How Should You Breathe When You Run? A Remarkably Effective Approach to Easier Breathing
The mental image is of a hurricane: immensely powerful winds moving at tremendously high speeds, but at the center of it all — in the eye — peace and stillness.
It’s an appealing ideal for how you should run — the winds, of course, being your limbs; the eye, your lungs and heart.
And it’s for real. Since I’ve started running this way, breathing this way, I’ve gotten my share of funny looks from the people out for a stroll in the opposite direction whom I pass. I’m moving along at a decent pace — okay, maybe more like a breeze than a hurricane — but the visible and audible signs of stress are none.
No huffing and puffing, no familiar “runner’s mask,” where the mouth hangs slightly open to help the nose take in air. Instead, a calm, closed-mouth smile and an unlabored “Hi there.”
Whereas I used to take a full 30 breaths per minute (in for three steps, out for three steps, at 180 steps per minute), I’ve slashed that number in half, often dipping down to only 12 breaths each minute (five seconds per) on flat or downhill stretches. And with these longer, deeper breaths comes a drastically slower heart rate — hovering around 125, when at a similar pace in the past, the slightest hill, headwind, or even an upbeat song on the iPod would push me over my target rate of 140.
Changing my breathing has changed how I run. The biggest key: training myself to breathe entirely through my nose, instead of my mouth.
In search of the Zone
I became interested in breathing technique when I read Scott Jurek’s book, Eat & Run. There, he writes just enough about breathing through your nose and breathing abdominally to pique one’s interest, and notes that he learned to breathe this way from a relatively obscure book called Body, Mind, and Sport.
As soon as I was done with Eat & Run, I ordered my copy of Body, Mind, and Sport. (Paperback, since no ebook exists.)
It’s a unique and interesting book. The explicit goal of author John Douillard’s methods is to maximize the amount of time during each workout that you spend in “the Zone”– that often talked-about, Zen-like state where everything just flows, where athletes perform at the very top of their game, without conscious effort or exertion.
And although that distinguishes the book from so many others whose goal is simply improved performance, Douillard believes that finding the Zone in training eventually begets optimal performance in competition.
Note: Before you go and buy Body, Mind, and Sport, make sure it’s for you. The first two-thirds of the book are about determining which of three Ayurvedic types you are, then using that information to tweak everything from your nutrition to what time of day to exercise, to which sports to do in which season. It’s 150 pages before you get to the breathing part.
What other running coaches say about breathing
For as integral to running (and almost all sports) as breathing is, the topic is oddly ignored among runners. Ask a runner, even a good one, how he or she breathes, and you’ll likely get a shrug, or maybe, “I don’t really think about it; I just do what comes naturally.”
For fun, I checked out some of the running books on my shelf to see what they said about breathing — which, if anything, must have been so briefly mentioned that I had forgotten it. Here’s what I found:
- In Daniels’ Running Formula, Jack Daniels suggests a 2-2 rhythm — in for two steps, out for two steps (45 breaths per minutes) and says most elite runners breathe this way. Interestingly, he says that something like 4-4 would require such deep breaths as to become inefficient.
- The Chi Running approach (in Chi Marathon anyway; I actually don’t own the original Chi Running) is to breathe in through the nose for two steps and out through the mouth for three steps. For more intense paces, it’s in for one step and out for two. (Later, the reverse is suggested: in for two, out for one. I’m not sure if this is an error or if I’m misunderstanding something.)
- There’s no mention of breathing in Core Performance Endurance.
- Several books suggest using your breath rate as a way to regulate your pace. I independently “discovered” this about a month ago, though surely I had read it before and just forgotten about it. I like this technique and I’ll expand on it later.
You can see that, in comparison to the other common approaches, Body, Mind, and Sport is extreme. The 15 breaths-per-minute rate that Douillard suggests equates to a 6-6 pattern if you’re taking 180 steps per minute, and as I said earlier, I’ve found that I can comfortably slip into an even slower breath rate, about an 8-8 pattern (though I don’t always precisely line it up with steps and sometimes just let the breath flow independently of the feet).
This technique of slower breathing is fascinating to me. Slower breathing means a lower heart rate (about 10-15% lower, in my own experience), and this translates to lower perceived exertion (as shown in studies by Douillard which measure subjective exertion among athletes). It remains to be seen how well this works at higher speeds, but at this slow, aerobic pace like what I’d hope to maintain throughout a 100K ultramarathon, spending half as many breaths and 15 percent fewer heartbeats seems it can only be a good thing.
And if it’s good enough for Scott Jurek, well, it’s good enough for me.
If you’re interested in experimenting with it, here’s the exact process I followed to get the results I have.
3 steps to lowering your breath rate while you run
One thing to be aware of before you start: this shouldn’t be about forcing anything or running through shortness of breath — to do so would be dangerous. There will be times when changing your breathing is mildly uncomfortable, sure, but I’ve gotten to this point very gradually over the course of about six weeks without ever having felt like I was struggling to get enough air.
If you feel at any time you’re not getting enough air, slow down your pace, take more frequent breaths, open your mouth, or stop running until you regain your breath. Don’t do anything stupid.
Another note: I’ve done entirely easy runs during this time, in an effort to build an aerobic base and because the slow pace is more conducive to focusing on my breathing. Douillard suggests ways to train yourself to nose-breathe even during interval workouts, but for now, I’ve only tried this with easy runs.
1. Go out for an easy run, close your mouth and breathe through your nose in whatever pattern is comfortable.
Why the nose? Douillard argues that the mouth is meant for eating, the nose for breathing. While the mouth can deliver more air to the lungs at once, Douillard writes, it’s often so much oxygen that it builds up in the bloodstream when the body can’t exchange it for carbon dioxide fast enough. Associated with mouth breathing is also a highly stressful survival state, while the nose delivers a smoother stream of air that doesn’t trigger the survival response and more easily reaches the critical lower part of the lungs. (This is all new to me; explanation and arguments about these points are welcome in the comments.)
The first time you try breathing exclusively through your nose while you’re running, it’ll be tough. You’re not used to it, so the temptation will be to chalk this all up to hogwash and go back to mouth breathing. But stick with it on your easy runs for a few weeks, breathing out through your mouth only when you really need to, and you’ll find that your body adjusts and nasal breathing gradually becomes much easier. (This is also a good way to remind yourself just how easy an easy run is meant to be — rather than resorting to mouth breathing right away, just slow down to the point where nose breathing becomes comfortable.)
2. Once you’re comfortable with nasal breathing after several runs, start experimenting with different patterns — say, 3-3 or 4-4 at first.
Here’s where you’ll start to use your breath to regulate your pace. Settle into an easy running pace that’s comfortable for nose breathing, and notice how your breath lines up with your steps.
For example, when I first tried on an easy trail run, I found that breathing in for four steps, out for four steps (4-4) was comfortable. As I paid closer attention, I found that any uphill or increase in pace would make this breathing rate difficult, and I’d have to go to 3-3. At that point, I’d adjust my pace to return to 4-4.
Even if you went no further with breathing or didn’t care at all about lowering your breath rate, this technique could feasibly replace your heart monitor as a means of measuring biofeedback. It certainly feels more natural and meditative to pay attention to your breath than to have something strapped to your chest sending data to your watch.
3. Experiment with slower breath rates every few runs as your body adapts, until you reach a point where improvements are minimal.
If you determine that 4-4 is your comfortable rate, stick with that for a few runs and enjoy the act of being so in tune with your breath. Notice how slight changes to your pace, the terrain, or the temperature affect your breathing, and when you’re ready, try slowing the breath even more. Go to 5-5 for a few minutes, paying close attention to how it feels.
If you find that to be comfortable, you’re making progress, and 5-5 can become your new default. From there, you can repeat the process to gradually slow down your breath even more, and if you’re like me, you’ll find that you improve for several weeks as your body adjusts to this new type of breathing, and you eventually hit a point where further improvements are hard to come by.
A final word of caution: there’s a tendency to breathe extremely deeply whenever we focus on the breath. Be careful with this. I’ve read (in Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness) that one can damage the lungs by breathing too deeply before the body is conditioned to do so. And I actually found that at the end of a run on which I had breathed particularly deeply, I had a strange shortness of breath that didn’t feel right. So understand that while you’re breathing more slowly with this technique, it’s not necessarily deeper breathing, and it shouldn’t strain your lungs.
There’s a lot more to write about breathing as it relates to running, just from the little bit of research I’ve done on this topic that is mysteriously ignored by most authors. But for now, this is plenty, as it’s a major shift from what most of us do and if you actually have the patience to stick with this, I think you’ll notice the same dramatic results I have.
Douillard writes that even 5K runners and sprinters can learn to effectively breathe this way. And maybe this is true, but I expect that his approach to breathing will be of interest mainly to longer-distance runners, where there’s enough time during a run to relax, zone out, and enjoy the act of paying attention to your breath.
Even if fewer breaths, lower heart rate, and less perceived exertion didn’t translate into performance gains — and as far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out — it’s a worthwhile experiment for anyone interested in meditation, relaxation, and spending more time in the mysterious, elusive Zone.
I’m interested to know what others think about not just this technique, but the concept of breathing in general as it relates to running. Is there an approach you swear by? Do you know of other authors who have written at length about the topic? Let us know in the comments; I look forward to the discussion.
I completely agree. I find the more I’m in the zone, the fewer breaths I take each minute. Whether that actually means I’m running more efficiently, I can’t say. But it sure feels better.
For any NMA’s who are into yoga, ujjayi breathing is great practice for this.
Ujjayi breathing is what I practice during my long runs. Also, “shoulders down your back…” Yoga helps me so much in my running!
I completely agree: yoga is so great for running technique. It helps posture, alignment and, as I run barefoot, in getting the feet and toes activated. I am presently training for my first marathon and am very interested in trying the breathing through the nose thing. I think it’s also mentioned in ‘born to run’…
i try to breathe through my nose while running, I find it very difficult. Looks like my nose is blocked while I run, what to do?
I am not a quick runner but about 5 months ago I began doing high intensity exercise to build endurance because I had recently failed a 2.4k run. I was suppose to complete it in 15mins but I had recently caught what I had thought was just a could. turned out to be acute bronchitis. Problem was because of the infection in my throat I tried breathing through my mouth instead. Ended up hyperventilating and finishing more than a minute late and remained ill for two weeks later. I decided on HIT training but the winter seemed to making running or even jogging for more than a few minutes tough. My research took me to the Buteyko technique and I found this seminar http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbpZRZ0rVGI. I decided to try it even in HIT. Immediately I started seeing results. So I began insanity workouts and used the breathing through the nose idea even when the workout were very intense. Tried running again this week and found it easier and breathing through the nose prevents the breathlessness. The best part is I no longer get cold when running or any problem with my throat during HIT outdoors
The more you breathe thru your nose 24/7 the less your nose will block…In fact you will never catch colds, flu or block your nose…Watch Buteyko breathing vids on youtube by the founder Arturo….
Hi Malini, I suffer with a rhinitis allergy, so my nose blocks really easily and quickly while running. My solution is to use a nasal dialator. It really works. and increases your oxygen intake by as much as 38%.
I picked up a Brand called “mu:te” I highly recommend! Happy running – David:)
I, too, have never gotten a good answer from other people about breathing while running, just the usual “do what comes naturally.” I’ve always had a problem breathing through my nose, possibly because I broke it in the distant past. Based on this post, though, I think I will give it another shot. Over time, I’ve found that a 3-2 breathing pattern works for me, and when I started doing an odd number of in/out breaths, I found that I no longer got side stitches. The idea of a longer breathing cycle in intriguing–I’m a flute player, so breathing is important and many people do it badly.
Ah this is fantastic to hear
I had my nose broken about 10 years ago playing field Hockey and since then my left nostril is pretty much useless – I think my main struggle with nose breathing has been that I have tried to breathe too deeply and thus as you said become short of breath and switched back to my mouth.
I am capable of nose breathing during yoga so I guess its just time to give it another try with running – Glad to have found this advice :o)
I finished Scott Jurek’s book recently, too, and one of the things I also took away was the breathing technique he uses. I have been trying to breathe through my nose on runs in the last few weeks, but have really struggled. Seasonal allergies in my area have been awful this summer, which makes for a congested nose. You mentioned in one of your comments that you used Breathe-Rite strips to help with that. How often/when did you use them? I’ve never tried them before.
I started running in March but did yoga for 8 years and another 4.5 of martial arts before that so I learned to breath in through nose and out through mouth. While running I kept to this as this is what I felt natural. At the beginning it’s a 4-4 rhythm (or more for breathing out), and I always know that I’m getting tired when it’s 2-3 or 2-2. 🙂 I’m very interested of the effects of breathing out through nose so I’ll try that tomorrow even though I have tempo training.
Matt, I also have a question: what kind of changes did you notice in your pace while learning to lower your breath rate?
I Have same interests as you.
I lived In Toronto Ontario. Ran the Toronto Marathon, Taught Self Defence Classes
Moved to Vancouver B.C. CANADA
Here their’s many places to Run, My Favourite is Stanley Park, in Vancouver.
With my running l’v learned to relax,Meditate,Control My Breathing and JUST HAVE FUN…. ….. ……????
Thank you for this! I must focus on my breathing while running if I want to have any success. As an asthmatic and an anxiety sufferer, I can’t simply ignore my breathing; yet, when I asked other runners what their breathing pattern is, they reply that they don’t know, because they don’t pay attention. I find this baffling. I have typically trained at a 3-in-2-out pattern, but lately, with the heat and humidity in Florida, I’ve gone to 3-3. (And I was lucky enough to read about breathing in my first running book, The Complete Book of Running for Women, by Claire Kowalchik.)
Hi lee, i am also asthmatic and a novas when it comes to running i just cant get my breathing right without panicking do you have any tips please.
Years ago I read a book called something like ‘The Buteyko Method’ which advocated nose breathing and breathing into your stomach as a way to control asthma. I have been doing this ever since, not always during running, but I do try to. The theory is that nose breathing means you end up with the correct CO2/O2 ratio. They also say that by using your nose, it tends not to get blocked. The book also had a series of exercises to help you nose breathe, and to show you the difference.
Great post, thanks Matt!
Matt – great article! How to breathe is a topic that most runners know very little about.
I was diagnosed with EIA (Exercise Induced Asthma) in 2011. In overly dusty and cold temps, my breathing is very labored. I do carry a rescue inhaler with me, just in case.
Through my research I found a technique that many runners know very little about. Warm up breathing pre-run/race.
PUSH all your air out of lungs and then breathe in. Do this several times before a run. Warm up the muscles around your lungs is a vital. We would never run without warming up our legs, why run without warming up the muscles around the lungs?
Why push out? Did you know that asthmatics inability to breath is not how much we do or do not take in, but how much we can push OUT? If you cannot push out air – you cannot take it in. Make sense?
When I am out of breath in a race, I start to PUSH air out of my lungs to take in more. My endurance improved greatly.
Just two weeks ago, I went to the Doctors and my oxygen levels have improved so much, they were astounded I did that without any daily steroids, etc.
Breathing also helps us relax. When the pain hits our body – BREATHE. Again, PUSH out and and then breathe in “RELAAAAAAX”
Take practice but it works.
Thanks again for the article
As a fellow EIA sufferer, I intend to try intentionally warming up my lungs. I’ve found that run warm-ups help me avoid an asthma attack, but did not think of it in terms of pushing out air. Thank you for posting!
You are welcome!
Charlene, thanks for mentioning this! While not an asthmatic, whenever short of breath it sounds like it would be much easier/efficient to concentrate on exhalation to gain breath control. I bet this would be very effective during hyperventilation since the person is usually too stressed to slow their inhalations.
Thanks for sharing Charlene! I am doing my best to get back in shape after 3 months of debilitating asthma that kept me out of work and everything else. I am happy to say that I’m getting back to trail running and focus on breathing is really critical for me. I’m surprised at how many athletes don’t seem to spend much time on this. Exhaling is the way that I relax my lungs when they spasm or are straining during exercise. The warm-up that you described is excellent preparation. Thank you to Matt for bringing this topic up for discussion!!
I am not asthmatic but I agree, when I am pushing myself on a run I find I have to slow down and “catch my breath” which has meant naturally I have been slowing down and finding my exhale. It has been to the point lately that I can’t go on running if I don’t give a big exhale. So interesting! Glad I found this blog.
I love this and found the breathing I use as a Spinning instructor worked quite well in running: the breath through the nose technique. Also, I’m curious about breathe-right strips. I saw a guy wear them in events. I love them to sleep but to run — not sure they would be comfortable for long runs. I wonder, too, though if the breath right strips would let ‘too much’ air in as explained above. That makes total sense.
Paperback, since no ebook exists.
Forgive me if I’m reading it incorrectly, but you say that like it’s a bad thing – one of the first post I read after discovering NMA was Get Motivated! 11 Ideas That Really Work and one of those ideas was Go to the bookstore. It wasn’t Read books, it was Go to the bookstore – the act of regularly taking the time to put yourself in an environment where new, exciting ideas and stories could find and inspire you. It was certainly an idea that resonated deeply with me.
Of course so much has changed for you over the last eighteen months that it isn’t surprising that what you found motivating then might not give you the same spark now. A number of your recent posts have shown you to be clearly motivated at the moment – perhaps that comes from the final item of the original list: Change everything
Tried today and this worked for me. I was able to run longer and not once did I hit my maximum heart rate, which I normally do. Thanks for the tip Matt!
As a yoga teacher, I love this post. Slow and controlled breathing has many benefits including, improved lung capacity, stress reduction, lower heart rate and blood pressure, etc. If you require more motivation to give this a try, there is a belief we are all born with a set number of breaths; once they are done, you are done, so why rush it?
I’m a boxing and martial art enthusiast. I found this article really helpful to assist me in my morning runs. This concept also has a profound impact in the way you strike in martial arts. The art of breathing determines your composure / reaction / response. It also dictates on how tired/ out of zone a person can get; especially if one is placed under stress to perform in any athletic / effort pursuit. Breath well people; your technique can improve considerably, when you have good control over breathing discipline.
I started doing 2:3 / 1:2 breathing patterns after reading about them in (I think) Claire Kowalchik’s book (which Lee mentioned). I find it is a good guide to zones/perceived effort. Another comment I remember from that is that uneven numbers mean that you are alternating which foot steps down on the initial exhale, which stops evens out that additional stress.
and by “stops evens out” I mean “evens out” 🙂
This would be very hard for me, but I am interested in trying it. The next easy run that I do I’m going to give it a shot.
Matt, you got me all excited when you referenced the Jack Daniels take on breathing. I thought 3:3 meant 3 sips of JD followed by 3 breaths 😉
Seriously though great thought provoking post. I am just about to hit the streets of San Francisco for an early run and will give this method a try.
I have just started running…actually I’d call it jogging right now because I’m in the infancy stages of building up my running and I’ve been reading and asking friends about the best way to breathe so this article is timely beyond words. I’ve heard about Scott’s book and it’s on my reading list. I’m also working on my stride but I guess breathing should be a priority and hopefully the stride will work itself out. Any specific suggestions for a beginner runner?
Awesome article – have been struggling with keeping a steady breathing rhythm since I started running. The in-for-2-out-for-3 method is what I’ve settled on, since I don’t get stitches when I get it right. Looking forward to trying this hurricane breathing.
It does seem hard, because it’s unfamiliar. It gets easier. As a psychologist I was using “paced breathing” as an anxiety reduction strategy years ago – it can be done seated or walking, so the pacing can be internal counting, or counting steps, just as in the technique described here. Of course, any activity can be approached this way (cycling, swimming, golf)…
This is a great article – I was intrigued by Scott Jurek’s comments about breathing through the nose as well … it is going to take practice! I think one important thing to be conscious of is where you send the breath – you can create space and ease in your lower back, belly, shoulders and chest by visualizing that you are sending the breath to those places. A relaxed run is a happy one in my opinion!
Great article, thanks Matt! I have definitely been applying breathing techniques I have learned through yoga and noticed a more efficient heart rhythm with my running – super useful on long runs…I have yet to read the book you mentioned, but it’s the next one on the list. It only makes sense that if you get your breathing deeper, more efficient and powerful, the heart will pump more effectively and thus you use less beats per minute to supply the same amount of blood (thus oxygen) to working muscles.
It’s very interesting and it gives me the motivation to try it tomorrow for my daily 5K. I think it’s a learning process very usefull also for other areas of life “taking the breath away”…
Thank you very much for the good article and the book suggestion.
I’ve been trying this technique for a while now. My biggest problem with it is that my nose runs profusely when I do this! I have to carry a hanky with me and constantly blow my nose, which drives me absolutely nuts. Anyone else have this problem?
Rachel – I have several coaching clients with this issue. Here is a link that might help you out
Thanks Charlene! Good to know I’m not alone 🙂
Great article in general. Just a few clarification as a certified Chi Running instructor and 2:42 marathoner.
1. Chi Running always dictates a 1 count longer exhale than inhale. So 4:3, 3:2, 2:1 depending on gear/pace. 1 count longer exhale so that you get any stale air out of the lungs.
2. Chi Running teaches nasal breathing is the best for the inhale because it relaxes the mind by creating a beta brain wavelength while slowing down heart rate and triggering mental clarity because of serotonin increases. The exhale is through pursed lips to engage the diaphragm to expel all air from the lungs in a controlled fashion.
3. There is a slight pause in between the end of the inhale and the beginning of the exhale. The entire breath is quiet, calm and mindful. Rhythmic as well with mantras if you’d like. ie Inhale Tall, Exhale Fall.
I agree that mouth breathing causes adrenaline, cortisol and stress flight or fight hormones. Mouth breathing is shorter and only hits the top of the lungs as you mentioned. But a circular breath through the nose and mouth is very good for most runners to help relax their bodies and keep their heart rates lower.
I have been experimenting with all-nasal breathing while running over the past few years and it is a great technique too. There is a time and place for the exhale through pursed “like blowing out birthday candles” lips too. It can help relax the face.
I`ve only been running approx 10yrs now. I`m currently 60yrs young. I trail run about 20-30 miles per wk. Here is what I have found that works for me. When starting out to run, I notice that I quickly begin to breath fast, so I run for about a half mile, then walk and control my breathing, then start to run again. Once I have my breathing under control I`m good for the entire time.
Thanks for this! I am a slow runner anyway, but was thinking on my run this morning that I needed a way to maintain a slower heart rate throughout, as I’d like to be able to run throughout my next pregnancy…and that is definitely a key component. Will start trying this tomorrow!
Hey, here is an unmentioned but apparently quite important point! google “does breathing through your nose increase nitric oxide in the body?”
The answer seems to be: YES.
Interestingly, I started doing this a few days ago, before I got your post. I was running slowly, but was amazed to see how comfortable it was. I’m glad you’ve come along to back it up.
Ack! I fixed my form, and lost 15 pounds and suddenly I’m running faster, and I find it near impossible to breathe through my nose! One step at a time, I guess.
I first read Body Mind Sport in 07, then again early this year; then even more focused on nose-nose after Scott Jurek mentioned it in his book.
Works like a charm to keep calm. I highly recommend from the book:
– the treadmill walking exercise to teach the brain to breathe deeper with increasing stress
– the side stretch to open up the ribs/lungs
– the pre-workout sun salutations to integrate the body with the mind
When I started doing all of I these things the benefits really started to click. You will likely also notice that you breathe deeper all day long; or wake up from a deep sleep breathing like a baby.
Thanks for the tips. got to try it out tonight and it was surprising easy. I got to thinking you should collect data from your readers. Maybe heart rate, pace and milage for the next few months. Might be fun to see how folks improve or not trying this breathing technique.
I really appreciate this article. I have been doing some mindfulness meditation, and Jon Kabat Zinn advocates a meditation breathing that imagines a quarter-sized hole in the top of the head, like a dolphin’s blowhole. Breathe in through that hole, then “out” through the bottom of the feet. Then breathe in through the soles of the feet, and out through the top hole of the head. I’ve recently transferred this breathing techinique to hiking and running and it’s really slowed my heart rate and upped my energy/endurance.
Can’t wait to experiment more with the advice here.
Yes! So glad to see others doing this. When I started breathing more deeply, mouth closed, as I was running, I had to slow down. But over time, I’ve built back up to a decent speed and running is so much more pleasurable as a result. I’ve also learned to apply a lot of my yoga teacher training to my running. Check out my blog post (http://ajourneyintohealth.blogspot.com/2012/06/how-yoga-improved-my-running.html) if you want to learn more about that!
I tried this last night on a short 20 minute run. It was interesting to say the least. While I could breathe through the nose sometimes I had to crinkle my nose to open up both nostrils (I am a total mouth breather). I had to slow down a couple times as well (per the article). I didn’t feel out of breathe at the end though. So…I will keep at it and see.
Thanks for this post! This is so interesting and I’ve never heard about it before. I recently saw an ear, nose and throat doc because too much mouth breathing caused teeth problems, plus I have the runny nose issue too… mouth breathing apparently causes many other issues… who knew?! I had never considered there was a “right way” to breathe; you’d think that would just be a natural correct body function, right?… I learned that there is minor surgery that can fix swollen adenoids and deviated septum to make nose breathing easier… I asked if it would help me run faster, and they thought I was kidding! Reading about this is making me consider fixing it for sure 🙂 Thanks again!
I have been lucky enough to learn good breathing techniques while practicing yoga, so to read this here is fabulous, because I am getting back to running after being away for a long time. I already do a form of this when I start out, but by the time I hit the first mile my mouth is hanging open and I’ve completely forgotten how much better I feel when I engage my abdominal muscles in achieving those nice, slow breaths that seem to cleanse away that burning lung feeling!
I look forward to tomorrow’s run so I can put this into practice. Thanks!
Part of the explaination of why this works is as follows. With every breath we take we exchange air in the lung air sacs where CO2 and O2 are exchanged and in the nasal passages, pharynx and trachea (dead space) where no gas exchange occurs. With a slower breath rate we ventilate the dead space, which is wasted work, less frequently. The dead space volume doesn’t change except that mouth breathing may increase the dead space slightly. We can easily change the volume of air exchanged in the air sac. With a longer exhalation we empty more of the used air from the air sacs and with a longer inhalation we increase the volume and the percentage of fresh entering the air sacs. Notice that the initial part of the inhalation entering the air sacs is used air from the dead space. Therefore, within the range of comfortable tidal volumes we can exchange more O2 and CO2 with less work of breathing if we slow are breathing rate. I hope that wasn’t too complicated.
Good article! I gotta try out this method! I usually don’t pay attention to whether I’m breathing from the nose or mouth as my nose cartilage is bent and causes frequent blocks!
For a slow jog I do a 8-8 pace, for a run I do a 4-4 pace and for a fast run or sprint I do a 2-2 pace breathing.
I coordinate the breathing with my steps. 4 steps – one inhalation. 4 steps – one exhalation. That means my length of each step has to be constant. When I’m running fast, my length of each step instinctively increases, which matches my 2-2 breathing.
On top of that, I add an element of chanting a mantra. This too coincides with my steps and breathing. It would be a soft whispers for runs and in my mind for fast pace (as I’d be out of breath!).
Of course it’s much harder and requires much concentration! But I feel recharged mentally and physically after such a run! 😀
Tried a 4 mile run with nose breathing today and felt fine! Didn’t run too fast, but neither was it slow, so am going to keep trying it over the next few weeks. My breathing pattern did change though – not surprisingly – usually I breath 2 steps in 3 steps out (not at 180 per min though – yet), today was 3 in 3 out, but no problems.
Thanks for the post!
I tried this on my run this morning but wasn’t able to do it the whole time. I did notice that when I did, my hr was lower than mouth breathing. I have allergies and nasal congestion and asthma, plus I’m currently being treated for Lyme disease so running has been a struggle lately and my hr has been higher than normal. I’m going to try it on my runs this weekend when I can really slow down and focus and not have to worry about being late for work. I think it would definitely make a difference for me.
I’m a beginner runner, just doing walk/run intervals, and attention to breath seems to be working really well for me. I don’t have any money to buy a digital watch, so I’ve been using my breath to “time” my intervals. I decided to try to keep my breathing within the range of light conversation as much as possible, breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, slowly. I started with 20 breaths of running and twenty breaths of walking and built up from there, keeping 20 breaths of walking as my slow interval. I just calculated the length of my last run and found that 7 rounds of 60 breaths covered approx. 3km and was very comfortable the whole time.
Hi Matt! Just tried the nose-breathing this morning on a short easy run, and I was surprised that I could go the whole time breathing in three out four (in 3 out 3 in rough patches). I’m usually a 3-3 mouth breather, but this method kept me more mindful of my breath and regulated my pace better, like you said. I felt almost well-rested afterwards. I’m going to keep trying it on longer runs and then see if I can get the cadence to 4-4 or longer. Thanks for this info!
Tried this today for the first time over about 6 miles… and I learned a) i never put much thought or intention into my breathing when running and b) Philly in the summer is kinda stinky!! Will keep trying though – thanks!
Hey – I tried this on my last 18 mile road bike – it was GREAT!
Hoping to incorporate nose breathing into my running, I tried it yesterday at the local Splash-n-Dash, a 400 yard swim followed by a 5k run (for Sprint Tri training). WELL – because the swim was first, oxygen debt was high…and stayed high due to mouth breathing while running. Why didn’t I just switch to nose breathing? Because (1) my nose was kind of swollen or some such thing from swimming first; and (2) my oxygen debt was high enough that it seemed impossible to do more than a quick 2-step nose breath before that mouth just opened and panted! But – next – I’ll do a barefoot trail run and retry nose breathing for running, WITHOUT the swim first.
Oh – on the above post – forgot to mention – this town is at 7400′ above sea level elevation. I’m used to it BUT it may be a factor in getting my mouth to stay shut while running, especially after swimming for time.
I loved the switch to quicker, flat-foot running, so I’m EXTREMELY excited to try this as well! My concern… I’m one of those “my nose runs like an SOB when I’m running people…” so breathing through my nose is hard! Any idea if this is something that will go away with/become easier with time? I know it’s gross, but I’m always worried about breathing in a buch of mucus!
I usually get into this rhythm of breath if the conditions allow it. Meaning, if I’m running on flats, I find myself breathing in rhythm to my running steps. Step, step, step (inhale), step, step, step (exhale). It gets into the meditative zone. I do the same thing in swimming, if I’m swimming distance. I pick a stroke count and breath to that count. Before long, I’m in the zone.
Great topic and article. Love it.
Peggy Cawly – Have you tried “snorffeling” water (that’s what my wife calls it, and she will NOT do it)…it’s actually used by yoga people, etc…
Basically, clean your hands; use medium-warm water in a cup or whatever – I prefer filtered to tap water. Pour as much as will stay into your cupped hand, and bending over the sink, hold one nostril covered or closed and “snorffel” the water into the other nostril. Repeat for the nostril on the other side.
At first this is likely to be uncomfortable – coughing, etc. – but after a bit of practice it work quite well. AND it cleans out the nose of all the gunk laying in wait for when you start running. AND it moisturizes the nasal passages. You’ll see – it is helpful and may help you get a good start and reduce your running nose to put more run back into your run. Please let us know if this helps!
Yoga people recommend doing this on rising each morning.
Thanks so much! That sounds kinda scary, but I’m willing to try!
Snorffel with lightly salted water; pure salt (Kosher) is best. Better matches your sinus’ natural salinity and has a disinfecting effect. Same effect as using a Neti pot. Great when you have a cold or allergies!
Morton® Canning and Pickling Salt – http://www.mortonsalt.com/for-your-home/culinary-salts/food-salts/31/morton-canning-and-pickling-salt/
Great post, Matt, and great timing for me! I’ve recently become more aware of the rythym of my breath while running and felt particularly pleased on this morning’s long run with my breath and overall feeling of strength when I reached “the zone” that I refer to as my “Zen.”
Also, I just started reading “Running with the Mind of Meditation” by Sakyong Mipham and the first few chapters area about “breath” and “breathing!” I’m looking forward to learning more through this book and will definitely try your suggested technique on tomorrow morning’s recovery run.
Thank you for sharing your revelations through your blog! I always look forward to your posts!
Thanks for sharing this article about breathing. I’ve had the same experience finding useful help with this topic. I started working on the techniques you mention and my runs are starting to feel a lot more relaxed. I never realized that my breathing technique was actually hurting my performance and decreasing my endurance. Funny how the simplest changes can have some of the largest effects 🙂
Peggy Cawley – I did this today – snorffeling” (snuffling into nose) water – and used a “Breathe Right” adhesive nose strip to hold my nostrils open – and it was great. I was able to breathe in 3 steps and out 3 for most of my ~4 mile run, even w. a hilly and high altitude course (7400′) where I live. If snuffling water does not work for you just squirting saline solution from the small plastic bottles of it they sell in drug stores with your head tilted back will get a flow of liquid through your nasal passage, cleaning and hydrating it before the run.
Interesting article. I never really thought about breathing techniques except when swimming. I am curious about trying this while running. It makes sense, but would it be practical if I only do short distances in my Triathalons?
I tried it for 5k – it works and felt soo good!
Here some inspiration:
Tons of information! And test your ability to keep your breath….
I am listening to Scott J’s Eat and Run right now… while I run. I am loving it!
Interesting post. Our triathlon coach told us that we should be doing 80% of our training below 80% of maximum. To determine the maximum, you can take a VO2 max test, but he suggested an easier way; simply run at least a mile at a comfortable pace with your mouth shut and that gives you your 80% level. So I suspect that you are training yourself to stay in your aerobic zone – which is ideal for longer runs like ultras, but for shorter races like 5K, you are limiting performance because you could be going a lot harder with your mouth open. It would be interesting to compare your 5K time with mouth shut and with mouth open, on the same course, in the same conditions.
Yup, you hit it on the head. Worse, try nose breathing after a HARD SPRINT RACE swim-bike or bike-swim! When you are going for all you got, oxygen debt supersedes all good intentions and desires for nose breathing, speaking from experience. If it’s LSD (Long Slow Distance) – nose breathing is a groove.
Hi guys!!! The point is to run with your mouth closed as much as you can to train your body to handle as litte O2 as possible. So then when you are out there pushing really hard your ability to do better is bigger! Just close your mouth as much as possible but don’t make it comfortable.
Have fun experimenting – but have patience!!
Ooops I mean “don’t make it uncomfortable” !!
Very interesting, I find myself breathing through my nose a lot while I’m running, and I’m surprised at how comfortable I feel. And it’s funny, because I thought the same thing you mentioned at the beginning of your article, that people will be looking at you funny! Very good information, thank you!
The coach’s point was that you should do 80% of your training at a comfortable aerobic level – nose breathing is perfect for that – but if you want to perform well in races you also need to do 20% anaerobic, as hard as you can, and I think nose breathing will limit your ability to go really hard. I doubt many runners in the Olympics are nose breathing.
Wow, and to think I always encouraged my wife to breath through her mouth. I had always told her she was wrong for breathing through her nose only. This definitely debunks my senseless theory. Now, I’m going to have to try it myself.
Not at all Caleb. She’s right for training runs, you’re right for races.
I started running again more than a year ago sans the nose breathing method which I used only about three months ago. Before doing so, my progress was very slow and uneventful, not to mention laden with physical injury and mental impediments. Try as I did – with much huffing and puffing, my progress was so dismal that my best PR for the 3k mark was stuck at 40-45 minutes (pathetic, I know) for almost a year. Things started to change dramatically when I implemented the nose breathing method, which I read from an article about yoga exercises. Today, I can run longer, faster and with much more ease and comfort. Now I can run the 3k mark in just 20 minutes, run a full 5k in a little over 40 minutes at an easy pace non-stop. For longer and slower runs, I did a run for an hour and 4 minutes at a distance of 8. 7 km. non-stop. I do know that I can still improve on this in the coming days with rest, sleep, healthy food, and breathing more relaxed through the nose. By the way, I’m 47 years old, 5’10” and 192 lbs., and currently measure 34″ around the waist. Last year, I weighed at 212 lbs., with a 40 inch waistline. All in all, I can say with much conviction that the method absolutely works for me, and reading your article further solidifies its soundness and veracity.
Thanks and more power!
Suuuper!! I love to hear that. I am 50+ and have improved too. Now I am down to 8.06min pr km and 8km with closed mouth. Last Christmas I was mostly walking and huffing and puffing. And lost 20 lbs too. What a wonderful feeling this jogging with closed mouth gives – no stress, just floating.
And I am so thankful to this website – Inspirational!!!!
(My favorite books now: Born to run, Chi Running, The art of running faster. )
Great article, just got back into running recently after reading “The Zen of Running.” He mentions running “within your breath” and with the addition of a mantra. Been trying these both, and running is a joy now, rather than brutal assault on my body. Very enjoyable article – thank you!
Yeah, I am late on reading this post :(. I have been really making an effort on breathing through my nose while running. I started w/ 2-2, and now am doing 3-3 for at least 50% of each run, excluding speed days. I notice my heart rates is lower while in a good nose breathing zone so can attest to the fact that you are more efficient this way. Real glad to see this post and will start playing with the 4-4 today. I have also noticed that when breathing through my mouth now I am unconsiouly restricting the amount of air I pull in.
Jon, how does nose breathing affect your speed? It would be good to get feedback from people who are already fit, practiced runners on whether nose breathing slows them down or eventually improves their speed
I’ve been running and breathing solely nasally for about a year and a half. I’ve found that I would be 20% quicker if breathing for my mouth over shorter distances. Have you tried this sirt of thing yet?
I’ve tried it the other way round – breathing nasally slows me down by about 20-25%, so to be honest I haven’t persevered with it for more than a few km on occasional training runs. You probably have an excellent aerobic base now, try some anaerobic speed work with your mouth open and see how much faster you can go!
I have run on and off since highschool and am in my 40’s now. Just started a plant based diet in Jan of 2012, and started running again as well. Only logged in a little over 800 miles in 2012. So experienced I am not. Hopefully someone with some expertise can answer that for the both of us. I have not tried any speedwork nose breathing, but will start to make it happen from now on.
Yet another thing i did right as a kid and didnt know it!!
When i was 16 i was at my peak running performance – i breathed through my nose out through my mouth . i also ran in zero drop minimal cushioned dunlop volley tennis shoes!! –
i took up running again 3 years ago – i was told to breath through the mouth and get highly cushioned shoes … go figure!!
I have just started again after some 7 years away from donning my sneakers to explore other exercise. What was initially done to give me a break from hot yoga has turned into a semi-addiction. When I started up a couple of months ago, I decided to stick with the hot yoga mantra of only nose breathing, as it is taught in the class that it’s less stressful to the body. I have managed to run further and more comfortably than I ever did before, and just completed a 10K yesterday with a time better than I was anticipating.
I might be really late on this (not sure when this was posted) but I’m currently training for my first half marathon (5/4/13) and for my cross train days, I picked up Bikram yoga, which is 90 minutes of yoga in a room that’s heated to 105 degrees. They teach you to only breathe through the nose. They claim it calms the body down quickly.
I always remember hearing that you should breathe in the nose and out of the mouth so it was new to me but I found I natually started doing nose breathing during training on my run/walks (once I was introduced to it through yoga). I’ve never been an athlete or in great shape really (I’m getting there) so I don’t have any advice based on past experience. This has all been a new experience for me. But, so far so good with the nose breathing!
This is something I’ve been practicing since I started my 5km runs every day since early this year. In the beginning it was really hard to do the breathing from the nose but eventually it become more and more easier.
And after passing the first couple of miles this breathing gives the momentum to keep going and the mind gets more into a meditative calm state when we breath from the nose more.
I’ve been using a 3 -2 breathing sequence following an article in a recent Runners World. The odd number is supposed to benefit balanced running as you’re alternating feet on the breaths. I generally breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth but I did have trouble maintaining it at first and could only do it for a few minutes. Now I do it for a whole run. Perhaps I’ll give the nose breathing a try.
WOW!, I’m so excited about finding this site ’cause essentially I’m a no meat runner who happens to be a nose breather also. I started to run 2 years ago, I quitted smoking 4 years ago, and nobody ever taught me how to run “properly” (Thanks god) and that’s why I would decide to run only doing nose breathing (’cause “I felt” that was the right thing to do).
Now I have 2 months training for my first Marathon ever (it’s a 5 months period training program) and I think I have a pretty descent pace (7:30 per mile is my EASY pace) and I NEVER open my mouth while running, I’ve tried to go faster (6:25 per mile) and I’m able to manage that pace for a couple of minutes with no problem whatsoever (nose breathing all the time, of course).
I wasn’t sure that I was doing it right so that’s why I did some research on the web (and found this amazing site) and the only “cons” or “side effects” that I’ve found about nose breathing is that: “it’s too difficult” or “you couldn’t sustain a fast pace while nose breathing”. Well.. I’m happy enough with my actual pace and I just wann’a run longer distances while feeling totally relaxed and so calm (Now I know why I’ve never understood that thinking about “running hurts”, ’cause to me it doesn’t)
btw I’m 34 years old, I smoked for 14 years and I’d never been a sports guy ’til now (I’ve gone pescetarian this year as well)
Keep on running people.
Not sure you’re still looking at comments here, but I just found this blog while looking for more info on running and breathing. If you haven’t already discovered it, I highly recommend Justin O’Brien’s book, Running and Breathing (written in 1980 and still available). It is a great book that totally changed my mind on both nasal breathing and rhythmic breathing. He goes into helpful detail about the physiological aspects of breathing and the cardio-respiratory system. He also offers the perspective of a trained yogi.
A couple of insights I came away with:
1) He recommends a longer outbreath than inbreath, with the outbreath being twice as long as the inbreath
2) We exert more pressure on the lead leg during the inbreath. So, if your inbreath/outbreath ratio is 1:1 or any combination that results in you always breathing in on the same lead leg, then that leg is taking on more of the impact of running. I had been having problems with my left foot/leg and when I changed up my breathing rhythm so that I was breathing in on alternate legs, a lot of the stress and strain disappeared. It was nothing short of amazing.
Thanks for the article!
ps I should note that at this point, I don’t do the 2:1 breathing ratio that O’Brien recommends. So far what seems natural for me is 4 in, 5 out..
Ellen, thanks for sharing what you learned, that book sounds like an insightful read. I subscribed to the comment feed for this post because I find this topic very interesting, and am amazed by its application.
After learning to correctly breathe for yoga, I discovered that I had unconsciously adopted nasal breathing when running. It offered an explanation as to why running no longer seemed exhausting, since I felt tireless breathwise.
Your comment about the lead leg explains so much, years ago I ran 2:2 and my lead leg seemed as though it landed harder, and I felt extremely mechanized and harsh. Between adopting barefoot/minimal running and nasal breathing, I feel so light, almost like I’m floating through the air.
I feel nasal breathing contributes to a feeling of serenity and reduced effort. My breathing no longer intentionally matches my foot strike, they’re independent of one another. As in yoga, now that my focus is primarily on breathing, its become my performance indicator while everything else sort of just falls into place.
Like you, I find what feels most natural for me is 4:5, though as I said it’s independent of stride…inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds, rather than 4 and 5 footfalls. It seems backwards, but when running, my order of focus is breathing, posture, exertion, stride length, foot strike. I guess it makes sense because my foot strike will never be right without the other things first in place.
Thanks for the book recommendation, I’m looking forward to reading it.
Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting to me to hear that your breathing and footsteps are no longer in sync. This is something I have been curious about, ie, if it evolves over time in this way. I don’t have the experience you have, but I, too, have noticed a much lighter and more enjoyable feeling when running this way. And the simplicity of gauging effort by one’s breathing when one is starting out to me is so appealing. Enjoy O’Brien’s book. I loved it! Just ordered BKS Iyengar’s book on breathing from the library. Looking forward to reading it.
Thought I’d share an update. I’ve recently been doing a lot of manual labor on the yard (sod removal, shoveling, hoeing, tilling and leveling), and of course I’m doing it during the hottest part of the day (lol), so I’ve tried applying nasal breathing to these tasks. It’s difficult because it’s so easy to overexert ones effort and pace when not accustomed to manual labor, but it’s definitely helped to slow me down to a manageable pace so I can work for a few hours at a time.
Anyway, this led to me wondering how gandy dancers (rail layers) and chain gangs worked all day in stifling heat. I know singing helped to organize their pace, but I imagine it greatly regulated their breathing and hence exertion too…like the concept of running at a conversational pace. I wasn’t able to find anything related to this online, so I’m left only rationalizing some truth to this, but it’d be an interesting study…rather than constantly looking for the newest scientifically validated athletic techniques, I find it’s historical observations like this that bring the greatest –advancements– and proven concepts.
As for my out-of-sync strides and breathing…yesterday I had a revelation, I had only noticed my breath rate and sync when I was running on a track or the road. When I was trail running, I was distracted by the terrain and my strides weren’t always even, so I only noticed my breath when I was out of breath from overexertion.
Since yesterday was my first trail run since consciously switching to nasal breathing, I was quite aware of it. Like I said before, it’s now my primary awareness, which probably explains why I tripped twice. My stride length was uneven due to terrain, and the greater caution demanded by minimalist shoes, so my turnover rate constantly varied…the only near constant was my breath rate, had my stride and breath been in sync I’d probably have worn myself out and not enjoyed the run at all.
I normally run alone, but this was my first group trail run. As the only minimal shoe runner in the group, the contrast in stride length and turnover rate was evident, and in one specific runner, our different breathing rates. This runner was doing fartleks so he was all over the place in terms of running order. Each time he was behind me I did my best to allow (and persuade) him to pass…he was breathing heavily in a 1-2 pace, which apparently is extremely annoying and distracting to me now. Just hearing him breathe interrupted the tranquility of my run and it served to further reinforce my commitment to the wonderful silence of nasal breathing.
Thanks for your thoughts on this. Very interesting and cool about bringing conscious breathing into yard work. And makes perfect sense that some sort of breathing regulation would have been present re: chain gangs, etc. Very interesting to think about singing as a factor. I actually began this whole thing by looking up breathing exercises for singers on You Tube.
Haven’t ever tried trail running and not sure I will. Can’t imagine maintaining any kind of rhythmic breathing at this point without syncing with my steps. The second I move away from it my breathing goes haywire! All in good time.
PS I would imagine there would have been syncing breath with movements on the railroad and chain gangs and that singing helped with this………
I’m really late to the party on this post, but I started researching this topic a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that my average heart rate was over 80% of max even on recovery pace runs. There are always a lot of potential factors like over training, etc. But in the context of breathing, I found this audio interview of Dr. George Dallam, former U.S. Olympic Triathlon coach, and currently working at Colorado State University. He’s all about nasal breathing too. http://triathletetraining.com/triathlete-training-podcast-episode-4/
Just listening to this now! So cool. Haven’t listened to the whole thing yet (so don’t know if he addresses this in the interview) but one of the things I’ve been discovering as I’ve been looking into this is that CO2 is not the bad buy we’ve always been taught it is. It is PART OF THE PROCESS, keeping the arteries from collapsing so that more O2 can get to its destination.
Thanks for posting!!
good topic, i myself breathe through my nose as often as i can and when i hil ltrain with my 61yr old fit friend we breathe very deeply through the nose and exhale quite loudly (but efficiently) through the mouth sometimes holding 165-195BMP for up to 20 minutes in part of this brutal hill section 🙂
Just found this discussion by chance after reading a more current entry. I am running for 3 years now, training for my first marathon in November. I have always breathes in and out through my nose only. When I read Chi Running I felt so excited and validated as it was described as desirable. I took a workshop with Danny last year and he suggested I should try 3 breath in and 5 breath out. I have pretty much run on that pattern for the last 12 months. When I feel my breath getting more labored I slow down to keep with my pattern. I do make a lot of noise breathing through my nose, people seem to hear me coming up behind them like a freight train. So what .
The 3-5 pattern naturally switches the lead foot. Just worked on increasing my step frequency. Running at 170 – 175 per minute. Hoping to finish my marathon between 4.30 – 5 hrs.
Cool, goodluck for the 4 1/2-5hr marathon. I did my 1st marathon 4hrs 14mins 2wks ago and have another one in 4wks time. Hoping to crack 3hrs 59mins and spread the fun fit vegan message 🙂
I tried this. Thought I was doing pretty well, until I passed out. Lol jk. But alongside with breathing through your nose, You should also breath through your belly, not chest 🙂
I just had to make a comment too! I specifically googled ‘mouth breathing while running’ and found this article. I don’t run anymore but a few years ago I trained myself to run while only breathing through my nose. This was after a dentist I once worked with used to go on about how race horses breathe though their noses when they run – they don’t speed round the track with their mouths hanging open! It took a few goes to feel comfortable with it but even now if I’m inclined to go for a jog I naturally close my mouth and breathe through my nose and feel much better for it.
Although it’s been hinted at in comments above, I don’t think anyone has explicitly stated how good this technique is if you are running in cold weather and don’t like the cold air hitting your lungs. The extra distance the air travels to your lungs and the slower rate really help reduce the impact on your lungs. Particularly good for asthma sufferers, 75% of asthma sufferers say cold air is a trigger.
^ Thats a great point for asthma triggered from cold air mainly…
I am going to try this but I have a question that I hope someone can help me with…. I’m able to do a 5K in 27 mins, but am breathing hard while doing it. I ran a 15K a couple weeks ago and averaged 10:30 mile. My legs are fine – I feel like I can run faster but my breathing always stops me. In order to have conversation – I’m almost walking. So I’m never able to talk because I’m breathing too hard, which makes running NOT FUN. So HEREs my question…. If I slow my pace down to a speed that I can talk, how will I ever get faster??? HELP please.
I have been running seriously for about 6 months (averaging 15-18 miles a week) – one of these runs 6-8 miles as my long run. I can run 5K in 27 mins but breathing very hard to do it! All the articles say to run Long runs at conversational pace – I would almost be walking in order to talk and run…… I am going to try this breathing technique but am wondering…. If I slow my pace so that I can breath better, will I ever get conditioned to running faster? I guess this is where interval training would come in? I have absolutely no fatigue in my legs but my breathing is making running NO FUN AT ALL!!! So I guess my question is…. if I slow my pace so that I’m breathing easier, will I eventually be able to increase pace and still have easer time breathing?
1st. a couple of books to recommend:
1) Running and Breathing by Justin O’Brien
This is an older book written by a westerner trained in eastern yogic practices (Himalayan tradition). Not all western exercise physiologists would agree with every thing he says. However, I found it an incredibly helpful resource in helping me to understand the importance of breathing and getting that right.
2) Daniels’ Running Formula by Jack Daniels. Daniels has been called the best running coach in America. I am still reading this book but, based on what I’ve read so far, I can see why he is so esteemed as a coach. This book is a little more technical – he’s definitely a numbers cruncher and likes all the technical stuff. But if you stay with him, I think what really comes across is his philosophy, which I think is really right on. The basic idea is that you always want to train WHERE YOU ARE, as opposed to where you want to be. For most people, when starting out (and even for people who have been running for a long time), this often means slowing down. As I understand it, many people train too fast, thus the foundational systems that are needed to support faster and further running never get properly developed. But read the book and see what you come away with. The great thing about running is that it is a journey and it always gives us an opportunity to grow and learn.
When I started doing nasal breathing, I had to slow down to an almost crawl. For me that was about a 12 min mile pace (or slower). I was someone who was a successful runner in my youth, so this took some work for me on the psychological level to allow. But I came to really appreciate and enjoy it. Without trying, over time, my pace naturally picked up. I was running about an 8:30 – 9:00 min mile pace after about 3 months. I’m working through some injuries now (old stuff that I’ve been working through for some time), so I’m running slowly again, but this time working on my cadence. The point here is that, no matter where you are, there’s always something cool and interesting that you can focus on and develop. Speed will come. And Daniels’ book is a good resource for how to go about developing it……
Anyway, hope this helps some.
I should note, btw, that not everyone agrees with O’Brien’s recommendation for breathing rhythms. He suggests a 1 (in) to 2 (out) rhythm. So, it could be 1:2 or 2:4 or 3:6, etc. I have had feedback from one western trained coach who feels very strongly that an uneven breathing pattern is unnatural and should not be used. She recommends to her beginning running clients that they use even breathing patterns: 2:2, 4:4, etc. (I’m not sure if 3:3 is recommended… No clarity on that at this time). There is a popular program out there that I believe recommends 3 (in): 2 (out). Elite runners, I understand, tend to breathe 2:2. Of course a lot depends on pace…
Anyway, all this is to say that there is a LOT of contradictory information out there. I read what I can and then make the choices that feel best/right to me.
Great article Matt, thanks for pointing me to it, very interesting! I will give this a shot!
This really does work!!! I have been running for over 18 years and have tried it all. For the first time ever I am nose breathing (at least I am consciously aware of it this time). When I first started 4 months ago I thought I was going to suffocate. But I stuck with it and I am starting to see the benefits! As John Douillard says in his book, nose breathing will make you faster and I believe this. I just finished NYC Marathon and breathed through my nose most of it (still on my learning curve). I was amazed at how good I felt through the whole marathon. I was passing people near the end of the race and this never happens. I am the one being passed! I did not put any time expectation on this race and I had a decent time. I am excited to see where my running will be in a year after practicing this nose breathing. My hopes of breaking 4 hours for my marathon seem a lot more plausible now.
Intriguing, I’m definitely going to try 🙂
The comments are very interesting too – I’m the same way some commenters mentioned – I have a congested nose pretty much all the time, and I think it’s a sort of vicious cycle.
I catch a cold by breathing through my mouth (because by breathing through the nose, the air is cleaned and warmed), leading to a stuffy nose and more breathing though my mouth. I guess I just need to get into the habit of breathing through my nose no matter what.
It’s what I need to do now anyway, as I recently started contortion training.
HELP!! I’ve been trying this method for 4 months now and don’t feel any improvement. I can’t possibly run any slower and have to stop and walk a lot to slow my breathing. I feel like I’m losing my fitness level. What am I doing wrong? Could it have anything to do with cold weather? I want to start training for a 50 mile soon but feel soooo out of shape! Any advice would be much appreciated.
I read a book one time about Genghis Khan. The Mongols used train their soldiers to breathe through their nose while running by giving them a mouthful of water when starting out on the run and expecting them to still have it in their mouths when they returned. With this in mind I decided one day to change to nose breathing as I always struggled with breathing through the mouth. I ran three miles on my first attempt without once opening my mouth. It took me a few minutes to get over the initial panic of “OMG I’m going to smother” and I settled down after that. I am now doing it about eight weeks and I find the following work best for me. I start off gently for a few minutes on 3:4 and then settle down to a 2:3 rhythm. Any moisture that dribbles down my nose I lick in with my tongue – I find it tastes salty thus reducing salt lost through sweating. I can run up to six miles without taking water as I find moisture loss is much reduced for nose breathing compared to mouth breathing. My heart beat is lower. I also find it best to follow your breathing i.e. let comfortable breathing dictate the pace . I find it easier to not fill my lungs too much on the intake – I fill the belly part not the chest part – this makes exhaling much easier. I focus on doing a longer controlled exhale and let the shorter inhale look after itself ( a 3:4 or 2:3 pattern). Overall, I find breathing through my nose more comfortable and natural than using my mouth and I now consider if a sin to even attempt opening my mouth. Finally I think you should experiment with different patterns until you find one that suits you – we are all physically different so we would all have different running patterns.
Thank you Henry, I found your comment very helpful.
Hey Matt. Just started running 2 miles a day, with one rest day a week. Been going for about 3 weeks, is that good? Any ideas on how to mix it up, don’t wanna get bored and stop? Loving this blog man, helping me keep my focus, gon try out the breathing tomorrow, always breathed through my nose when running but gon try out the pattern to get it more regulated 😉
In addition to the other comments on the neti pot here, I would like to add:
Add some coconut oil to the warm salt water. It takes a few minutes for it to melt in the warm salty water. I got this idea from Ayurveda. They use mustard oil in the nasal passages to clear them. I am a marathon runner and need a very clear nasal passage to inhale lots of oxygen. The last thing you want on a long run is to try to inhale energy but get a very dissatisfying inhale.
I sure wish there were some research studies on this. There are a lot of interesting ideas on the board (above), but many conflict and there seems to be no evidence. I put all the evidence-based research I can into my athletics, which I think helps me be a very good athlete. I consider myself, in running, to be a 5K specialist. Just enough time to get a runner’s high and get on with my day, but also a lot less repetitive motion on the body. I think a person can be incredibly fit (the ability to perform physical tasks), but not necessarily healthy. I may change this philosophy if evidence points otherwise, but for now, it really helps me balance mind and body. As runner’s, we tend to chase improvements in time and or distance. These can be huge motivators, but I’m not sure that is the right way to go. That said, I’m definitely a time chaser… Trying to get sub-22 min this season. I missed it by 9 seconds this year on a somewhat flat route (2 modest but painful hills). I have noticed my breathing is heavier than I’d like, so I will put some nasal breathing to the test. I’m also adding power-walking workout – basically just walking as fast as I can (almost on the verge of a job). It’s been an interesting experiment.
I wonder if anyone has ever tried nasal breathing while swimming…seems very counter-intuitive, but keeping a low heart rate during physical activity can have its benefits, especially in endurance events.
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Very good information. Lucky me I found your website by chance (stumbleupon).
I’ve book marked it for later!
My friend and I were just discussing this topic.
I’m 50 yrs old and ran in my youth. He’s a little younger he was told breathing thru your mouth was better I was told thru your nose I ran in competition for 9 yrs I have trophy’s and medels and ribbons breathing thru the nose worked for me and I still use it
I agree with everything you said except your comment about breathing deeply can damage your lungs. It may be true that Thich Nhat Hanh says this in “The Miracle of Mindfulness”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is correct. We seem to embrace everything any Eastern writer now says as de facto truth, simply because he or she is from the East. There is no scientific or medical evidence indicating that deep breathing damages the lungs.
Interesting blog, I found it by coincidence…
my little story: 4 years ago, after a knee surgery, I was told by the surgeon to quit running: my knee cartilage seemed to be totally wasted by over 10 years of running. Today I’m a happy barefoot runner (recently I ran my first barefoot marathon), I discovered slow nasal breathing to promote ‘in the zone’ running 2 years ago, and last year I found the Buteyko breathing technique (2 to 3 superficial breaths per minute) for deep relaxation. Running has become a lifesaver (hopefully till I die…).
Slow nosebreath and barefoot running give you wings
Hi, I have been a runner for 20+ years. over the last couple years however, I have become increasingly frustrated with my performance and was always bonking during longer runs and races (particularly 1/2 marathons). As a result, I tried low heart rate training and but even after several months of following my coaches plan very strictly, I saw very little improvement. My heart rate was always very close to my maximum and in order to keep it down I had to run very, very slow and even with the training I was seeing no improvement. I think even my coach was frustrated. I started googling ways to lower my heart rate and came across nasal breathing and eventually your post. Over the last couple of weeks I have been working on nasal breathing while running, and I can already run faster with a lower heart rate than ever before! Thank you for your post!
[…] 50 things I’ve learned during my 50-day running streak (Re-post) […]
What you’ve described in this article is effectively the Buteyko method. I would urge anyone reading this to look it up! The Oxygen/Carbondioxide exchange that you briefly mention is known as the Bohr effect – we need certain levels of CO2 in our blood to release oxygen. The Buteyko method has been successfully shown to increase oxygen intake and is used as a therapy for asthma and many other chronic illnesses. It’s a strange idea, but overbreathing is as bad for us as overeating – and nose breathing is a vital part of the solution. Thanks for posting!
[…] You can dramatically lower your breath rate (and as a result, your heart rate) if you learn to breathe through your nose and focus on taking […]
Looong article…. at last i have finished it. Thanks for these Awesome tips. 🙂
I am feeling lucky because one of my best friends has been working with John D. in his Aryuvedic practice for years so when I started playing around with running last year she told me that was the way I should breathe… and being a complete novice and not knowing better from worse and trusting my friend I just did what she told me and have continued doing it. I just ran a 10 K on Monday. I don’t even know what it’s like to breathe through my mouth I’ll experiment more though as I increase with distance and pace. But in any case I like it and it’s working for me!
Does anyone have advice or where I can find information to help my loud, gasping breathing during 5k’s and 10k’s? My breathing is so noticable that people can hear me coming and I am starting to get really self-conscious about it.
Do you do exclusive nose breathing when strength training as well? Specifically, when you’re in the gym lifting up all those weights…
I read a book a long time ago called The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity. Something like that. It had a chapter on breathing. Changed my life. Really helped me learn how to bring myself back to the moment and take longer, fuller, more efficient breaths. Also, Bikram Yoga, where they encourage exclusive nose breathing for almost the whole session. Wow! That was different! But as far as running, I had read not to do any deep breathing during your runs and whenever I asked an “expert” I got the same responses as others, to just do what is natural. I do incorporate deep breathing in my running but have never tried exclusive nose breathing. Guess what I’m going to try next time?!?
Excellent post my friend. Thanks!
Douillard’s “Mind, Body and Sport” book is a treasured one in my collection. I bought it in 1996 and attempted to improve my running using nose-breathing and keeping HR below his optimal training zone five times in the next 15 years – failing each time!!
I think I got a bit “unlucky” in that with a resting heart-rate as low as 30, his training formula suggested doing I needed to keep my exercise heart-rate under 115-130. Plus for this training to really work you need to be doing a good 5+ hours per week of it to see improvement. I only used to do 30-mins runs intermittently through the week so even when I gave this training a good shot for 4-6 months I still didn’t see any decent results.
Since 2011 at age 40 when I started running almost daily, and went back to mouth breathing and keeping my heart-rate under 140 I got myself down to sub-19 5K pace and sub-1hr30 half marathon with lots more to come. Even now I would have to run 9-min miles to be hitting the sub-130 HR that Douillard’s system gave me. On the other hand, last Saturday I did a 6 1/2 mile recovery run just using nose-breathing. The rate was around 16 breaths per minute and I averaged 8min20 pace for the run.
But actually all he’s telling people to do is go build an aerobic base which is what Phil Maffetone preaches with his “180-age” HR formula. Go further back and you’ll find building aerobically without going over the lactate threshold is what the legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard advocated for his middle-distance runners who won Olympic golds and set world records in the 60s.
Training for elite athletes in the 80s/90s started going towards intervals and OBLA training with good results and the current in vogue model of training for everyday people has become all about HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) which does get good, quick results but hurts and takes a lot of motivation to keep doing week-in, week-out.
I love the book for what it’s worth. As I say it sits on my shelf as a treasured article. Until I read it I only ever played sports or ran all-out. It helped me understand that there might be more to exercise than beasting myself into the ground. But I also think it dresses up the simple concept of aerobic base building by referring to things like nose-breathing, flow, Ayurvedic medicine, his “Invincible Athletes” programme and getting celebrity endorsements.
Very eneergetic article, I liked that bit. Willl there be a
Great article! I too first read about nose breathing in Jurek’s book, got Douillard’s book too. There is another book with even more information by Patrick McKeown called “The Oxygen Advantage”. I can easily keep to a 17 step per breath cycle pace now, but I’m finding it is more difficult to regulate my heart rate with my breathing now. I tend to go too fast. Maybe I need to try a 19 step breath cycle? My heart rate monitor is starting to short out and give weird high readings, so I’m hoping to find a non-technology way of staying at the top end of my fat burning heart rate zone. I was hoping breathing rates would be that solution. Maybe it is, but I need to pay more attention? Any advice?
Anyway check out ” The Oxygen Advantage”.
All the best,
I am a Kundalini Yoga Teacher and an avid runner. You also may find it interesting to incorporate using hand mudras while you run and/or the use of mantras. They help me tremendously on my runs. I especially like the use of the Surya mudra which activates the solar energy of the body and also helps weight loss! I also find that chanting mantras in my mind keeps me steady and it’s meditation while I run!! 🙂 So not only the breathing techniques of yoga can help you, mudras are fascinating for creating energy!
Matt, interesting article. I have been running, breathing through my nose, for the past 30 years with lots of benefits. I use a 3 x 3 x 3 step routine that works great for me. the only challenge comes from running in extreme cold when condensation inside the nose diminishes my capacity to take in oxygen. I keep the same routine when running uphill or faster, adapting to the speed with great results. Cheers!
So many gems in your blog. When you talk of step counts, are you counting literally each step (ie left and right – so for example a count of 4 being left, right, left, right)? Is this what you mean? Thank you. Just checking as some techniques count things a little differently.
For no apparent reason, I began breathing through my nose today and had the most enjoyable run that I can remember. Runners high, in the zone not sure which but It felt easy and I finished my run easily, my legs and body felt great, my mind was less racy. For that reason I arrived at this page because I wanted to make sure it wasnt a coincidence and that breathing through my nose can have a big impact to my performance. I will keep practicing this type of breathing
Thanks so much for this article!! I know diaghram breathing very well as I’ve been a trained singer for 27 years and a yogi for 20. But I have never committed to applying this to running! I will start. A question for you: do you listen to music as you run or solely focus on breath. If you do, what music do you listen to?
Perfect timing as I am trying to switch to nose breathing when running. Even with exercise induced asthma I feel like this is a better choice as the breathes for seem to fill the lungs better even at a faster pace. The main thing is to relax and breathe not so much deeply as longer breaths. I am 61 years old and am preparing for hopefully a June Senior Olympics 10K.
Thanks for your article.
Training for marathons, I found nose breathing helped relax everything including shoulders. Over time, I found a 4-3 breathing pace to work the best. Trying to breathe through my mouth now gives me a feeling of suffocation so there must be something to carbon dioxide build up etc. great article, have you come across books on damage to lungs from pneumonia and impact on running? I found my lungs were never quite the same after.
I’ve always found running somewhat panic inducing – gasping for breath on each little hill, checking my watch to see how much longer until I can stop.
I tried nose breathing and at first it was a little uncomfortable, but then my pacing got better. Miracle happened – I relaxed while running. Stopped checking my watch, stopped fighting for air. And my pace was pretty much the same. Probably better over the entire run because I wasn’t stopping for breaks.
Last night I put a small piece of tape under my nose, gently connecting my top and bottom lips. No reflux last night. This morning I was refreshed. Can it be such a little change can make such a big difference?
Perhaps people can learn to breath whilst walking
The big difference is that you have pauses, Breath In, Pause, Breath Out, Pause. Walking on the flat, assuming you are walking at 120 steps per minute you might start with 5-5-5-5 and once you are comfortable with that try 6-6-6-6. This is walking at 6 then 5 breaths per minute. Silently chanting OM MA NI PAD ME HUM is a really good way to count to 6
You may even try increasing some of the pauses 6-12-6-6 is 4 breaths per minute
Remember that people practicing Pranayama breathing while sitting are only breathing at 1 breath per minute, so walking should only require 3 to 4 breaths per minute if you have good Aerobic fitness
Of course walking uphill takes a lot more effort, and once the grade is higher than 10%, you will need to remove pauses from your breathing. Whilst I might manage 3-3-3-3 on a 10% grade, I am breathing at 4-4 on a 18% grade and this is a sure sign that I am getting close to my physical limits. I am also slowing down on that higher grade. I am generally doing 3-2 on a 30% grade and going quite slowly
So how to get a good Aerobic workout whilst walking down a moderate downhill slope (Say 5% to 10% grade) when generally you will be coasting?
Well I start at 5-5-5-5, that is 6 breaths per minute with pauses both after breathing in and breathing out if you are walking at 120 steps per minute. After a few breaths I generally transition to 6-6-6-6 or 5 breaths per minute and perhaps a minute after that to:
6-12-6-12 or 200 breaths per hour. If you are mentally repeating a mantra such as “om ma ni pad me hum”, you will just repeat the mantra twice for each hold. I find am generally struggling to walk at that breath rate on the flat, and prefer 6-12-6-6 or 4 breaths per minute on the flat (or slight uphill)
After a couple of minutes, I drop to 6-18-6-18 or 150 breaths per hour. Given that for moderate intensity exercise, I find my Breath Rate per Minute matches the MET for walking I am doing, this gives a MET of 2.5 for walking downhill compared with 3.5 for walking on the flat. (I am walking at about 90m/min or 5.4kmh or 3.5mph)
As a check, when walking back uphill, I was breathing at 5-5-5-5 on a 5% grade. This gives 6 breaths per minute at a MET of about 6
BTW: Mentally repeating a mantra is a lot better for the mind than counting numbers, especially if you are holding for 12 or even 18 steps. You may use fingers to count repeated mantras on a hold. You may wish to use your own mantras. (“I may die to day” is a good one for 5, and can also be used for 4)
Also can you find anyone, anywhere talking about breaths per hour for walking? Breaths per minute kinda doesn’t make sense below 4. At 150 breaths per hour I am walking 36m per breath. (This is every second block down here in Tasmania)
Of course running is a Vigorous Intensity exercise so theoretically if we use the direct relationship between MET and breaths per minute, what would we expect?
At 200 m/minute, you are running at a MET of 12.4, this would require at least 12 breaths per minute. So at 180 steps per minute, 6-6 would work as may 8-8. And what level of fitness would that require? Given that I can walk up a 10% grade at 90 m/minute, that gives me a MET of 8 at 8 breaths per minute, but I am breathing flat out, and going slow on a 30% grade at a MET of say 11.2
So I would assume you would must be capable at running at least at 250m/minute whilst breathing at say 2-3 at a MET of 15 to run at a 6-6 pattern at 200m/minute
BTW … I was struggling to walk up a 10% grade a few years ago at any speed, I am aiming for a MET of 15 in the next couple of years. (We have a few walks with rises of say 96m in 400m in Launceston)
How long does it take to adapt and for it to be easy to Bose breath after I’ve mouth breathed while exercising for years?
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