Proper Breathing Technique for Runners

My running coach wrote something about rest and breathing that I hadn’t heard anywhere else. I have started implementing it, and it has made a tremendous difference in my training.

He wrote:

When resting between sets we recommend using that time to replenish fluids and oxygen as well as getting in tune with your body’s messaging system. As such, we don’t recommend resting for a specific period of time. Instead, focus on slowing your heart rate with deep breathing.

Rather than watching the clock, take five slow, deep breaths then start the next exercise. If you find five breaths was too much or too little time for recovery, add or subtract a breath accordingly. When doing interval training, using breath counts rather than a clock to measure your rest and recovery period will put you in better tune with what your body is telling you.

This is a perfect strategy for me because as soon as I start to rest, I immediately get anxious about when I have to start again. So the countdown tends to just stress me out.

Now that I have begun doing interval training on my own, it’s the first time in my life that I have had to push myself without a trainer in my face. It is NOT easy. The temptation is to indulge in frequent breaks. So I really need to learn the difference between when my body genuinely needs to rest, and when I’m just being a big wuss. Most of the time it’s wuss.

Without deep breathing, I would be unable to train effectively. Oxygen is an amazing thing. Here is a description of deep breathing by Vitality writer Susannah Kent:

When people are stressed they often don’t breathe properly; they hold their breath, or only take very shallow ones. In order to get enough oxygen to the brain and promote a sense of calm, it is essential to learn to breathe deeply from the abdomen. Start by becoming aware of your breathing, feel the air entering and leaving your lungs.

Place your hand on your stomach, just below the rib cage, then slowly breathe in through your nose, as your belly expands. Try holding for three counts. As you exhale through your mouth (try a five count), empty your lungs and feel your abdomen deflate. Continue to breathe this way until you to feel calm and relaxed.

Deep breathing should become a part of your daily routine. It might be especially helpful to deep breathe for a few minutes every morning before you head out for work, but it can be used any time during your day to alleviate stress and control any anxiety you might feel.

And another helpful description by Larry Johanson (Vitality writer, corporate trainer and life long practitioner of Zen Buddhism)

The proper way to breathe is from the core of the body. Breathing from the core is also known as abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. Babies do it naturally and effortlessly. Put a baby to sit up and you’ll notice how her belly plops out and seems to act like a bellows as she breathes in and out. As we become adults we tend to migrate from our bellies into our heads and over time become disconnected from ourselves.

If the proper way to breathe is from the core, then where is it located? The core is situated 5 inches below the navel. Zen students are taught to focus their attention in this area as this is where spiritual energy called chi is accumulated and stored.

To locate the core, tuck your thumb into the palm of your hand and place the four fingers just below the navel. The area covered by the four fingers is the core. Breathe in and out and feel the belly expand and contract as you do so. To establish a presence there, visualize a balloon located in this area. As you breathe in, see and feel the balloon expand; and as you breathe out, see and feel the balloon contract.

ChiRunning also addresses breathing. It’s something so second nature that we often don’t think about it. But learning to breathe has literally transformed my running.


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