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Breathing & Running

Recently we have talked about running form, foot strength, posture and various ways to avoid injury while running. If you have already incorporated strength training into your routine and have been working on your running form but haven’t noticed a huge difference, it may be time to focus on your breathing.

Why is breathing so important?

If you breathe efficiently you can improve your deep core stability, your rib cage and thoracic spine will enjoy more movement, you may be less fatigued and you can better absorb impact. 

Breathing into your diaphragm rather than into your upper chest will create passive mobility in the thoracic spine and rib cage, which often need it after sitting at a desk or in a car all day. When you inhale, your diaphragm descends, and your pelvic floor automatically descends with it, and then when you exhale, your diaphragm ascends, along with your pelvic floor. This creates a piston effect and more stability in the core complex.

So in short, breathing correctly creates more mobility and stability while running.

We all breathe every minute of every day, so it should be simple right? Unfortunately, its not. Just like learning to run a faster race, learning to breathe efficiently takes practice. But before we talk about breathing any further, let’s do a quick review of proper running posture because without good running posture it is difficult to breathe correctly.

  • Stack your rib cage over your pelvis. That means don’t lean too far forward from your hips, and don’t stick your chest out. Not only will you decrease the ability of the piston to work but you will also decrease lung capacity. With less lung capacity, you will be more fatigued.

  • Relax your shoulders.

  • Un-tuck your butt. Tucking your butt will disrupt the piston, decrease your lumbar lordosis creating less shock absorption, cause compression in the SI joint and change the position of your hips.

  • Do not tighten your abdominal muscles. Tightening your abdominal muscles while running will actually take away some of your deep core stability and will force you to breathe into your upper chest, neck and shoulders, rather than into your diaphragm.

  • Think about where the weight is in your feet; the more in the middle, the better.

Okay so now what: just breathe? NO.

You have to learn to breathe into your diaphragm and rib cage. Think of your diaphragm as an umbrella: it has to open in all directions in order to be functional. Most people breathe into their chest or only the front of their body rather than into their back and all the way around. Here are a few exercises you can do to start learning how to breathe properly. 

Now that you have figured out how to breathe, the tricky part is incorporating it into your running.  So what should you do? The first thing is to be aware of it. Prior to reading this blog post, maybe you never even thought about your breathing. Now you should start. Here are some things to keep in mind as you start:

Pay attentionto if you are holding your breath, if you are breathing into your chest or if you can even tell at all. 

Like in the video, don't only breathe into just your belly- breathe into your belly, your sides and your back. There is a lot of information out there about breathing into your belly, but if you don't address the entire umbrella then you are not getting the full effect.

Are you exhaling on the same foot each time?There is a great book,Running on Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter by Budd Coates, M.S., and Claire Kowalchik that describes in detail why it is important to time your exhale with when you foot hits the ground to reduce impact up the entire chain. Essentially, the authors state that there is more impact when your foot strikes the ground on an exhale; therefore, you should alternate which foot you land on when you exhale.

Start countingyour inhale and exhale. You want to make your inhale longer than your exhale. In his book, Coates suggests breathing in a five-count breath, or in other words inhaling for a count of three and exhaling to the count of two. This is a good starting point, but you may need to make it a seven or a three-second breath, depending on your fitness or comfort. The patterns would look something like:

Inhale 1-2-3, exhale 1-2, inhale 1-2-3, exhale 1-2 for a typical run


Inhale 1-2, exhale 1, inhale 1-2, exhale 1 for a faster run

Once you have the counting patterns down, begin to use them while walking and during your breathing exercises, and then when you are confident, you can add it while running. 

Good luck!


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