How to Improve Lung Capacity for Running

Improving your lung capacity can increase the distance and speed you are able to run. Lung training for running may include aerobic exercise, breathing exercises and stretches to improve posture. High-altitude training and the use of hypoxic training masks are other tactics.

When considering the best way to condition your body for running, evaluate your current performance and challenges.
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When considering the best way to condition your body for running, evaluate your current performance and challenges. If you need to improve your lung capacity and endurance consider lung capacity exercises, such as belly breathing and rhythmic breathing timed with your stride.

Include Aerobic Exercise

Your regular running workouts are one great way to start building your lung capacity for running. Exercise cannot improve your lung function but can help to increase lung capacity, advises Harvard Health Publishing.

As your muscles work with each stride, they demand more oxygen to generate the required energy. As a result, your breathing rate increases so that your lungs can bring the necessary oxygen into the bloodstream. During exercise, your respiration rate increases to 40 to 60 breaths per minute, notes the National Institutes of Health.

Aerobic exercise increases your breathing rate and strengthens your lungs and diaphragm, notes the American Heart Association. This is similar to the way that your muscles get stronger when you lift weights.

Your diaphragm is the primary muscle used in breathing and is located between your abdomen and your lungs. The diaphragm contracts when you inhale, creating space for your lungs to expand and relax upon exhalation.

Read more: The Effects of Exercise on Lung Capacity

Use Proper Running Posture

When you learn to run, it is important to develop good habits and proper form. Good running posture will help you avoid running injuries and improve your breathing. Be sure to start training slowly and gradually increase the length and intensity of your runs over time to allow your body and lungs to adapt to the new exercise.

Keep the hands and shoulders relaxed and your back straight when you run. You will want to lean forward slightly, but this does not mean rounding your back or shoulders. Poor posture in your torso will compress your rib cage and prevent your diaphragm from fully contracting, notes the American Council on Exercise. It can also inhibit the proper movement of the other muscles that contribute to breathing, including the intercostal muscles between your ribs, abdominal muscles and the muscles in your face, mouth, neck and collarbone area.

When you run, try practicing rhythmic breathing, recommends the American Lung Association. Rhythmic breathing synchronizes your breath with your running stride. This can help improve your stamina and prevent side stitches and injuries. To practice this technique, inhale for three strides and exhale for two strides. If this makes the breath too long, try inhaling for two strides and exhaling for one.

Practice Lung Capacity Exercises

Practicing breathing exercises when you aren't running can further help your lung capacity and teach you to use your diaphragm more efficiently. In addition, it will help expel stale air from your lungs. For best results, practice breathing exercises for five to 10 minutes each day, advises the American Lung Association.

Move 1: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Start by practicing belly, or diaphragmatic breathing.

  1. Begin in a seated or reclined position.
  2. Place your hands on your belly so that you can feel your abdomen move with the breath.
  3. Breathe in deeply through your nose. On the inhale, your abdomen should expand as you take a full breath.
  4. Exhale through pursed lips. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed throughout the exercise.

Move 2: Pursed Lip Breathing

Pursed lip breathing is another technique you can practice to improve your breathing. As with belly breathing, keep your neck and shoulders relaxed for best results.

  1. Begin in a seated position.
  2. Breathe in slowly through your nose.
  3. Purse your lips and exhale slowly until you cannot expel any additional air. Your exhale should be longer than your inhale.

Move 3: Head-to-Hand Neck Release Stretch

It can also be helpful to stretch out the muscles involved in breathing. This can help improve posture and release tightness that may be preventing you from inhaling fully. For example, head-to-hand neck release stretch can help relax the shoulders for breathing exercises.

  1. Begin in a seated position
  2. Bring your right ear toward your right shoulder and extend the left arm to shoulder height with your thumb pointed upward.
  3. Use your right hand to deepen the stretch and pull your right shoulder blade towards your spine.
  4. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Read more: Benefits of Deep Breathing

High-Altitude Training

If you don't live and exercise at an elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level or greater, exercising at high altitude can bring a new challenge to your workouts and be good lung training for running. Although the air at high altitude has the same amount of oxygen, the elevation causes a decrease in barometric pressure. As a result, less oxygen moves into the bloodstream. Training in these conditions helps your body to adapt and increase your VO2 max, a measurement of the greatest amount of oxygen your body is capable of using during exercise, notes the American Council on Exercise.

Full acclimation to high altitude takes approximately two weeks. As you adjust to the change in elevation, you may experience symptoms of altitude sickness, which may include nausea, dizziness, headache, fatigue and an elevated heart rate.

If you are unable to travel to a location where you can train in high altitude, a hypoxic training mask may help you gain some of the same benefits. The mask restricts airflow in an effort to mimic the conditions at high altitude and causing your lungs to work harder to breathe, notes the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Support Lung Health

While improving lung capacity is important to improve your efficiency as a runner, it is also important to preserve your lung function by supporting lung health. If you smoke, do what it takes to quit. Exposure to smoke causes irreparable damage to your lung tissue and increases your risk of developing COPD and lung cancer.

Secondhand smoke, pollution and chemicals can also cause damage to your lungs. Monitor outdoor pollution in your area and avoid outdoor exercise on high pollution days.

If you're concerned about lung capacity, take care to prevent infections such as pneumonia, which may affect your lungs. Get a flu shot each year, as the flu can develop into pneumonia if your body is unable to fight the infection. Depending on your health, your doctor may also recommend a pneumonia vaccine. During cold and flu season avoid crowds and always practice good hygiene, including handwashing.

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