How to Breathe When Running

By: Jill Becker
Person embracing healthy outdoor lifestyle.
Breathe deeply and you'll go far.

Breathe through your ears. That's what legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard once answered when asked how runners should breathe. "Breathe through your mouth. Breathe through your nose. Suck the air in through your ears if you can," he said.

There are a lot of opinions about whether you should breathe through your nose or through your mouth when running, but most experts fall in line with Lydiard's thinking that it should be a combination of the two. The reason? Simply put, your body runs on oxygen, and the more oxygen you can give it, the better it will function.


Dr. Denis Boucher, who manages an exercise physiology lab in Quebec, explains,

Breathing is a response to running intensity. If you are out of breath it's because you are running in the severe intensity zone. When you reach the severe intensity level, blood lactate builds up in your body and you must breathe much faster to eliminate carbon dioxide. At this level, running will lead to exhaustion.

With practice, you can maintain a breathing pattern that lets you take in a maximum amount of oxygen and exhale all of your carbon dioxide. You'll be able to run longer and faster and enjoy the experience.

Read on to learn how you can develop proper breathing technique.


Importance of Proper Breathing for Runners

runner man resting
They don't call it "taking a breather" for nothing.

You've probably heard a well-meaning coach or spectator say, "Don't forget to breathe!" When performing any sort of physical activity, quality air exchange is vital. But it's not as simple as it sounds. For most sports there's a right way and a wrong way. Here are the basic components of proper breathing technique when running.

  1. Breathe in and out through your mouth and nose.
  2. Keep your lips parted and let your jaw drop open slightly. You may hear this referred to as the dead fish expression.
  3. Make sure your facial muscles are completely relaxed. If they're tense, it's harder for oxygen to get into the cells.
  4. Breathe from your diaphragm, not your chest. This is called belly breathing, which we'll explain in more detail in the next section.
  5. Establish a pattern between your steps and your breathing. For instance, you may naturally breathe in for two steps and out for two steps. Whatever your rhythm is, keep it steady and use it to regulate your breathing.
  6. Some runners find that repeating a chant or cadence provides a rhythm for their breathing and helps them control it. Others say it also takes their minds off breathing, so it becomes a more natural process.
  7. Slow down, or even walk for a bit if you're breathing too hard. If you're able to talk in full sentences without gulping for air, then you're going at a comfortable pace.

Following the steps above will not only improve your performance, but will put less stress on your body and reduce your risk of injury.


Read on to learn how to perfect belly breathing.


Belly Breathing

Belly breathing -- also called diaphragm breathing -- is widely preferred by runners over regular chest breathing because it allows them to completely fill their lungs. It also means they're exhaling more carbon dioxide and breathing in more oxygen.

When you breathe normally, the lungs expand on the inhale and compress on the exhale. With belly breathing, you use your diaphragm to help push as much air out of the lungs as possible, allowing more fresh air to come in.


If done right, you should see and feel your stomach moving in and out. You can practice belly breathing by lying on your back with a book on your stomach. As you exhale, pull your belly in toward your spine, helping to empty your lungs of as much air as possible. Imagine yawning as you inhale -- it will help you completely fill the lungs with oxygen. The book on your stomach should rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation, while your chest will stay relatively still.

Another deep breathing exercise can be done in a standing position with your arms at your sides. As you inhale, slowly raise your arms until they're at shoulder height. This helps your rib cage move out and up, making space for the lungs to expand. As you exhale, slowly lower your arms back down.

Once you understand how to belly breathe you can begin incorporating it into your running. Keep in mind that it may not feel natural at first, but it will eventually become routine.

Visit the next page for lots more information about running and breathing.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Boucher, Dr. Denis. Personal correspondence. Sept. 3, 2010.
  • Coach and Athletic Director. "Coaches' Corner." Sept. 1, 2001. (Sept. 7, 2010)
  • "Breathing Your Way to Good Health." (Sept. 7, 2010)
  • Higdon, Hal. "Learn To Breathe Properly On A Run." Aug. 28, 2001. (Sept. 7, 2010),7120,s6-380-381-386-245-0,00.html
  • "Belly Breathing." (Sept. 6, 2010)
  • Iocchelli, Mark. "How To Breathe When Running." May 27, 2009. (Sept. 7, 2010)
  • Johnson, J. "Side Stitches: Cause and Cure." Women in Sports. 1996. (Sept. 8, 2010)
  • "Breathing Techniques while Running." (Sept. 5, 2010)
  • Merchant, Mark. Personal correspondence. Sept. 7, 2010.
  • Paul, Susan. Personal correspondence. Sept. 3, 2010.
  • "Running, Racing, & Injury Prevention Tips." (Sept. 7, 2010)
  • "Breathing Techniques While Running." (Sept. 6, 2010)
  • Solkin, Mindy. "Every Breath You Take." (Sept. 5, 2010)
  • "Breathing Exercises for Running." (Sept. 6, 2010)
  • "Cadence Breathing." (Sept. 7, 2010)