As a long-distance runner, you strive to be economical in your movements, from arm swing to stride rate and length. You also gain economy and control via breathing. Breathing efficiently brings in more oxygen for your body to use each minute. Taking deep breaths rather than quick breaths is the key to an effective breathing technique.
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Use abdominal, or belly, breathing because it is the most efficient way to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. Let your stomach expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale. Take large, complete breaths and exhale fully. Also maintain correct head and chest posture because this allows for breaths to be more complete.
If you are running a distance longer than 10k, or 6.3 miles, use a two-to-two breathing rhythm in which you breathe in for two steps and then out for two steps for most of the whole distance, recommends Brian Mackenzie, performance coach and assessor with UK Athletics, the United Kingdom's national governing body for track and field. When you use this breathing rhythm, you breathe slowly enough to gain a good depth of breathing. Most elite athletes either use a two-to-two rhythm or a three-to-three rhythm, so experiment to see which works best for you. In a race, you may shift to a two-to-one rhythm in the last couple of minutes as you sprint to the finish.
Don’t worry if you don’t like to count your breathing in seconds or in terms of strides. The most important factor to remember is to keep your breathing deep and regular. Practice belly breathing when you are not running and also when you are running at a slow pace so that it becomes automatic, recommends Earl W. Fee in “The Complete Guide to Running.” While you want to maintain control of your breathing, it needs to feel natural instead of forced, advise “Ultimate Training” authors Gary Null and Howard Robins.
As you tire, concentrate on getting as much carbon dioxide out of your body as you can. Exhale with a huff via your mouth, similar to blowing out a candle. Also, use your breathing rhythm to control how hard you are working. While many guides recommend breathing in via your nose, most runners are mouth breathers or combination nose-and-mouth breathers because it’s impossible to take in enough oxygen breathing solely via your nose, says Stephen M. Pribut, American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine executive board director in the 2002 article, “Running Style.”
The area you run in will affect your breathing. Choose parks and areas with foliage over polluted urban environments. In just 30 minutes, running in a polluted environment with lots of automobile traffic can cause the same damage that a half-pack of cigarettes does in terms of carbon monoxide and other pollutants entering your body, Null and Robins say. Run during the daytime when oxygen levels are higher.