Let’s go on a run . . . or at least talk about it. It’s good for improving cardiovascular health, toning your lower body, burning calories, and giving yourself some headspace. Some people pick it up later in life, while others have called the treadmill (or track) a companion since a young age. There are guidelines for improving your form, but when it comes to breathing right, how much do you really know? We spoke to RRCA-certified running coach Marni Wasserman about best practices that even an experienced runner will want to take note of.
Breathe Through Your Mouth
When asked if there’s a proper way to breathe when you run, Marni, who also coaches at Mile High Run Club, told POPSUGAR, “I would say yes and no.” Generally, you should breathe through your mouth because that lets you get the most air, she explained. “Also, if you’re breathing hard through your nose, you may have a tendency to crunch the rest of your face muscles – your jaw, specifically, and you always want the jaw loose. When you’re breathing through your mouth, your jaw has to open, has to be loose.” Marni added, though, that breathing through your nose can be fine too if your run is “super easy” (in this case, you should breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth), but when you start “working hard,” mouth breathing is the most efficient way to get oxygen.
It also depends on pace. Marni said that if you’re going slower and nose breathing is more comfortable, stick with that. But for a fast-paced run like sprints, “most people are probably going to mouth breathe. If you breathe only through your nose while you’re sprinting, then that’s something to work on.” She then offered this pro tip to combat dry mouth: apply chapstick before your run or use Run Gum to maintain saliva, though she noted that not everyone is a fan of the latter option. Lastly, make sure you’re stopping for water as needed.
Marni said that weather conditions can affect your breathing as well, and you may want to use your nose when temperatures drop. “If it’s really cold outside, it’ll be harder to breathe because the cold air is harsher on your lungs,” she explained. “Breathing through your nose can warm it up a bit, but again, then you’re also not getting as much air as if you were breathing through your mouth. Running indoors is probably going to be warmer and therefore easier in that regard.” (If you are one to stick it out in Winter, read this.)
Steady Your Breath
Some people recommend breathing “in for three, out for two,” Marni said, but she always advises her clients to establish a steady breath rhythm, “whatever the count may be.” It could, she offered, align with your footfall. And it’s especially important to have a steady breath when the running gets tough because “it gives you something to think about, something to focus on, and it takes you out of your body.” If you’re new to running or coming back after a long time off, Marni wants you to know that you’re probably going to get winded no matter what you’re doing. “I’d say slow down. People just kind of want to go hard out of the gate, but slowing it down to establish that rhythm is good.” Plus, breathing erratically can cause side stitches (sharp pains in your ribcage).
“Even do a run-walk if you have to,” she added. “If you notice your breath is starting to get irregular or starting to pick up after, let’s say, three minutes, then do three minutes of running and a minute walking to let it come back down, then build from there.” If you can do that for a few weeks, “you’re gonna find that you can start to go for longer.” Also, if you’re trying to go easy (jog) and you’re breathing too hard (gasping for air), Marni said that “it may just be your fitness is down and you need to back off, or maybe it’s a sign that you need to check in with your breath.”
To strengthen the lungs, learn to breathe better, and “get that breath control,” she likes to swim. “Swimming is awesome for cross-training because it forces you to be really conscious of your breath, and even if you’re in good shape as a runner, you’re going to get in that pool and it’s going to be a superhumbling experience,” she said. “You’re holding your breath, you’re breathing very specifically, but I find that it helps me a lot.” It will also give you that endurance workout without the pounding, she noted. Other ways to cross-train to target different muscles that aren’t activated when running include yoga and bodyweight exercises (like this 10-minute runner’s workout).
Just . . . Breathe
One more thing: just make sure you’re actually breathing. “It sounds super obvious,” Marni admitted, “but sometimes people have a tendency to hold their breath.” And that, well, isn’t good. “When you start running and you start thinking about this stuff [aka, your breath], it’s going to feel super weird,” she said. “But if you’re consistent with it, it’s going to start happening as second nature.” If you’re new, take these tips with you and check out this guide to becoming a runner. If you’re a pro who maybe already laced up your sneaks for a few miles today, hopefully you’ve learned a little something you didn’t know before.