This is not just woo-woo stuff. I have specifically worked on improving my breathing mechanics for running this year and am already reaping the benefits!
I’ve know for some years that my breathing is somehow backwards, making running more difficult than it should be and contributing to injuries. Most recently, my physical therapist (Scott Williams at Synergy) prescribed a ballon breathing exercise to help with my persistent achilles problems.
I made a concerted effort to research and implement other breathing exercises after listening to Ben Greenfield’s exhaustive book on biohacking for athletes, “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life.” This book is definitely not for the casual listener!
Let me share the techniques I’m using to improve my breathing for running. Don’t get overwhelmed… pick one or two to try each week. Incorporate that practice into your fitness or personal routine before adding more.
Exactly what it sounds like. Start by ensuring that you always breathe in and out of your nose if you are not exercising. Whoa – this was a game-changer for me – and I’m still working on it as I’m typing now!
Next, dedicate some minutes of your run to only breathing in your nose and out your mouth through pursed lips. I’m not proposing that this is how you should run all the time. It is specifically an exercise to limit the amount of air that you can take in to encourage better breathing mechanics.
You should be able to work up to an adequately low-intensity running session (think: below MAF) in which you inhale only through your nose.
As recommended by my PT, here is a good video of the exercise. Ideal timing would be just before running, but any time is good.
Reportedly a favorite of Navy Seals, this one is only slightly less weird than duct-taping a sock in your mouth at night. Find the Expand-a-Lung product and instructions online here.
Rhythmic Breathing (RBE) for Running
Now we’re getting to the good stuff!! I heard about rhythmic breathing for running a long time ago from a ChiRunning master coach. It was too advanced for me at the time. Greenfield mentioned it in his book, so I took another look and I’m absolutely smitten! I’ve been practicing it for about 2 months now, including a great race day at Marin Ultra Challenge 50k.
Long-time coach and runner Bud Coats has written an entire book (highly recommend!) on the method he invented, “Runner’s World Running on Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter.” You can try out the method without investing the time and money in the full book by reading this summary article on the rythmic breathing method.
In short, the method has you exhaling on an odd count so that it coincides with alternately foot falls. The method works best when you are utilizing excellent diaphragm mechanics, so you should get these fundamentals dialed in first.
There is a growing body of research to support the health benefits of elevating your core temperature using a dry sauna. I target 4 sessions a week of 20 minutes. Just google it if you need more convincing, but please don’t take this as medical advice. 😉
Here again, there is no shortage on empirical research to support all of the physical and mental benefits of a regular mediation practice. I have tried over the years and have only been successful in regular practice since I embraced the use of the ubiquitous (and absolutely great!!) Headspace app.
I encourage you to give mediation another try if you don’t already have a regular practice. I use the Headspace app for most of my mediation and have found that evening is when I can most reliable schedule it. My preference is to mediate standing up for 15-20 minutes. I tend to fall asleep if I sit or recline. I also don’t want to add even more time sitting to my day.
While meditation is not intended to improve your breathing (you strive to follow the breath, not to force it!!) I mention it here because it is closely related to the way that we use our minds and bodies to be successful runners.