All humans breathe. But do we do it well? Since breathing is normally a subconscious activity, many people are not aware of the many different breathing techniques available for the proving. However, breathing is an important fundamental tool for any runner or athlete. Here are 8 different techniques to add to your arsenal.
If you’re reading this article right now, you have probably already mastered Eupnea. Eupnea is simply normal, good, unlabored breathing. It’s how humans breath when they don’t sense danger and are in a state of relaxation. It maximizes air intake and minimizes muscle effort. The word itself means “good breathing”: eu- (well) and -pnoia (breath).
Breathing for Exercise
Untrained runners probably don’t consider their breathing much, as they consider it a victory to simply put on their running shoes and get in a few strides. As they progress, however, they will likely find that regulating their breathing is important because it is their primary energy source while running. The ideal breathing pattern for running is hotly disputed in some circles. The important thing to remember is to not get caught up in all the ruckus and to find what works best for you. One point on which there is no or little disagreement is that it is best to breathe through the mouth. While resting we breathe through the nose; however, since running requires increased oxygen intake, it is best to breathe deeply through the mouth. These patterns and principles apply whether on the track or on the treadmill.
That said, the standard is an even ratio breathing pattern: the exhale time is equal to the inhale time. Most find a 2:2 or a 3:3 to be comfortable. To illustrate, a 2:2 would be two strides for every inhale and two strides for every exhale. Breathing in this easy pattern helps create a rhythm that over time becomes natural. It will become second nature.
In opposition to the even ratio breathing pattern tradition, is the odd-ratio proponents. Budd Coates, a longtime running coach, four-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and author of Running on Air recommends breathing in odd ratios. For example, a 3:2—three strides for every inhale, two strides for every exhale.
Coates cites a study by Dennis Bramble and David Carrier to argue that runners are more prone to injury when the “exhalation always falls on the same foot” because it puts more stress on that side of the body. Coates also argues that it is more natural for runners to breathe in odd ratios, noting that untrained runners breathe this way naturally.
Also, as an alternative to both the odd- and even-ratio clubs, stand the Chi Running pattern. Bill Leach at DePaul University and the University of Montana, promotes a reversed odd-ratio. For example, a 2:3 ratio—two strides for every inhale, and three strides for every exhale. He cites the difference in atmospheric pressure as a reason for spending more time exhaling.
Cross-training and weightlifting can be an important part of any runner’s routine—some people even do CrossFit exercises on their treadmill. Whatever the activity, it’s important to breathe properly. While hitting the weights, Harvard Health says the fundamentals are to exhale while working against resistance and inhale while releasing.
First, prepare to lift by breathing deeply. Take in a deep breath through the nose, hold it for a couple seconds, and then release it through the mouth. Repeat for a few minutes. This practice prepares the mind to control breathing during the workout. Second, breathe out while working against the weight. For example, exhale while pushing the bench press barbell away from your chest. Third, breathe in through the nose while releasing the weight. Releasing the weight requires less force, making it an ideal time to inhale.
As with running, different people promote different breathing methods for weightlifting, but these basics should work well for almost everyone.
Breathing for Relaxation
Breathing can have a powerful effect on overall health and wellness. A landmark study by Pierre Phillipot revealed that distinct emotional states are related to distinct respiration patterns. Most importantly, it showed that just as an emotional state can affect breathing, breathing can affect an emotional state. Many find it particularly difficult—or impossible—to talk their way out of a negative emotional state, however, many are finding it is altogether possible to breathe their way out of a negative emotional state. This can be a very beneficial skill to know when preparing for a race.
A basic breathing technique for relaxation is Sama Vritti, or Equal Breathing. To do it, inhale through the nose for a count of four, then exhale through the nose for a count of four. As skill level advances, an athlete can increase the count up to six, eight, or even ten. This technique is especially helpful in preparing to get some good rest.
This technique goes by various names, including roll breathing and abdominal breathing. This technique increases the power of the lungs while simultaneously increasing awareness of their rhythm. To do it, first, lie on the back with knees bent. Second, place left hand on the abdomen and right hand on the chest. Third, inhale deeply through the nose, filling the abdomen so the left hand rises but right hand stays the same. Repeat this several times. Then add the final step: fourth, as in step three inhale deeply, filling the abdomen, this time continuing to inhale into the upper chest, raising the right hand. Repeat for several minutes.
This is called roll breathing because the chest and abdomen roll in unison, like a wave, while breathing.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This final technique is called Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing. Emma Seppala, Ph.D. recommends it. It brings calm and balance to the body. First, begin in a comfortable meditative pose. Second, close the right nostril with the right thumb, and inhale deeply through the left nostril. Third, at the peak of inhalation, stop, and hold the breath. Fourth, close off the left nostril with the right ring finger and exhale through the right nostril. Continue this pattern, inhaling through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb, and exhaling through the left nostril.
This is a great breathing exercise to do before training, as it makes the body become more awake. Do it before training for your next marathon.