller as it massages the spine. Use the end of the breath at the top of the lungs to open and relax the shoulders. The key word here is allow. The breath will naturally improve your posture, relax the shoulders, and create a sense of ease and relaxation. There is no need to force it!
Finally, combining breathing with your steps can add another layer of effectiveness. One of the best is to breathe in across three steps and breathe out across the next two. This can be modified based on whether that allows enough air into your lungs without rushing. This builds two rhythms at once- breathing and steps or running cadence. Rhythms are one of the best ways to improve performance and enjoyment. It's why music is ruled a performance enhancer for many running races.
I encourage you to practice these techniques outside of running to get the hang of them. With the stepping and breathing, that will take practice in particular. Using the rolling breath will just be beneficial for general stress reduction, focus, and posture.
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