Coach Mike Mead

July 2011

Breathe Right to Run

It’s funny how some running issues can be so timely. About two weeks before this very column was due, I thought that not too much has been addressed about breathing during running. Then about a week before posting this column, one of my former Clayton State runners posted on the Facebook wall of the Atlanta Southside Runners a little advice about breathing while one runs. Gee, like-minds think alike!

His (Luis Monge’s) advice was to just breathe. Nothing too complicated there. Though one wise acre replied (I’m certain with tongue firm against cheek) that one should hold their breath. That’s fine if you’re running 10 feet.

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? Just breathe!

But as one becomes a fitter runner, breathing does become important. The ability to run faster with less oxygen becomes a challenge and you have to train your lungs to handle the increased demands. The idea training mode is to live and train above 6,000-foot elevation. Since we don’t live up in the thin air, there have been devices to simulate altitude at sea level. I don’t know if these things really work. But hey, maybe holding your breath is the poor man’s solution after all!

Anyway, 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. It goes hand-in-hand with your training. If you jog a few miles with little or no effort, you’ll be okay but your aerobic capacity will be limited unless you, from time to time, step up your running and work those lungs. That’s a reason for doing speed and tempo training that I’ve written about in previous columns.

There is a little bit of truth to the wise acre’s comment about holding one’s breath if you cannot run at altitude. If you are trying to work on anaerobic efforts, doing periodic breath holds could be helpful. During my first year of coaching, one of my runners 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 for me! 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.

Doing breath holds also made me more aware of my lung capacity. I don’t think that I was fully using 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!

Here’s my two-cents about breathing. Do not breathe through your nose only. Think about it, unless you have a big snout for a nose, you’re going to be limited in your air intake. You can try mouth only, but I think a combination of nose and mouth is best.

But if you are still confused about the whole breathing thing -- just breathe!