A Better Way to Breathe While You Run?

I’ve started running again. I did a lot of running last year, but when the cold weather really hit in November my enthusiasm waned. It waned hard. But I’m back at it.

I learned a useful breathing trick last year that’s helping me again. I forget where I read it (wait – found it) but it’s about how you time your breaths with your steps.

It’s based on the idea that you hit the ground hardest when you exhale.

Think about how you breathe when you run. Chances are, you breathe in for the same number of steps as you breathe out. For example, you might inhale for two strides, then exhale for two strides. I’ve put that into chart-form below. (I was an engineering student.)

Count 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
Step left right left right left right left right
Breath in out in out

Seems reasonable. But you’re not being fair to your left foot. You’re always landing on it when you start breathing out. If you land hardest when you start to exhale, then breathing like this gives your left side a beating.

Well, it may not be a “beating.” It does have a harder job though, and theoretically it might lead to an injury.

What I learned was to balance things out more, by breathing in and out during different numbers of steps. For example, when I run, I usually breathe in for three steps and out for two.

It’s important that one of the numbers is odd and the other even. This changes the pattern so that your left and right feet share the “exhale shock.” Here’s another chart.

Count 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
Step left right left right left right left right left right
Breath in out in out

Now your feet are taking turns. The first couple times you try it you might have to count off your steps, but you get used to it.

(Remember that you’re not just breathing on “1”. You breathe in continuously for “1-2-3” and then out continuously for “4-5”. Make sense?)

Personally, I think it helps regulate your breathing, and if it helps prevent an injury that’s cool too.

I’ve discovered an interesting drawback though. It makes it harder to run while listening to music. Because most music has a steady, even number of beats in each bar, this breathing pattern doesn’t match it very well. The downbeat doesn’t consistently match up with starting a new inhale or exhale.

This isn’t a big deal for me, but it might be for some people. What do you think?

The Runner’s World website has an article that explains this more (including a video): Running On Air: Breathing Technique. If you’re a runner, check it out!

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