How to breathe while running: Best practices for new runners

For most of us, breathing isn’t something we necessarily think a lot about. We enter the world, start doing it, and ask no further questions. But, when it comes to running. knowing how to breathe properly and efficiently is really important.

If you’re a new or inexperienced runner, you’ve probably realised that breathing while running is quite challenging. You might experience breathlessness, tight lungs or keep getting a stitches. Don’t worry. Struggling to breathe while running is completely normal, and your body is just getting acclimatised. With our advice and guidance, you’ll find that running and breathing all falls into place.

Why do new runners struggle with breathing?

We all know our bodies need oxygen to survive. When we breathe deeply, oxygen reaches deep into the lungs, where it can then be passed into the bloodstream. And, when our blood is full of oxygen, it gets to the muscles and creates energy – the key to effective running.

So, why do new runners struggle with breathing? Simply put, their bodies are trying to keep up with the demands of running. When we run, our carbon dioxide levels increase, triggering us to breathe more heavily. This means we need these precious deep breaths of oxygen to spur us on and give us the energy to keep going.

When runners become used to running and start running longer and further, breathing while running becomes natural. Their bodies get accustomed to the increased carbon dioxide levels and they find a regular breathing pattern. 

What to aim for

When you start running, don’t aim to take as many breaths as possible. If you do, it will become “shallow” breathing, which only comes from the top of the lungs. With shallow breathing, you won’t get the oxygen levels you need, and you might get shoulder pain or a stitch.

Every runner should aim for deep, even breathing that comes from within the diaphragm. The best breathing when running is steady, deep and rhythmic. It should feel natural (even if it isn’t) and your body should feel in tune with your breath, making everything work together to create a great, euphoric, effective run. 

7 Tips for how to breathe while running

So, how do you achieve the right breathing while running? Here are our top tips.

1. Breathe through your nose and mouth

While certain exercises like yoga focus on breathing through the nose alone, runners need to get as much oxygen as possible. The nose simply won’t do that. So, focus on inhaling and exhaling through both your nose and mouth. Bring water with you to avoid your mouth getting dry.

2. Use the walk-run method

New runners often struggle with breathing because they start too fast. Their body isn’t used to the increased carbon dioxide levels and they become breathless and tired. It’s important to start slowly so your body can build endurance. Try using the walk-run method; running for a short period of time and then taking a walk break (and repeat). 

3. Breathe from the diaphragm

New runners often struggle to get deep belly breaths – because it doesn’t feel natural. But it’s important to ensure you’re getting the oxygen levels you need. Focus on breathing from deep within, picturing your stomach filling with air and expanding. Singers have an advantage here as the same technique is needed to project and control your voice.

4. Run with a friend

Running with a friend is one of the best ways to work on your breathing. If you can run and have a conversation comfortably, then you’re going at the right pace and won’t find yourself constantly struggling for breath. Talking on the phone works, too.

5. Use the 2:2 method

The 2:2 method is a way to develop a breathing rhythm while running. The idea is that you inhale for two foot strikes and then exhale for two. It’s a great method for beginners because it encourages you to hold your breath for longer than what might feel natural and match your breath to your pace.

6. Warm up

If we exercise without warming up, our breathing goes from relaxed to intense in a matter of seconds. This means that the body struggles to keep up. All runners should do a warm up before they get going – and we’re not just talking stretches. Your running warm up should elevate the heart-rate and amp up your breathing so your lungs are ready.

7. Run outdoors

While the treadmill is a great place to get those steps in, you might find that breathing is more challenging when you’re inside. Gyms tend to be stuffy and use air conditioning to regulate the temperature. Fresh air is the best medicine for the lungs, so try getting outdoors as much as possible when you’re starting out. You’ll feel the difference!

How to boost your breathing when you aren’t running

While the best way to breathe while running is to go out and do it, you can also work on your breathing when you aren’t running. Cold water swimming, for example, is a great exercise that focuses on the lungs and builds the respiratory system. Yoga is also great for focusing on the breath and connecting to the body.

But you don’t always need to raise your heart rate to work on your breathing. You can also try less physically intense activities like meditation, which helps as it encourages you to focus on deep belly breathing. Pelvic floor exercises are also useful as the pelvic floor actually works with the diaphragm when we breathe, creating and regulating pressure.

Breathing when you start running can feel like a huge challenge. But you’ll get used to it. And why not give yourself something to work for and sign up for one of our many 5K races?

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Briony is a writer currently living in London. While she spends a lot of time hunched over a desk trying to craft sentences, her other passion is running. She enjoys setting her own goals and is currently training for her second half marathon.

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