When you’re running, breathing tends to be something you focus on only when things are going wrong. When you’re gliding along with fluid, easy movements and your breath is controlled, you probably don’t even notice it, but when your run gets tough and your breath comes in short rasping gasps, it can hardly fail to grab your attention.
However, according to running coach Chevy Rough, many runners are getting their breathing wrong and their efficiency is taking a hit as a result, so a little more focus on your breath might be long overdue. Coach spoke to Rough at the Virgin Sport Hackney Festival of Fitness & Half Marathon to get his advice on how to breathe while running.
What do runners get wrong with their breathing?
The long and short of it is that most people are not breathing efficiently. Most runners are primarily mouth breathers and that’s like being in a really high gear. When you breathe through your nose your aerobic capacity is much better, your oxygen delivery system is much better and you are much more tolerant of carbon dioxide. Basically you are better at managing the fuel that’s coming in, which is oxygen.
It’s not that mouth breathing is wrong, it’s just that there’s a time and place for it. We want most runners getting back to nasal breathing. That’s where aerobically you’re going to be delivering oxygen far more efficiently to your system.
When you start breathing through your mouth you move up through the gears by using different energy systems. You go from aerobic to anaerobic. Many people go straight into mouth breathing when they run. They get into this really high, aggressive gear and aren’t efficiently delivering oxygen to their system. If you’re going out like that in your first or second mile, you’re going straight into fifth gear, and you’re not experiencing what first gear feels like.
How do you train yourself to breathe through your nose?
Start simple. Focus on your breath throughout the day, and try to get back to nasal breathing. Again, I’m not saying mouth breathing is bad, but it’s just learning when you should be “at nose” and when you should be “at mouth”. I get some of my athletes to tape their mouth before they go to sleep at night.
During the day work on building that connection with nasal breathing. Start to notice when you go from nose to mouth. When people are mouth breathing, they’re using the sympathetic nervous system, fight-or-flight mode, whereas when you’re nose breathing you’re in the parasympathetic mode, which is rest, recovery and digestion.
To get back to nose breathing you have to show humility. If I asked you to go do a lap right now nose breathing, you’d find it really hard. That’s the thing about running – just because you can run at a certain pace doesn’t mean you have the right to. To maintain the skill of nose breathing you have to change your pace. And then the body adapts. Then the more you develop this tool, the stronger you get. World-class athletes spend most competition time nasal breathing only – it’s only in the final bend of the final bit or a workout that they go to mouth breathing and go up a gear.