top of page

Breathing Technique for Runners

As a runner, finding the proper breathing technique will help improve your running performance and even prevent some injuries. While we run, our body needs oxygen to support our energy, blood flow, muscle energy and strength. The more air you inhale, the more oxygen is available to be transferred through your circulatory system to your working muscles. Rhythmic breathing can play an important role in staying injury-free. 

What is Rhythmic Breathing

To understand how rhythmic breathing can help avoid injuries and increase the energy, you have to consider some of the stresses of running. When your foot hits the ground, the force of impact equals two or three times your body weight, and the impact stress is more intense when your foot strikes the ground at the beginning of an exhalation. When you exhale, your diaphragm and the muscles linked to the diaphragm relax, creating less stability in your core. Less stability at the time of intense impact increases the chances of injury. The reason why not following the correct rhythmic breathing while running can cause some side effects, is due to the greatest impact stress of running which happens when your footstrike coincides with the beginning of an exhalation. That means that if you begin to exhale every time your left foot hits the ground, the left side of your body will always suffer from the running stress. Always landing on the same foot at the beginning of exhalation compounds the problem. It causes one side of your body to constantly absorb the greatest impact of running, which causes it to become increasingly worn down and vulnerable to injury. Rhythmic breathing coordinates footstrike with inhalation and exhalation in an odd/even pattern so that your land alternately on your right and left foot at the beginning of every exhalation. The impact stress of running will be shared equally across both sides of your body.

Benefits of Rhythmic Breathing

Learning how to breathe properly through rhythmic breathing is essential. The same as in yoga, which teaches pranayama- breath work means the work of breathing draws life-giving force in the body. The proper breathing technique is accomplished through diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, which means that as you inhale, you contract the diaphragm fully to allow maximum volume in the chest cavity for maximum expansion of the lungs and maximum intake of air. Rhythmic breathing creates a pathway to a deep centeredness. While running, you achieve centeredness first by focusing your mind on fitting your breathing to an optimal footstrike pattern. Your awareness of breathing links the mind and body which helps you feel your running, and that ability to feel your running allows you quick and precise control. Rhythmic breathing is calming, it allows you to stay as relaxed as possible, quieting any stress in the body that could inhibit performance. When you feel some tension or discomfort, you can mentally “push” it out of the body as you exhale. 

How to Breathe

Before starting the rhythmic breathing pattern, you must learn to breathe from your diaphragm. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and moves downward, while muscles in your chest contract to expand your rib cage, which increases the volume in your chest cavity and draws air into your lungs. Working your diaphragm to its fullest potential allows your lungs to expand to their greatest volume and fill the largest amount of air, which you need for your running. Many runners underuse their diaphragm, relying too much on their chest muscles and taking in less oxygen, which is so important for energy production. Also, breathing from your chest, these muscles are smaller and will fatigue more quickly than your diaphragm will. 

How to Train for the Breathing Technique

  • Lie on your back

  • Keep your upper chest and shoulders still

  • Focus on raising your belly as you inhale (belly out)

  • Lower your belly as you exhale (belly in)

  • Inhale and exhale through both your nose and mouth

Rhythmic Breathing Pattern for Running

Many runners develop a 2:2 pattern of breathing, meaning they inhale for two footstrikes and exhale for two footstrikes. That causes to exhale always on the same side, and can cause the greatest running stress always on the same foot side. The benefit of rhythmic breathing is that you will exhale on alternate footstrikes as you run. The proper rhythmic breathing patterns include a longer inhale than exhale. The reason why you need longer inhalation is that your diaphragm and other breathing muscles contract during inhalation, which brings stability to your core. These same muscles relax during exhalation, decreasing stability. So, it is best to hit the ground more often when your core is more stable- during inhalation.

Rhythmic Breathing Technique

1. For steady pace runs, easy or moderate effort or long-distance runs- 3:2 breathing pattern. Inhale for 3 steps and exhale for 2 steps.

2. For faster pace run, speedwork, or uphill running- 2:1 breathing pattern. Inhale for 2 steps and exhale for 1 step. 

3. For intense runs or races when you are not able to talk and have to breathe fast. 2:1:1:1 breathing pattern. Inhale for 2 steps, exhale for 1 step, inhale for 1 step, exhale for 1 step and repeat. 

As you train your rhythmic breathing and tune in to your breathing efforts and paces, you will learn to run from within in complete harmony with your body. You will discover your natural rhythms, which will lead to improved performances, but mostly experience the pure joy of running.

Train Well, Breathe Well, Enjoy Running!


bottom of page