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Long-Distance Running Breathing Techniques

author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
Long-Distance Running Breathing Techniques
Breathing techniques help boost your running performance. Photo Credit Khosrork/iStock/Getty Images

The way you breathe could be the key to improving your running performance. Your lungs power your run, delivering much-needed oxygen to fuel your muscles. Because breathing is such an automatic activity, you probably don't usually think about your breathing technique. If you focus on tweaking the rhythm of your breath or the way you breathe in, you can run faster and recover better.

Rhythmic Breathing

Breathing in coordination with your steps helps you fight the effects the pounding on your body that comes from running. When you inhale your diaphragm, the muscle that lies just under your lungs, contracts to bring air into your lungs.

To breathe in, your muscles have to contract, but they can relax when you exhale. Because your muscles tense up when you inhale, it means that your core and pelvis is stable. This extra stability from your muscles tensing up helps your body absorb the impact that comes from running.

Read More: Deep Breathing Exercises & Shortness of Breath

Exhaling is easier for your body because it just has to relax to let the air out. It takes longer to inhale fully than to exhale fully, so inhale for three steps when you run and exhale for two. It's also better to inhale for more strides than you exhale because your body is more stable when you exhale.

Breathing in for three steps and out for two works for most running paces, but if you crank up your running speed you might need to change the breath count. Try breathing in for two steps and out for one if it's the five count is too slow.

Pursed-Lips Breathing

Originally designed for people with breathing problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), pursed-lips breathing can help you deal with breathlessness. Purse your lips like you're going to whistle and breathe in and out as you run. It's the same feeling as if you're breathing through a straw.

This technique can help you breathe because it creates resistance. You're more forcefully trying to get air into your lungs, which makes you use your breathing muscles, such as your diaphragm, more than you normally would. Don't use this technique for too long, but try it out if you're feeling particularly out of breath and don't want to stop.

Read More: Breathing Exercises to Strengthen Lungs

Nose Breathing

Breathing exclusively through your nose might not be the best method for performing at your best, but it definitely has its benefits. When you breathe through your nose the air passes through the sinuses in your head. Air that travels through your sinuses is moistened and filtered before it gets to your lungs.

The moisture from your sinuses makes the air you breathe less dry, which helps keep your lungs from drying out. This can prevent problems like exercise-induced asthma. The air you breathe through your sinuses also gets filtered, which reduces the amount of pollution and germs that get into your lungs.

Breathing through your nose might not help performance but it's healthier.
Breathing through your nose might not help performance but it's healthier. Photo Credit sergio_kumer/iStock/Getty Images

Anuloma Viloma Pranayama

In yoga, breathing exercises are usually called pranayamas. The word basically means breath control, which is what you're practicing when you do a breathing exercise. The breathing exercise anuloma viloma was used in a 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research.

The study found that practicing this style of breathing helped runners recover if they did it for an hour after their run. It decreases stress hormones, such as cortisol, that make it harder to recover from exercise. At the same time, it boosts recovery hormones, like melatonin, which helps you sleep. Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant, which reduces inflammation.

How To:

Take three breaths in and out of your nose. On the fourth breath, close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in for a count of four. Then, hold that breath and close both nostrils. Count to 16 and breathe out through both nostrils, completely emptying your lungs by the count of eight. Then, close your left nostril and breathe in for a count of four. Hold for a count of 16, then exhale for another count of eight through both nostrils.

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