Depending on the pace, we take anywhere from 30-60 breaths a minute when running. But if you ask most runners how they breathe when they run, they don’t know the answer. Breathing awareness can be a useful component of a runner’s training. But… most people don’t know where to start.

Take a Deep Breath

The most important thing with breathing is to take deep breaths. Using a pattern can help you’re your breathing down. Breathing patterns are defined by the number of steps you take while breathing in and while breathing out. The pattern should start when your foot makes contact with the ground. For example, a 3×3 pattern starts by breathing IN when your left foot hits (1), continue to breathe IN as your right foot hits (2), and your left foot hits again (3). You would then breathe OUT on the right (1), left (2), right (3). Your breaths should be smooth and continuous, not choppy. This promotes slow, controlled breaths.

Every Breath You Take

  • 3 x 3 pattern: 3 steps while breathing IN, 3 steps breathing OUT. This is used for a warmup, beginning of a run, or a slow easy pace.
  • 2 x 2 pattern: 2 steps while breathing IN, 2 steps breathing OUT. This is used for a moderate pace, usually the beginning to middle of a tempo run, or the first 75% of a race.
  • 2 x 1 pattern: Can be performed with two steps IN and one step OUT, or one step IN and two steps OUT. This is used for intervals, the end of a hard tempo run, or the last part of a race. If you feel like you are struggling, the two IN, one OUT may be better.

Breathing Tips

  • Nose or mouth? You’ve probably heard, “IN through your nose and OUT through your mouth”. While some people run this way, the majority of the time you probably need to breathe in AND out of your mouth. While nose or mouth breathing is a personal preference, most people are more efficient with mouth breathing. It’s all about taking in the most air you can with each breath.
  • Switch sides for cramps: A side stitch or cramp can often be addressed by switching the side of your breathing pattern. For example, if you are running with a 2×2 and breathing IN on the left/right, OUT on the left/right, switch to the other side, breathing IN on the right/left, then OUT on the right/left. If this doesn’t help, focus on deep slow breaths for 30-60 seconds.
  • Injury prevention: Once you begin to focus on your breathing, you may notice that you have a dominant breathing side. That is: one side (left or right) that you consistently use to start your pattern. This can lead to problems down the road if you always use the same side. When you breathe out, your diaphragm is relaxed and you may be more susceptible to the forces coming up through your legs. To address this, try to mix up your breathing pattern every 5-10 minutes, so that you aren’t always breathing OUT on the same side.
  • Take out the headphones: Focusing on your breathing puts you in tune with your body, and can make you a stronger, smarter runner. Try to focus on your breathing during your workouts with no distractions. Once it becomes second nature, you may notice that you have more control over your pace, experience less cramps, and can recover quicker!

Bottom Line

Breathing should be a natural phenomenon when running. When we get tired or work harder, it can become a bit more difficult. Focusing on breathing can help make it more regular and easy. Remember: breaths that are deep and slow are the best way to GO!

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