Coach Mike Mead

MAY 2015

Breathing on the Run

About four years ago I wrote a column about breathing while running. Now that another pollen season is behind us, runners, non-runners, and allergy-sufferers are breathing easier. Perhaps it’s a good time to revisit how one should breathe when running to help make the experience more tolerable and hopefully enjoyable.

When I first got into coaching, a fellow coach was privately training a young lady he had discovered. She was an above average runner with great potential. After several workouts with the runner, my coaching buddy discovered that she breathed only through nose rather than a combination of her nose and mouth. She did not know any better!

For many beginning runners, breathing is a concern. It’s sort of like the boxers or briefs debate. Breathe through the mouth or the nose? If you are just getting started with running or taking it very easy, breathing through one’s nose is okay. Also, when you are running in frigid conditions, breathing through the nose is better to warm the air going into your lungs than directly from your mouth.

However, if you are really going at it on a run, then you want to suck in as much air you can take in, so breathing through both your nose and mouth is the way to go. Of course, there are times you have to be careful breathing through your mouth since who may suck in more than just air! But for the most part, just breathe!

As one becomes a more efficient runner, one’s breathing should become efficient, too! The ability to run faster with less oxygen becomes a challenge and you have to train your lungs to handle the increased demands. The fitter a runner becomes the better their aerobic capacity or VO2 max -- the maximum capacity at which one can use oxygen during strenuous activity.

Not to confuse, aerobic capacity is different from lung capacity which is the volume of air that a person’s lungs can hold. I believe many runners s do not fully utilize lung capacity. Over the years I’ve occasionally done deep breathing exercises and controlled breathing in an attempt to understand if I am fully using my lungs.

Perhaps the best reason for doing deep breathing exercises is to calm runners who get extremely nervous before a competition. Being calm and in control is a key for successful racing results and simple deep breathing exercises can be a valuable tool.

Another method I learned during my first year of coaching was breath holds to make me more aware of my lung capacity. At the time, one of my runners had served as a Navy SEAL. He told me breath holds were practiced to prepare to be underwater for 2-3 minutes without an oxygen tank.

He and I practiced a few times doing breath holds. The first time, 30 seconds seemed like an eternity! Within a few sessions, I think I could go almost a minute and a half – maybe a minute and 45 seconds. I don’t know if it helped my ability to run with less oxygen, but it did teach me to relax more and be more in control with my breathing.

I don’t think that I fully used my lungs when I was running. Doing the breath holds forced me to use more lung capacity than I normally did while running or just breathing!

I have stated many times in my running articles that one needs to have rhythm. The same applies with breathing while running. It is important having one’s body totally in sync when running. Obviously breathing is an important aspect that doesn’t need to be complicated.

But when all else fails, just breathe!