How To Breathe When Running

One of the difficulties that people have with their running, whether they’re beginners or experienced runners, is that they struggle with their breathing.

That’s why a lot of people worry about whether they’re breathing correctly and how they should best control their breathing.

After all, surely they’re doing something wrong if they’re breathing so hard?

Well there is some advice out there about breathing when running such as coordinating your breathing with your stride pattern. For example…

  • During an easy run you could inhale for three steps and exhale for two steps which gives a 3:2 ratio
  • For a faster and harder run you could inhale for two steps and exhale for one step which gives a 2:1 ratio

The reason given for inhaling more steps than you exhale is because inhalation should be relaxed and deeper whereas exhalation should be a bit shorter and more forceful.

However, should you be breathing like this when you run?

My advice would be NO. I recommend that you forget all about trying to use a breathing pattern when you run because you just don’t need one.

Now I’ve been a very keen follower of athletics for many years, I’ve raced at a good level, I’ve trained with international athletes, and I’ve taken coaching qualifications…

But guess what?

I have NEVER seen or heard of anyone with good running ability using any kind of breathing pattern when running.

So if international athletes and people winning medals at major championships aren’t using a breathing pattern then why should you, me, or anyone else worry about using a breathing pattern?

For one thing, I don’t believe that breathing patterns work because even if they made just a 1% difference to running performance then there would be lots of scientific studies carried out and everyone would be using them.

All the top, professional athletes would follow a strict breathing pattern and it would be a well known part of running performance. But this isn’t the case.

So rather than using a breathing pattern and forcing yourself to breathe uncomfortably, I recommend just breathing naturally.

Your body knows instinctively when it needs to breathe and how easy or hard it needs to breathe so let your body do its job.

Just breathe naturally, don’t bother using breathing patterns.

All you really need to do is this…

  • Allow your breathing to flow and be relaxed
  • Avoid what some people do where they actually forget to breathe and keep holding their breath for short periods of time
  • Keep an upright posture where you allow yourself to breathe freely, rather than being bent over or looking down to the floor

Also remember that it’s perfectly normal to breathe heavily when you run, especially if you’re a beginner, or if you’re doing a run where you’re challenging yourself. It’s all part of improving your fitness and running ability.

I do runs all the time where I’m struggling to breathe and can hardly breathe at the end. This isn’t because I’m doing something wrong with my breathing, it’s just that I’m pushing my body.

So let’s keep it simple.

There’s no need to follow a breathing pattern by counting your steps and how often you breathe in and out. There’s no need to take the joy out of running.

Just breathe naturally and enjoy your running.

What about you?

Do you have trouble with your breathing when you run?

What are you going to do differently based on what I’ve talked about here?

Feel free to share your comments and experiences below.


Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
This entry was posted in Running and tagged , ,

9 Responses to How To Breathe When Running

  1. Cyndi says:

    I smoked for many years and quit almost a year and a half ago and my breathing has improved over the past year or so but I do still have trouble breathing while running. At times I try to really concentrate on my breathing but then it makes me feel anxious and actually makes my breathing worse so I’m going to take your advice and just run and my body will breathe as it needs to. Thank you.

    • James says:

      That sounds good to me Cyndi. I hope that you feel a difference by breathing more naturally.

      Also well done with giving up smoking for so long. No smoking and starting running means a great improvement to your health.

  2. ruth says:

    I always tried a pattern of breathing. And it seems to be a chore. I’m gonna try being free when I breath. Going running right now.

  3. ian says:

    I must admit I find it easier to use a simple breathing pattern which is 2:2 that is In-In Out-Out coordinated with the stride. I used to have difficulty with breathing but when I switched to this pattern I found it much easier. It could also be because I’m 52 and only started running in 2010 so still getting the hang of it!

    • James says:

      Whatever works best for you is good Ian. You should find though that your breathing pattern alters depending on how hard you’re running.

      For example, with an easy run you should have nice, relaxed breathing. However, with a tough run your breathing rate should be quicker as your body tries to breathe in the extra oxygen that it needs.

  4. Stephanie McKee says:

    Should I breathe through my mouth or my nose when I run? I find it very difficult to breathe through my nose. As I become a more experienced runner, will I find breathing easier?

    • James says:

      I believe that it’s best to breathe through your mouth because you can breathe more oxygen in which makes running easier.

      Your breathing will become more efficient the fitter you become. However, whenever you challenge your body you’ll always find it difficult to breathe no matter what your running experience or level of fitness.

  5. NEWBIE says:

    I’m a new runner and have just signed up for a half marathon in September. I’m running 3 miles, 3 or 4 times a week and in April, intend to follow a stricter training plan to take me up to 13 miles. I’m really struggling with my breathing at the moment and it’s very demotivating because the heavy breathing tires me out and I feel a bit of a failure. I’ll try not to think about it and hope that helps! I’m also carrying excess weight so am in a catch 22 situation, the breathing won’t get better until I lose some weight and I need to go through the pain to lose the weight!!! Wish me luck

    • elaine says:

      Newbie, lots of luck to you girl. Running a marathon has been one of my goals. I know that running a marathon can be challenging. Train hard, believe, and have faith in yourself. Good luck to you!!