How do you breathe while running?

Mirjam Steunebrink
Mirjam Steunebrink Vrijdag, 2 oktober 2015
How do you breathe while running?

The amount of oxygen you take in has a major impact on your performance. Regularly registering how you breathe and adjusting your breathing technique if necessary is well worth the time and energy. Medical expert Mirjam Steunebrink explains precisely how to breathe better and more efficiently.

The breathing technique is, of course, decisive. “Use so-called belly breathing. This creates a greater oxygen intake from the lungs than the more superficial chest breathing,” Mirjam explains.

More oxygen, more uptake

Superficial breathing limits not only the amount of oxygen, but also the ability to take in oxygen. “With superficial breathing, the air stays in your lungs for a much shorter time, allowing less gas exchange to take place. The result is less oxygen uptake. This shallow breathing may also be a cause of a side stitch that people regularly experience while running. With deep abdominal breathing you use the entire capacity of the lungs, so the air reaches the deeper lung fields and stays there longer. That increases your ability to take in oxygen and ultimately your maximum oxygen uptake.”

Inhaling: nose or mouth?

There are also breathing experts who recommend breathing through the nose while running. This is the most natural and calm method of breathing. An additional advantage is that, with nasal breathing, your pace cannot be too fast. Sports physician Mirjam Steunebrink illustrates the other side: “There’s a lot to be said for breathing through the mouth when running. Inhaling through the nose provides better filtering and warming of the air, but it ultimately does not provide you with enough air to efficiently take in enough oxygen during running. Moreover, breathing through the mouth also enables you to exhale sufficient carbon dioxide.”

Respiratory rhythm

The purpose of adjusting your breathing technique, if necessary, is to increase your oxygen intake during running. One factor that plays a role in this is the rhythm of your breathing. What rhythm suits your pace and distance? And to what extent do you have to adjust that rhythm when you adjust your pace? “The rule of thumb for an easy endurance run is a breathing rhythm of 3:3”, Mirjam says. “Three steps during inhalation and three during exhalation. For a moderately intensive run, use 2:2, and for tempo runs and interval training, use 1:1. But these are basic principles, not rules of thumb. The important thing is to figure out what feels comfortable for you.”

Mirjam Steunebrink
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Mirjam Steunebrink

Mirjam Steunebrink is sportarts bij Martini Sportmedisch Centrum in Groningen en Sportgeneeskunde Friesland en begeleidend arts tijdens juniorenkampioenschappen van de Atletiekunie. Mirjam is zelf een fervent hardloopster.