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What Is the Right Way to Breathe While Running?

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.
What Is the Right Way to Breathe While Running?
Just like your running form, there is a rhythm to your breathing. Photo Credit: ElNariz/iStock/Getty Images

With every breath that you take, your body goes through a coordinated effort in using different muscles to move air in and out of your lungs — but you do it without even thinking. In fact, it's so automatic that if you have poor breathing technique, you probably won't notice — until . That's why it's important to learn and practice better breathing techniques for your run.

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Your lungs do an amazing job of pulling oxygen out of the air, but they can't fill themselves up. They need muscles to do the work for them. Your diaphragm is muscle mainly responsible for breathing. It sits right below the lungs and connects to the rib cage and spine. The diaphragm contracts when you inhale and makes more room in your abdomen for your lungs to expand.

When your lungs expand, they pull in air from outside through either your nose or mouth. Other muscles in your neck and rib cage help make your torso bigger when you inhale to get more air into your lungs.

Read More: Chest Versus Stomach Breathing

When you inhale your chest and abdomen should expand. Your lungs are located right inside your rib cage, which is why your chest expands. Your abdomen expands to make room for your lungs to fill. If either your abdomen or chest doesn't expand when you inhale you're not giving your lungs enough room to expand.

To check the way your torso is expanding, lie down on your back. Plant your feet on the ground and bend your knees. Put one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. When you breathe in, both hands should rise.

Read More: Mouth Breathing Vs. Nasal Breathing

When you're running, inhale through your mouth to get as much air into your lungs as possible. While breathing through your nose prevents your airway from drying out and can help with problems such as allergies and asthma, it doesn't get enough air into your lungs — your nostrils are simply too small.

Breathing through your mouth to get more air.
Breathing through your mouth to get more air. Photo Credit: dmbaker/iStock/Getty Images


When you exhale, different muscles squeeze the air out of your lungs. Your abs contract and squeeze your abdomen. Muscles in your ribs squeeze your rib cage. Your lats, the biggest muscle in your back, pull your shoulders down and squeeze air out of your chest.

A powerful exhale is just as important as a powerful inhale. It's important to squeeze as much air out of your lungs as quickly as possible to get fresh, oxygen-rich air in. To learn how to breathe more forcefully, practice blowing up a balloon. The added resistance will teach you how to use all of your extra exhaling muscles to help you push air out.

Breathing Rhythm

There is a rhythm to running that few other sports have. Your breathing pattern should match the rhythm of your run. The American Lung Association recommends breathing in for three steps and breathing out for two. Inhaling takes longer than exhaling because you have to put more effort into pulling air in your lungs. There are more powerful muscles helping you exhale, so you can spend less time on it.

The three-to-two pattern also means that you won't be inhaling and exhaling on the same leg each breath. If you inhale on the left foot every time and exhale on the right foot, it can make you more prone to overuse injuries. To stay balanced, you have to alternate feet constantly.

If you are running very quickly, you can even shorten this rhythm to two steps inhaling and one step exhaling. That way you can keep doing a larger inhale, keep alternating the foot you breathe on and breathe more quickly.

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