Learn To Breathe Properly During Your Run

Breathing is a very natural activity–and so is getting out of breath when you run. Modified from  Hal Higdon Published 08/28/2001 Runner’s World

It’s only natural that when you run, you’ll get out of breath. Your body needs oxygen, just as your car needs gas to fire the pistons in the engine. When you start to exercise–whether running, walking or any other physical activity–your muscles use more oxygen than at a rested state. This need is met by supplying oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, more is pumped through your system the harder the system works. The lungs will work harder to absorb this oxygen out of the air…thus you get out of breath…the contrary to this is that you have asthma of some sort which complicates things a bit, but I’ll get into that later.Without giving it much conscious thought, most runners breathe in a 2/2 rhythmic ratio: which breaks down to inhaling a breath during two steps and exhaling during two more subsequent steps. Though this may be true, some slower runners may often tend to breathe in a 3/3 ratio, while faster runners might breathe 2/1, or 1/1, however 2/2 is much more common.For those that are curious to test this out if you count breaths in and out only to discover you are breathing with a different rhythm, don’t worry about it.  Most likely adjusting your breathing pattern will not make you a better runner, unless going up a hill which controlled breathing can help you “manage” or work through the strain your body is going through.The same with whether you breathe through your nose or your mouth, the majority of people naturally breathe through both. Famed New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard, when asked how runners should breathe, once replied: “Breathe through your mouth. Breathe through your nose. Suck the air in through your ears, if you can.” Regardless of how you breathe and how much you breathe, your jaw should be relaxed with your mouth slightly open. This should allow oxygen to come through your nose and mouth to your lungs, to your blood and to your muscles without you needing to yield a conscious effort. Breathing is a very natural activity–and so is getting out of breath when you run.
Now back to the tricky part: dealing with breathing when you have asthma or exercised induced asthma…many people think they can’t do sports because of this, but on the contrary, it can be very good for asthmatic individuals. I know this from personal experience; I was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma my sophomore year of high school while running track, actually a lot of weird things happened that year of my life…but I digress…  Throughout the years it’s been a struggle in the humidity, in the cold and just in general some times.
what is asthma? Asthma affects people of all ages, often it starts during childhood. In the United States, more than 22 million people are known to have asthma, with nearly 6 million of these people being children.  When the airways react, the muscles around them tighten. It is mainly the narrowing of the airways, causing less air to flow into the lungs. The swelling also can worsen, making the airways even narrower. Cells in the airways may make more mucus than normal. Mucus is a sticky, thick liquid that can further narrow your airways…thus making it challenging to breathe.
Most asthma can be controlled by using an inhaler that dilates the bronchial tract. I typically use an albuterol inhaler before each run. Other inhalers use some type of steroid to increase it’s potency.
I’ve found that over the past few years as I’ve increased my base mileage my asthma has become more controlled and I can go longer distances at a faster pace without using my inhaler, but I still carry it on me just in case.  However there are some days that even my inhaler can’t save me and that’s when I call it a day or slow myself down a good minute/mile slower or more if I am going to run or I simply run another day, most of these days are typically when it’s really humid or cold- the humidity and cold put a lot of stress on your lungs to begin with. You need to listen to your body and not push it too much because an asthma attack is nothing to really joke about, I’ve had a few mini ones this past winter when I was alone in CA for a half marathon in Disneyland- it was really scary waking up in the middle of the night feeling your lungs tighten and feel like you are drowning, gasping for air.  I’ve also been there when my mom has had a full blown attack and had to go to the Emergency Room.
 I recently found myself forgetting to take my inhaler before a 12mile run into DC and then not having one in my water pack, I was so scared…I just moved up to a pace group 1 min/mi faster than I was in the previous year but I actually ended up being fine. I attribute this to the past year of training at a lot of mileage over 12 miles that built up my lung capacity.
I have yet to not take an inhaler before a race…whoops recently did that for an 8k and still made a PR! (personal record/personal best) and I didn’t race hard…man makes me wonder how I would’ve done had I actually raced it…I chose not to race that 1) because I had forgotten my inhaler 2) I had a 15mile run the next day and really wasn’t “supposed” to  do that race anyway..regardless I listened to my body & new when to slow down.
There are a great deal of elite athletes with asthma:
  • Jerome Bettis – professional football player
  • Bruce Davidson – Olympic equestrian
  • Tom Dolan, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Chris Draft – professional football player
  • Kurt Grote, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Nancy Hogshead, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Jim “Catfish” Hunter – professional baseball player
  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Olympic medalist – track
  • Bill Koch, Olympic medalist – cross-country skiing
  • Greg Louganis, Olympic medalist – diving
  • Tom Malchow, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Debbie Meyer, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Art Monk – professional football player
  • George Murray – wheelchair athlete & Boston Marathon winner
  • Robert Muzzio – decathlete
  • Dennis Rodman – professional basketball player
  • Jim Ryun, Olympic medalist – track
  • Alberto Salazar – marathon runner
  • Isaiah Thomas – professional basketball player
  • Amy VanDyken, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Dominique Wilkins – professional basketball player

More information about exercise induced asthma:



Happy Running,

Coach Gwynne


August 19, 2011. Training Tips.

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