Q+A: Is there a correct way to breathe when running?

Q. When I’m running I sometimes find it difficult to develop a smooth breathing pattern. Is there a proper way to breathe while running and are there exercises I can do to improve my breathing?

A. When you begin exercising you will initially breathe more deeply. After a couple of minutes this should settle into a steady breathing rhythm, although frequent changes in pace or
terrain gradient may disrupt or prevent this.

Your breathing frequency will naturally increase as you increase intensity. At higher intensities shallow breathing, with notably increased breathing frequency, is normal. You may even experience an element of respiratory distress (dyspnoea).

To inhale air you contract muscles and if you haven’t become accustomed to higher intensities of exertion the muscles involved will fatigue quickly. Improving the fatigue resistance of these muscles is one reason elite athletes train at altitude.

Inspiratory and expiratory muscles can be strengthened using resistive devices (there are several on the market). However one of the key actions in breathing when you’re running is the forceful exhalation of air. During a run practise a strong forceful inhalation of air followed by forceful exhalation of that air after less than a second. The faster you can  breathe out, the quicker you can breathe in oxygen-heavy air.

If you want to improve your ability to breathe economically at higher exercise intensities, practise running at higher exercise intensities using intervals or hills.

David Tilbury-Davis

David Tilbury-Davis  has been involved in triathlon for more than 10 years. He began his coaching career (physfarm.com) while engaged in postgraduate research in biomechanics at Loughborough University. David has coached squads and athletes ranging from beginner to elite and juniors to competitors aged 65. He has competed in many triathlons, from the sprint distance to Ironman.