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  • Writer's pictureShane Lawless

Running Part 1: Breathing - We're Doing It All Wrong!

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

Running, it’s all the craze at the moment. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or novice, in recent months the activity of running has exploded. In today’s running section we will be discussing all thing’s breathing when it comes to running and the direct effect it can have on your injuries and ability to run faster for longer.

How do we breathe when we run?

There are several ways to breathe: in/out through your mouth, in/out through your nose or in through your nose out through your mouth. The quickest way to get oxygen into your lungs is in/out through your mouth, therefore we tend to mouth breathe when we run. However, continued mouth breathing leads to shorter and shorter breaths (apical breathing) and ultimately results in hyperventilation (that feeling where we can’t catch our breadth and we need to stop running). This is because your lungs are not given enough time to take oxygen in and expel carbon dioxide out. A process known as gas exchange. Once the carbon dioxide in your body reaches a certain level your brain will tell you to stop and rest.

How do we stop this from happening?

You need to learn to switch to what is known as abdominal breathing. Abdominal breathing is where we use our diaphragm and stomach muscles to draw oxygen into the lungs and push carbon dioxide out. It can be done in/out through your nose or most effectively in through your nose, out through your mouth.

How long should I breathe in/out for?

There is lots of debate around this topic. Several studies have been done but the general rule of thumb is for shorter distances or sprinting, breathe in for 2 seconds and out for 2 seconds. For longer distances you might breathe in for 2 and out for 3 or 4 seconds. Ultra marathon athletes may adopt an even deeper breathing pattern of 4 in 6 out or 6 in 6 out.

In the above video you will see the hand on my chest move out and in more so than the hand on my stomach. This is known as apical or shallow breathing

In the above video you will see the hand on my stomach move in and out more so than the hand on my chest. This is known as abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing.

Breathing and injuries

When we breathe apically or mouth breathe we tend to shallow breathe. This means that we don’t use our diaphragm or stomach muscles when we breathe. Instead we use our shoulder and neck muscles. Unfortunately, these muscles were not designed for this and over 5km/10km+ they will fatigue and often break down resulting in neck or shoulder pain. On the other hand, our diaphragm and abdominal muscles were specifically designed for breathing and will continue to function as your distance increases.


Another factor in breathing when running is posture. If we shallow breathe, again we tend not to engage our diaphragm and stomach muscles. This leads to hyper-extension of our lower back which often results in pain and stiffness, particularly on hard surfaces, uneven terrain and up/down hills. When we breathe abdominally, we use our diaphragm and stomach muscles therefore relaxing the lower back enabling greater shock absorption on harder and uneven surfaces.

How do I change my breathing?

The best thing to do is to go out for a run at a slower pace than usual and work on your abdominal breathing. Try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth and play around with the different ratios of 2 in, 2 out or 2 in 3 or 4 out until you find your most comfortable level. In running this is commonly known as being “in the zone”. When this becomes second nature to you, begin increasing your distance and pace again. You will find that you can go much further and faster for longer without that hyperventilating feeling.

To learn more, or speak to one of our physiotherapists email or call 087-6156270. We offer video running assessment and analysis on our treadmills in the clinic which includes foot assessment, shoe fitting, posture analysis where compensatory patterns are measured electronically while running and exercise prescription for running.

Stay tuned for our upcoming running blogs on running related injuries, foot placement, running posture and more.

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