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How To Breathe When Running

Posted by Filed Under: Our Best Running Articles, Running Tips

‘How to breath properly while running’ is one of the most searched for topics here at Complete Running. This article contains tips and video to show you the correct way to breathe while running.

Out of Breath?

It’s important to remember that, if you run out of breath, become dizzy or nauseous, it means you are not taking in enough oxygen for the speed you are running. Generally speaking, this means you must either adjust your speed, or the amount of air you take into your lungs. The tips below keep those two strategies in mind.how-to-breath-vo2-max-runner

7 Key Breathing Tips

  1. Try slowing down before attempting to change your breathing.
  2. Focus on longer, deeper breaths.
  3. Breath more from your diaphragm (belly) than your chest (chest breathing is more shallow).
  4. Focus on exhaling more fully. This will remove more CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) and allow for deeper inhalations of O2 (Oxygen).
  5. Allow air to enter through both the nose and mouth. This will allow for maximum O2 intake.
  6. Aim to take three footsteps for every inhale, and two footsteps for every exhale (3:2 ratio). A good descriptions of this can be found on Military.com:

    Many experts will say that to fully oxygenate the muscles and clear the body of carbon dioxide you should breathe a 3:2 inhale-to-exhale ratio; full inhales and full exhales. This means you INHALE on the LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT foot strikes and EXHALE fully on the RIGHT, LEFT foot strikes. This pattern is not that hard to turn into a habit, but it may require you to slow your pace down for a few runs to master the technique. You will notice a lower heart rate as you are able to get more oxygen in and more importantly push all the carbon dioxide out of your body. You may notice that you naturally drop to a 2:1 ratio when you are really pushing it to the finish. That is OK. But realize it is difficult to maintain a pace that requires you to breathe at a 2:1 ratio.

    For those wanting more explanation about step to breath ratios, another article – based on the Daniel’s Running Formula – can be found at this link on proper breathing while running

  7. One last thing – try not to over-think your breathing! It’s best to try to slow down, relax, and let yourself fall into your body’s natural rhythm.

Following these tips should make breathing easier, and your runs more enjoyable. For you audio/visual learners, I’ve included two very good video clips which cover much of what I’ve described above.

Happy running!

Videos



About Mark Iocchelli

Also known as the "Running Blogfather", I'm a 40-something marathoner who has beaten stress fractures and terrible shin splints. Now I'm running double the mileage with no pain - and I'm getting faster. I love to talk about running form and Arthur Lydiard. I also enjoy taking photographs, have a beautiful (and very patient!) wife, and am the proud father of two crazy kids. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the site.



42 Comments
  1. Karen in Calgary on May 27th at 8:57 pm

    At the Daniel’s link you mention, he speaks of exhaling longer than the intake, to make sure all the CO2 is expelled. Once all the air is out of your lungs it’s not hard to fill them up in a couple of big gasps. I tend to agree with that more than the military method quoted. It doesn’t take much practice to adopt a 3 steps out 2 in habit, and it works for me in preventing side aches. Either way, the 3/2 or 2/3 pattern is a good practice.

    One of the things I’ve noticed when trying to work less while running more smoothly is that I can just think of the breath as “falling” out of me instead of having to push the air out. It’s a mental image that helps me relax into a more natural form.

    Great stuff, Mark. Thanks!

    Karen in Calgarys last blog post..Dishrag Swim, Recovery Run

  2. Dave K. on May 30th at 6:19 am

    Actually, you should breathe deeply and eventually, only through your nose, as in the 5000 year old, and very successful yoga practice. why? because the reduced oxygen intake over a period of about 6-8 weeks causes your body to build more red blood cells, making you far more efficient at processing oxygen.

    Those yogis know a thing or two.

    After years of yoga practice, breathing through nose only during strenuous workouts is easy peasy, and taking deep breaths also helps too.

    also when you keep your mouth closed, you find that you lose far less water during your workout, and don’t have to drink, which cools down your body and negates the positive effects of warming up. in yoga, which can be quite a workout, we do not drink during the workout, but before and after.

  3. Jon (was) in Michigan on May 30th at 8:49 am

    I don’t know from yogis, but if I breathed only through my nose and didn’t drink water during a marathon, they’d be picking me up off the road by mile10.

    Jon (was) in Michigans last blog post..Seeds of Change Chocolate

  4. 6amrunner.com on June 4th at 9:49 am

    I have to say this is one area I struggle in so I really enjoyed this article. It takes me about 5k into any run before my breathing is right. I tend to be gasping and breathing rapidly for some time then it just seems to come together.

    First my pulse lowers, the time between inhaling and exhaling grows and I feel comfortable. Im clearly breathing wrong! Ive just started Yoga, Im hoping it helps! Im using a tool called powerbreath to increase my Vo2 capacity too. Just on Dave K’s point, I really hope the Yoga works, it will make a significant difference to how much I enjoy my run and clearly theres a massive list of other benefits.

    Thanks Mark, helpful article
    6amrunner

    6amrunner.coms last blog post..Elements of good running technique

  5. Hot, Humid & The Sun Isn’t Even Up Yet « My Daily Commute on June 8th at 8:01 am

    [...] Currently I breathe with a 2:2 or 4:4 ratio (2 inhale to 2 exhale, or 4 etc…). According to Complete Running there is a proper way to breathe that involves a 3:2 ratio. It certainly didn’t come [...]

  6. Summer on June 18th at 1:48 am

    Thanks for sharing. It very useful for me.

  7. Central Coast Outdoor Adventures » ALL STUFFED UP AND NOWHERE TO GO on June 18th at 9:05 pm

    [...] on breathing through the nose, breathing through the mouth, or a combination of both. I found http://completerunning.com/archives/2009/05/27/how-to-breathe-when-running/ and liked the text and videos and think I will try and incorporate the 3:2 ratio during my next [...]

  8. SDrunner on July 5th at 10:05 pm

    I heard to avoid cramps, you should breathe in through your mouth, but breathe out through your nose. I never tried doing that on a consistent basis, but it just feels like when I’m really tired and breathing really hard, your nose can’t handle it and I just go back to my mouth.
    .-= SDrunner´s last blog ..Race Report: 25th Annual Bonita 5000 5K Run =-.

  9. Lisa Pecunia on July 12th at 4:27 pm

    I’ve been using the 2-in / 3-out method for about a year and it’s really helped me improve my capacity. I generally breathe using both mouth and nose, both in and out, for maximum air passage. My nostrils are narrow so I can’t get enough oxygen breathing in only through my nose while running, although when doing yoga I can use only nostrils on the intake just fine (for the most part).

    The other thing I do to help control my breathing is that when breathing out I shape my mouth into an O. If I’m running up a hill and need to breathe faster I tend to breathe out with a “hah” method, but for the most part the “whooh” method works better for me when I’m just pacing, as it allows me to do a slower breath out with a faster in.

    Danny Dreyer of ChiRunning fame recommended this. It may not work for everyone but it’s been great for me. If you haven’t tried it yet give it a try on one of your easy runs, just to see if it feels comfortable. If you’re like me you’re always looking for ways to improve your running!

  10. Steve on July 29th at 8:46 pm

    They forgot the R in the “LIVEST(logo)NG” at the beginning of that first video.

  11. Car Insurance Man on July 30th at 12:05 am

    I tried a similar running technique in my first half-marathon at the 5 mile mark.
    I noticed a big boost in speed, less effort and began overtaking other runners.

    Breathing in through the nose helps oxygen uptake as it some seems to get into the bloodstream through the blodd vessels in the nose. I have no medical basis for that, it just feels like that’s what’s happening. Anyone selse notice anything similar?

  12. Matt on July 30th at 7:48 am

    I think the advice to “Breath more from your diaphragm (belly),” is possibly misleading — breathing from the diaphragm is definitely best, but it would be better to be more specific — the diaphragm is NOT located in the navel area, but rather higher up in the abdomen, in the area right around the bottom of the rib cage. The abdominal muscles are NOT involved in correct diaphragmatic breathing, nor are the chest muscles. Note that the diaphragm goes *down* as it contracts, allowing the lungs to fill with air, and *up* as it releases, pushing the air back out.

    Correct diaphragmatic breathing is a topic that is widely misunderstood, and there is a lot of information circulating the internet that leads people to incorrectly believe that they should be breathing from the area surrounding their navel.

    See this article for more information: http://www.swamij.com/diaphragmatic-breathing.htm

    As the author notes: “It is common to see both long-time students and teachers of hatha Yoga and diaphragmatic breathing actively moving the muscles in the abdominal (belly), thoracic (chest), and clavicle (the horizontal bones at the shoulders) regions and [incorrectly] calling these muscle movements diaphragmatic breathing.”

    In the yoga link above, note that the advice to breathe through the nose does not apply to running (though it does apply to walking at a comfortable pace). As to this article on running, it is very good overall, and the advice to allow your breathing to fall into a natural pattern is excellent. When you’re running, you need more oxygen, so you should allow air to enter both your nose and mouth naturally, as the article states.

  13. Janko on July 30th at 2:27 pm

    I have 3 steps in -1 step out or 3.5-0.5. This works for me.

  14. Busted Keys on July 30th at 7:59 pm

    great advice! i actually just came back from running and i find myself chugging at around the same 1.5-mile distance. i always take deep inhales during the beginning of my run but i guess this cal only go so far if my exhales aren’t releasing the CO2. i’ll definitely give the 3:2 ratio a shot the next time running!
    .-= Busted Keys´s last blog ..Twitter Rocket =-.

  15. Rich Wooger on August 14th at 5:05 am

    I don’t think that it is very important to concentrate the attention on breathe while running. If it is difficult for you to run with the certain speed, just decrease the temp. Once breath is normolized you can try to run quicker. Acting in such a way you will control breath. It is called – training.

  16. Serg on August 16th at 8:05 am

    Very interesting article. Thanks You!!!

  17. Mike on August 28th at 3:42 pm

    I have asthma, and I find that I have to do exactly the opposite from what was described above in order to avoid an attack while running. I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, focusing on exhaling as much as possible. This is especially important for me when it is really cold out, and I notice myself starting to wheeze during a run. I find that if I focus on exhaling more air than I inhale, I can actually stop an attack from coming without stopping my run.

  18. Travis on September 11th at 7:50 am

    Thanks for heads up there. I too try and not think much about my breathing, as too often it only gets in the way. That being said, I’m more or less a “running novice,” so I’m still working at it.
    .-= Travis´s last blog ..10 Pillars of Vegetarianism =-.

  19. Runnertalk.net on September 14th at 1:32 pm

    How To Breathe When Running…

    ‘How to breath properly while running’ is a very common question among new runners. This article contains tips and video to show you the correct way to breathe while running….

  20. Kai Uchiha on October 21st at 3:47 pm

    This really helped me in my excersising especial for basketball thanx!!!

  21. JT on November 19th at 3:13 pm

    I’ve been trying to train with an HRM and was told to go to a fitness clinic to get my “real” Max HR – I’ve been avoiding it due to cost, but after reading this I’m going to have to check it out now – thanks!
    .-= JT´s last blog ..Please Don’t Stop The Music =-.

  22. Jessica Lopez on November 24th at 9:52 pm

    This is really a great help for the people who have just make running their exercise.I think these tips can benefits you if you are playing soccer or basketball etc.

  23. Greg Kopp on January 4th at 5:52 pm

    This is awesome. Really a great article to read when you first start running. I know this is going to help me with my marathon quest!
    .-= Greg Kopp´s last blog ..Day 1 Is a Success! =-.

  24. April on March 15th at 7:20 pm

    Taking deep breaths really does help a lot. This is an interesting article! This will help me with my daily running and jogging exercises! Thanks…

  25. Aaron Bates on March 24th at 7:08 am

    The perfect breathe is an 8 second inhale, 7 second pause for full oxygenation and then a 5 second exhale. Pretty tough to do while you’re funning. I like the 2:1 inhale/exhale ratio explanation. Very congruent. Thank you.

  26. sande on March 30th at 12:36 pm

    This is really nice for me to find out. I have had problems progressing with my running since I think I breath too shallow like haa haaa haa. You know the quick ones. Then this morning I decided to breath deeply and exhale fully and I was able to run longer and I felt better. It is still a journey for me but I definitely believe that good breathing while running is critical.

  27. gandhi on April 1st at 12:45 pm

    according to divyayog.com human being to breath in cheast not in bealy…… which is the right method.
    recently ihave been operated/surgery for septum daviation, still my head is heavy 24/7/365
    how to breath correctly and how many time in a minute to breath………..
    please comment

  28. Heather on April 17th at 12:04 pm

    I’m a beginning runner, and have been very focused on maintaining proper breathing technique. However when I approach my VO2 max (usually about 80-90%) I find it much harder to take a full deep breath, it makes me feel like I need to cough. I’ve never had asthma, I’m just wondering if this is something anyone else has experienced and if it will go away as I get more in shape.

  29. sharon smith on April 22nd at 11:27 am

    When I run I breathe through only my nose the entire time. I feel like I can run for longer when breathing through just my nose and it also relaxes me. I feel like my body has learned to work harder with less oxygen and the less oxygen I need the longer I can run for. When I feel the as if I HAVE to start breathing through my mouth, I do and run for as long as I can after that point, but that usually is the sign that I’m not going to make it much longer. Next time I run I try and breathe through my nose past the point that I did the last time. Eventually I find myself running longer and longer with less effort, air, and staying relaxed.

  30. RunningBeginner on July 23rd at 11:26 am

    Breathing should always come natural and not forced, this article is great at showing some techniques which will definitely benefit your breathing. Military.com is a great resource as well. I have always been a fan of training in a swimming pool, anyone who has tried this knows how much more difficult it is breathe when training in water. A great reference is http://www.runningbeginner.com/exercises/runners-breathing-technique/

  31. Alan on August 5th at 1:30 am

    thanks for the advice it really has helped my running now i don get cramps

  32. Patrick Moore LMT on August 8th at 12:36 am

    A great post on exhaling! Here are some clarifications

    The diaphragm is an inhale-only muscle. It pulls the bottom of the lungs downward which fills them. Contrary to the yoga links above, the diaphragm does not spread the bottom of the ribs–muscles can only contract, not expand. The intercostals can spread the bottom of the ribs because each lower rib is lifted by the muscle above it.

    When the diaphragm comes down, the guts have to go somewhere so they go forward, which looks like the belly is breathing. That’s the inhale part.

    Exhaling from the belly is very good for runners and all the time. Exhaling from the belly would not contract the diaphragm, but relax it. To exhale from the belly, the abdominal muscles must be contracted. These are just the abs, the same ones you exercise doing crunches etc. By forcing your belly inward, the guts have to go somewhere so they push the relaxed diaphragm upward. The diaphragm going up expells air from the lungs. This also helps the food move along the intestines :)

    I have noticed that as I age (now 47), that my belly protrudes more than it did when I was young. This is not because of fat but I believe because my abdominal muscles are weaker. I believe using forceful exhalations using the abs helps the belly to come back to a younger state.

    Forcefully exhaling from the belly is called “rhino breathing” by Miller in his book, “Programmed To Run”. He agrees forcing the air out means less CO2 in the lungs. He says the hemoglobin is 20 times more likely to take a CO2 molecule than an O2 molecule, so even a tiny bit more exhale has huge benefits.

    One reason a person would narrow the mouth during exhale (blowing), is to increase the pressure in the lungs. This increased pressure would force more air across the lung barrier. This is kind of like a supercharger or turbocharger on a car, in comparison to a car that is “naturally aspirated.”

    However, if the remaining air in the lungs had CO2 in it, you’d be forcing CO2 back into the body, which increases aging, lactic acid, and anaerobic wastes. Narrowing the mouth also makes it more difficult for the abs or intercostals to push air out of the lungs. Just as a supercharger takes horsepower away, so does supercharging your lungs.

    There is no need to narrow your mouth. Leave the mouth naturally open and the nose too, for the most efficient full exhale of spent gasses.

    The 3:2, 2:2, and 2:1 ratios are a good place to start. I usually begin my runs controlling my breath consciously, then transition into trusting that my body is wise enough to decide what is most natural in changing conditions. As my pace lengthens out mid-run, I often find myself using other ratios like 4:3, etc.

    Happy exhaling!

  33. Jack Dryak, DVM on August 31st at 8:39 pm

    Mouth breathing obviously gives the most patent, direct access to the glottis through which air must travel to enter the trachea, and hence the lungs. The reason, if any, for EXHALING through the nose during dry weather is to maintain the hydration of the sinuses and turbinates within the nose by the humidified air. Apart from that, there is no particular advantage to breathing through the nose (save a pharyngeal obstruction, etc.), unless it is in cold weather, in which case INHALING through the nose pre-warms the air. Breathing principally through the mouth during normal conditions and during exercise, therefore, is the optimal pathway for air to flow and should suffice.

    A large inspiration to the count of 3 expands the chest cavity and assists the ventricles of the heart to fill with blood (negative thoracic pressure), hence promoting circulation (a good thing during exercise). A rather shorter exhalation to the count of 2 more speedily eliminates the de-oxygenated air that needs to be wasted from the lungs quickly in order to refill them with oxygenated blood. This is the rational for inspiring deeply for the count of 3, and exhaling to the count of 2. In this light, to reverse the count (2 in; 3 out) makes no sense.

    Shallow, rapid breathing, contrary to what another post claims, does not result in induced autonomic hyperventilation, as tidal volume for the lungs is never reached and CO2 is never cleared in excess under such conditions. On the other hand, rapid, intentional, DEEP breathing during rest can result in hyperventilation since CO2 is thereby blown off at an excess rate. Induced hyperventilation would most likely be more of a concern if the oxygen demand is small, such as while not exercising. Natural, physiologic hyperventilation (to a moderate degree) automatically occurs when one exercises. To intentionally induce a modest intentional hyperventilation in the anticipation of (or during) a burst of effort should not be a problem, and may in fact be assistive in surmounting the increased oxygen debt incurred by extra exertion.

  34. Cory Cook on September 15th at 7:30 pm

    Hey Mark, Thanks for those awesome tips on breathing easier and better. I know when I run I do tend to lose my breathe easier than some people. I think this is mainly due to me having a sternum that is slightly depressed. I think it slightly effects the ability for my lungs to expand in my chest area. But I think I might give it a go focusing on some of your tips, mainly the one about focusing on breathing from my diaphragm.

    Good post and great tips.
    .-= Cory Cook´s last blog ..The Standard American Diet Will Kill You! =-.

  35. Jean on October 27th at 10:53 pm

    thanks for the advises. i will remember it

  36. Good Health on November 6th at 6:08 pm

    Thanks for the advise, I just breathe as normal as I can while running!

  37. arizona online traffic school on November 11th at 1:08 pm

    Thank you so much for the valuable tips you have written in this blog about the issue of breathing while running. I also face a lot of problem with breathing and I have also seen many people doing so when running. I will try to follow your tips. I like them and will share with my friends. Keep posting such nice tips.

  38. gold buyer NY on November 22nd at 9:26 am

    It seems this post is about me!!! I often face the problem while even walking. These tips I guess will be valuable for both walking and running. Thanks buddy for this valuable info.

  39. Buy Advair on November 24th at 5:42 am

    Its really good thing.. now we knows about that tips through this blog..

  40. Chandler Chiropractor on November 24th at 11:39 am

    The videos are really helpful. I have never heard of some of these tips before, such as the step to breath ratio. Glad to hear some specific information on such a large running obstacle.

  41. Larry Scott on November 29th at 4:26 am

    A well written and informative article. The videos are great too. I would like to one more tip. I think that one should keep in mind the rhythm while breathing. It is advised to inhale and exhale at a consistent rate while breathing. This becomes easier if you know your natural breathing pattern. A simple way to find out the breathing pattern is count the number of steps while you are running. For example, some people breathe in for 3 steps and thereafter breathe out for one step.

  42. How To Breathe When Running on May 21st at 1:01 pm

    [...] on a harder run. Thanks to Fitsugar this info!And as for the mouth or nose debate, they both win! This article suggests to breathe through both your nose and mouth when you run to maximize oxygen intake. I [...]

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