Breathe in. Breathe out.
A phrase we often hear when we are under stressful situations. But what happens when we are running, when our muscles and joints are under performance pressure? Why do we forget to breathe?
Most workout sessions start with warm ups that train you to prevent injuries and end with cool downs. What we miss out on is focusing on our breathing pattern. We are constantly obsessing over our quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves but what about the “diaphragm” – the power player muscle for long distance running.
We have rarely given breathing a second thought—respiration is automatic. We breathe in, oxygen diffuses into our blood, haemoglobin takes it to the working muscles, and the energy is produced. The resulting waste, carbon dioxide, is transported back to our lungs for removal. Easy enough. Right? But, unfortunately- “We use only 50 to 60 percent of our available lung capacity,” says Alison McConnell, Ph.D., author of Breath Strong, Perform Better. Why so? We rely too heavily on our chest muscles when we breathe. Instead you must make your diaphragm the bigger player . Contracting your diaphragm fully during each breath maximizes the amount of oxygen you take in and the amount of carbon dioxide you remove, delaying fatigue.
Three tips to consciously breathe while running:
Slow Down and Belly Breathe:
Majority of the runners experience that they cannot reach their ventilatory threshold, the point at which you can’t breathe deeply or quickly enough to fulfil your body’s demand for oxygen. Once you near this point, your body’s stress response kicks in, causing you to panic and struggle even more. To avoid or overcome this, stick to a pace that allows you to speak a few words or sentences. Michael Jordan, D.P.T., Director of Research & Education at Fast Track Sports Medicine & Performance Center in Fairfax, VA recommends inhaling through your nose and out through your mouth for the best gas exchange at an easy pace. In a few weeks your body adapts in ways that will increase your ventilatory threshold.
Rhythm and Focus:
Start of by inhaling for two counts, then exhaling for two, a pattern called 2:2 breathing. This will help you pace yourself better—the steadier you’re breathing, the less likely you are to go out too hard—and ensure a steady flow of oxygen to your muscles. You can experiment with the ratios as per what suits you naturally (Example: 2:1, 3:3, 4:4)
Many new runners breathe from their chest instead of their diaphragm, further limiting their oxygen intake. Combat this with belly breathing. For five minutes in the morning or before you run, lie down and place your hand on your stomach. Take slow, deep breaths that lift your hand as you inhale and sink it as you exhale. Once you’re comfortable on the ground, try taking belly breaths when walking, then running.
Count and Train your Diaphragm:
While running try using 2:2 breathing paired with mentally tallying the strides. The first four-count inhalation and exhalation is one. The second is two, and so on. Count from one to 100, then start over again. Try giving short goals for you to work towards. It will help you remain focused.