Relaxed, rhythmic yet focused breathing is an aspect of run technique which is often overlooked. I’ve found the following breathing rhythm guidance very helpful since 1997, when it was first described to me by a very good running coach.
Breathing rhythm (sometimes called “breathing pattern”) can be described with two numbers. The first number refers to the strides taken during your inhale, and the second number is the number of strides taken during your exhale. Therefore , assuming a constant running cadence, your breathing rhythm also defines the number of breaths taken per minute. For example, a 1-2 rhythm at a stride rate of 180 foot strikes per minute (which most good runners have) will result in 60 breaths per minute.
There are many advantages of being aware of, and purposefully changing your breathing “pattern” and include: 1) Having a natural “gear shift” for your running speed, with the ability to keep your pace in a certain zone when desired; 2) Providing a sense of confidence that you can maintain a certain pace and will not get “winded;” 3) Avoiding muscle imbalances and diaphragm cramping if you shift your exhale “side” periodically; 4) Maintaining a good running cadence despite being fatigued, because your breathing will help “drive” your cadence!
General breathing rhythm guidance for most runners includes:
- Adopt a breathing pattern which matches your desired exertion level or pace. For warming up or going at “easy pace,” try to maintain a 2-3 or a 3-2 breathing pattern. If you are in fairly good shape, a 3-3 rhythm might suffice for warming up. This is a great way to keep your pace “under control” despite race adrenaline — for example, the first three miles of an ironman distance triathlon marathon, or the start of a 10K run (when a lot of runners make the mistake of going out too fast for the first mile).
- For a faster, “threshold pace,” most runners settle in at a 2-2 breathing pattern. To avoid always exhaling on the same side, which increases landing impact and could lead to muscle imbalances or diaphragm cramps, try to “switch sides” periodically. I find that counting the number of breathing cycles to 10 or 20 and then exhaling over 3 steps for one cycle will accomplish this “switch.” I also find that this simple counting leads to a mental “mantra,” which helps to focus me on my breathing and helps me stay relaxed despite fatigue.
- For faster running, for example, at the end of races or going uphill, you can shift to a 2-1 or a 1-2 pattern (I prefer a 1-2 pattern, but that is an individual preference). You may find that this conscious shift gives you the confidence that you can maintain a faster pace — a big mental boost! Also note that if you are in an “odd number” breathing pattern, you don’t have to worry about “shifting” exhales, since you are changing the “exhale side” on every breathing cycle.
For more information on optimizing your breathing while running, see the book “Running on Air” by Budd Coates. Have fun learning some or all of the above techniques and I promise that your running and your mental game will benefit!
Life Time Fitness, South Valley
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