Stride length, foot strike, leg strength and arm swing are important aspects of strong running. One element that's often missing from run training, though, is breathing technique. Adopting an efficient breath while running can help you go faster and longer. Improper breathing can lead to painful cramps and side stitches. Breath training occurs both on the trail and in the gym.
The Significance of the Breath
Strong muscles and a powerful heart will help you run more efficiently, but you also need an accomplished respiratory system. Proper breathing helps you get more oxygen to working muscles. As your respiratory system becomes taxed during high-intensity activity, your body takes blood and oxygen away from working muscles, the American Council on Exercise explains. If you strengthen your breathing muscles, it leaves more oxygen and blood to support your other systems and hence lessens fatigue.
Short, choppy chest breathing encourages hyperventilation during intense exertion. Many runners fail to breathe fully and completely. When the breath concentrates just in the chest, it doesn't penetrate all the air sacs in the lungs or fully engage the diaphragm, the primary breathing muscle. Deep, full breaths help you take in more air and thus deliver more oxygen to working muscles. Deep breathing also keeps the ligaments that support the diaphragm free and limber, which also can relieve -- or prevent -- side cramps. As you run, breathe deeply into your belly, explains running coach Mindy Solkin in "Runner's World." Put your hand onto your abdomen, and feel it fill and deflate like a balloon. This indicates you're using your diaphragm, rather than just your upper chest, to inhale and exhale. Pilates and yoga can help you to hone your breath for greater running efficiency.
Proper running posture elicits better breathing. If you slouch, you compress your breathing muscles and can't take in full and complete breaths. Stand tall when you run and focus on keeping your shoulders over your hips. Avoid hunching over, even when climbing a hill. Core exercises, including planks and anti-rotation movements, can help build up your abdominal and lower back muscles so you can maintain good posture for long miles.
Find a Pattern
Erratic breathing fatigues you faster. Establish a rhythmic breathing pattern while running -- typically one breath for every two strides. This pattern can exacerbate side stitches because you'll always exhale in conjunction with one leg -- oftentimes the right side. Exhalation pushes the diaphragm up, but as you strike the ground with your right foot, the organs on this side drop down, which potentially causes cramping. If you think this could be a problem for you, train your body to exhale as the left foot hits the ground.
Alternatively, adopt a pattern of breathing advocated by running coach and Olympic trials competitor Budd Coates. He suggests training your body to inhale for three foot strikes and exhale for two to vary the impact forces on your body. When you run at a fast pace, shorten the ratio to 2 to 1. Some coaches advocate you reverse the pattern and breathe in for two steps and exhale for three. Ultimately, you have to find the pattern that works for you.
Nose Versus Mouth
Breathing through your nose is a strategy used by ultra-runner Scott Jurek to calm his heart rate and mind. But breathing through your mouth means you can take in more air with each breath and thus deliver more oxygen to working muscles, contends respiratory physiologist Alison McConnell in a 2013 issue of "The Guardian." For faster runs and races, a combination of mouth and nasal breathing provides the most efficient airflow into your body.