Optimal Breathing For Runners

Get more AER in your AERobic

If you regularly experience chest tightness and find yourself desperately gasping for breath despite improving your fitness, it could be that you are not breathing efficiently.

Our running muscles need oxygen, and lots of it. Through my years of coaching I have often been asked the most efficient way to breath, and the simple answer is: Through your mouth, using your diaphragm (or belly).

By allowing air to just flow in through your mouth and expand your belly as your lungs fill, you are able to take in a lot more air than when you try to suck air in through your chest. Your chest cannot expand as much as your diaphragm. Breathing with your chest also creates a lot of tension in the shoulder and chest area which further speeds up fatigue.

A good way to visualize this is to imagine your belly area as a big balloon which fills with air and expands as you relax and allow air to flow in and then collapses as you force the air out again.

So how do you know if you are breathing with your belly or chest?
Try this simple test:

  • Run about a kilometer at a hard pace.
  • Stop and place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
  • If your top hand is moving up and out and your lower hand is moving in as you breathe in, then you are breathing with your chest.
  • If your lower hand is moving out as you breathe in and the upper hand is remaining fairly still, you are breathing with your belly.

exTo practice belly breathing, lie on your back with a book on your belly. As you breathe in, the book will lift up as your lungs fill and your belly rises. As you breathe out, the book will drop down. Your chest and shoulders remain relaxed at all times.

Switching to belly breathing takes some time to master, but with patience you will see a huge improvement in your stamina.


Coach Kathleen

About Coach Kathleen

As an athlete Kathleen has competed at high levels across all the running disciplines, track, road, cross country and trail running as well as internationally in triathlon. She has a personal best of 2 hours 45 min for the marathon and most recently has been part of the winning ladies team in the AfricanX trail race for the last 2 years.

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