Running long distances isn’t just about having the muscles and the stamina to cover that ground. It’s also about pacing your breathing to optimize oxygen flow.
Check out our five favorite long distance running breathing tips below.
Tips for Breathing When Running Long Distances
Follow these distance running breathing tips before, during, and after each run.
1. Inhale & Exhale Through Your Nose & Mouth
As the American Lung Association explains, there’s more to breathing than just getting air in and out of your lungs. Specifically, breathing through your nose allows your nostrils to filter, warm, and humidify the air that goes into your lungs. That doesn’t happen when you’re breathing in through your mouth.
Our bodies always try to reach equilibrium in temperature, so if you breathe in through your mouth, you’re ultimately going to force your lungs to work harder when dealing with that air. Drier air can also dehydrate your lungs slightly, which worsens overall performance.
With all of that in mind, exhaling through your mouth is better for long-distance running. There are a couple of reasons for this, but one of them is that it reduces the burden on your nose, so you’re not using the same muscles for the entire run. By moving between them, you give them more time to rest and won’t get tired quite as quickly.
2. Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
You need a lot of air while you’re running, so these distance running breathing tips wouldn’t be complete without an emphasis on the diaphragm. The primary reason for this is that the diaphragm is a powerful muscle, and it can move far more air than your nose alone.
When you move your diaphragm correctly, it pulls down on the lungs and creates an area of negative pressure. Air always tries to expand outward to fill the available space, so this negative pressure efficiently pulls air in.
To put this another way, trying to breathe with just your nose is a little like trying to scoop out all the grain in a grain bin by reaching in through the top. It’s far more efficient to open a hole in the bottom and let physics do the work for you.
Practice breathing with your diaphragm until it’s entirely normal for you. Once you begin focusing on it, you’ll be able to breathe with your diaphragm from any position and without conscious effort. You’ll even do it when you’re sleeping.
3. Match Breathing With Cadence
Matching your breathing with your cadence is another way to maximize effectiveness during your runs. Don’t try to breathe on every step you take, though, or you’re only going to end up hyperventilating.
Instead, start practicing rhythmic breathing. Inhale for three steps, then exhale for two. The primary reason for this pattern is that it evenly distributes stress across your body rather than concentrating all of the stress from exhaling on one side. Always exhaling on the same foot is considerably worse for you than alternating.
This breathing pattern also minimizes the number of steps where you’re exhaling while breathing. Exhaling involves relaxing your core muscles, which isn’t particularly good when you’re also dealing with the shock of heavy impacts on the ground.
A longer inhale and a shorter exhale means more of your steps occur while your core muscles are tight and stable, ultimately leading to better performance.
4. Warm Up Your Breathing Before the Run
Doing things in the proper order is a key element of success when you’re running long distances, and warming up your breathing means you can start running properly from the very first step.
This is more important than it seems at first. Distance running is all about pacing and stamina, so breathing incorrectly at the start means you may need to spend more time and effort trying to get back on track. That ultimately slows you down, reduces your maximum distance, and reduces your overall effectiveness.
On a similar note, don’t stop breathing at a steady pace as soon as you’re done with your run. That can be a bit of a shock to your system as your body tries to keep up. Instead, continue inhaling and exhaling at a steady pace as your body returns to normal.
This is good training, too. It’s easy to breathe in a proper way when you’re still fresh, but focusing on it when you’re already tired can help you improve your control and ingrain the entire process.
5. Start Doing Breathing Exercises
Finally, practice breathing techniques and exercises. These can help you train your lungs and diaphragm in different ways, particularly by making you focus on the pace of your breathing. Deliberate breathing can help you slow down your breathing pace, relax, and take active control of it while you’re running.