Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Your Running Breathing Technique
A quick Google search or forum skim will throw up hundreds of questions from runners who are worried about their running breathing in some way or another. Lots of runners (new and old) seem to think that controlling your breathing is the quickest way to aerobic success and that by somehow forcing their lungs into a rhythmic and structured pattern inhales and exhales will help them conquer longer distances at a faster pace.
Most articles on this matter dictate that you should try to co-inside your breathing with your foot strikes, and then over time increase the amount of foot strikes that you make before switching from inhale to exhale and vice-versa. Before you go rushing out of the door and look like an absolute idiot whilst you try this rubbish breathing technique advice, I am going to tell you why you shouldn’t be focusing on your breathing, and should instead be focusing on your actual training!
If you are struggling for air during a run it is due to one of four simple reasons:
1) You are running too fast
2) You are panicking
3) You have a respiratory problem such as asthma
Running is all about pace. The reason that top 10k elite runners don’t run sub 50seconds laps of a track when they are racing is because if they were to run at this speed they would quickly reach the limit of their aerobic capacity and would tire before they were even 10% of the way through the race.
The same principle applies to road running. If you are used to playing sorts such as football, rugby or basket-ball then you will be used to lots of quick and short dashes around a pitch or court. This kind of exercise gives your body time to recover after each sprint or dash and therefore you are able to make another quick sprint within a few minutes. If you are used to playing these sports then you will be used to running at your top speed and so will probably try to run at this speed when you start your long distance training. You may feel great for the first 100m or even the first 500m, but soon you will start to really be gasping for air as your body cannot take in enough oxygen to sustain aerobic functioning and your breathing routine will completely fall apart.
The first trick to breathing is to slow everything down and to find your correct pace. Start each training session at a slow jog and resist the urge to speed up for ten minutes or so. This 10minute warm up window allows your body to adapt to your exercise and after a period of intermittent gasping you should start to feel both your heart rate and breathing slowing. If you find yourself running out of air within this ten minutes then you are running too fast so slow your pace, even if your feel that a fast walk would be quicker than your jogging.
Panicking is something that not many runners will recognize as a problem, or will even realize is a cause of their intermittent and inefficient breathing or a poor breathing technique. There can be many reasons for panicking during a run such as the following:
- Worrying about what other runners/general public might thing of you when you are jogging.
- Worry about not being able to finish a training session
- Worrying about your general fitness
Any of these above reasons or anything that increases stress levels can result in an elevated heart rate, which will put additional pressure on your lungs. Instead of taking regular deep breaths you may start taking short and shallow breaths, which with starve your muscles and circulatory system of much needed oxygen.
Reducing the potential for stress is a must before any run and staying calm during a training session will do wonders for your breathing technique.
Smoking and Respiratory Problems
Another factor that can prevent your lungs from operating efficiently is smoking. If you have been a regular smoker for a long time then your lungs are not going to be in an optimum condition for jogging as they will be full of alveoli restricting tar. The good news is that it is possible to clear some of this tar from your lungs if you give up smoking completely and so a running career that may start out as a struggle will improve with time as your lungs begin to clear.
Runners with Asthma or other respiratory problems such as Hay fever can also find breathing a real problem. This article is not qualified to offer any kind of medical advice but I have seen runners with Asthma and hay fever be prescribed steroid inhalers to help open up their airways and so a doctor or medical professional should be your first port of call if you are worried that you have a medical condition that is preventing your lungs or airways from operating properly.
No-one can expect to run with perfect breathing from the moment they embark upon their first running training session. Breathing is something that improves over time and does so in-line with your fitness. While you may start out running a few hundred meters whilst gasping for breath, within a few weeks you will be increasing your distances and speeds, whilst finding a natural inhale/exhale rhythm.
Concentrate on finding and sticking to a pace where you can breath comfortably and then each week try to add a little more distance to each of your training sessions. As your distance improves so will your fitness and before you know it you will have developed a breathing rhythm that is both bespoke to you and efficient for your level of running. Don’t worry if you feel like you are inhaling or exhaling more rapidly or deeper than other joggers around you as everyone is different.