RUNNING OUT OF BREATH OR RUNNING CHARGED UP WITH BREATH?
As a runner, do you practice breathwork? Did you know that the way that we breathe has a direct influence over the way that we prepare, perform and recover from physical activity? One of the simplest, yet most satisfying and rewarding ways to explore, explain and express this is through running.
Running can be a fun activity or way to train that gets you moving and can get you checking in with your breathing. It can help you determine where your benchmarks for daily, everyday success are, as you develop awareness of how you breathe and manage yourself as the pressure intensifies.
We’ll be exploring some principles that can help you to develop a perspective on breathing that supports running where you can enjoy and benefit from running, inclusive of all ages and abilities.
There are two main factors that influence everyone’s ability to perform and endure for Running- their Muscles and their Breathing.
When Running, our breath helps to move Oxygen, which helps to move blood through the Muscles. As movement and speed increases, there is a need for more Oxygen to move the blood into the Muscles to keep up with the increased demands placed on the Body.
When our pace and speed increase with running, we will typically experience increased breathing, leading to increased Heart Rate, causing the body to work harder in order to keep up. As movement increases, there is an increase in the build up of Carbon Dioxide and the need to breathe increases to balance this out.
Have you ever noticed this when running and pushing yourself to your full limits? The Mouth begins to inhale and exhale, breathing turns into Hyperventilation as speed increases and you reach the point of no-return. What feels like a burst of speed, strength and extra breath to get several paces further, has a price to pay, which can come in the form of exhaustion, dehydration, fatigue, panting and exasperated breathing.
It’s during these moments that we’re running faster that we can often feel the need to breathe through the Mouth. The moment that our Mouth opens to breathe, we release more Carbon Dioxide and we may end up losing too much from over-breathing contributing to experiences such as;
- Decreased Oxygenation of Tissues and Organs,
- Increased fatigue,
- Exercise induced Asthma and
- Activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System.
Running and training in this way over long-term periods can contribute to trauma in the Airways, decreased Immune function, increased need for recovery and overall health imbalances.
One of the biggest game changers with running is Nasal Breathing, which has many benefits associated with it, including;
- Conditioning the air we breathe for oxygenation,
- Increasing Nitric Oxide into the body,
- Increasing Aerobic threshold,
- Improving overall health and
- Enhancing performance.
When we breathe through our Nose, we can stay more in control of our breathing and what this translates to during running, is being able to manage stress more effectively and perform under pressure. Running and Nasal Breathing can open up a world of difference in the way that you prepare, perform and recover.
Think of the work that you put in with your breath like learning to fine tune your engine! I’d like you to imagine that your breathing and running are like the gearbox in a car. The gears each represent different Heart Rate Zones, which each have a direct impact on your Breathing and Heart Rate. The idea is to develop awareness of where your limits are and to learn to move between the gears when running.
THE GEARS OF BREATH FOR RUNNING
Gear 1, (Low Intensity Aerobic) – everyday walking pace, breathing through the Nose.
Gear 2, (Moderate Intensity Aerobic) – brisk walking pace, breathing through the Nose.
Gear 3, (Aerobic Training) – jogging pace, breathing through the Nose.
Gear 4, (High Intensity Anaerobic) – running at greater intensity. Inhaling through the Nose, exhaling through the Mouth.
Gear 5, (Maximum Intensity Anaerobic) – running with everything you’ve got. Inhaling and Exhaling through the Mouth.
GEARS FOR RUNNING EXPLAINED
Gears 1 to 3 are Aerobic Metabolic Zones, where your body, in the presence of Oxygen, combusts Carbohydrates, Amino Acids and Fats as its fuel for your exercise
Gears 4 and 5, involve Mouth Breathing and are considered Anaerobic Metabolic Zones where the body, in the absence of Oxygen, draws energy from Glucose in the blood and increases Lactic Acid buildup in the body; contributing to the stressful impacts of Mouth Breathing.
Retraining yourself to breathe only through your Nose takes discipline.
You may feel uncomfortable at first or feel like you’re not reaching the distances that you might be used to running to, so be kind to yourself and patient. Step by step, breath by breath, you’ll adjust and what you’re actually building here, is your ability to stretch out the amount of time you can stay in your Zone of Aerobic Performance; contributing to all the health benefits and great-feelings that running can bring, without the added stressful impacts on your body from training in Gears 4 and 5.
A good way to measure your progress is to try a beep test (Remember this one from High School PE class? There’s an online audio and app for this) at your local park or run a regular route in your neighborhood or surroundings and notice how long you can stay in Gear 3 for.
Consider asking yourself, “at what point do I feel the need to open my mouth to breathe in running?”
Track your progress and have fun with this!
BREATHWORK TIPS FOR RUNNING:
Before running, your Breathwork could involve some simple breath holds to help you build your tolerance to Carbon Dioxide, which can help open up your airways, contribute to decreasing your overall breathing rate and develop more control over your breath, improve your oxygen delivery to your muscles, enhance your control and form and extracting more energy with every breath.
After running, your Breathwork could emphasise longer exhales and lower, slower and less breathing after recovery to help with lowering your Heart Rate and moving you more towards calm, rest and recovery made possible through stimulation of your Parasympathetic Nervous System and Vagus Nerve.
Outside of running, you could be training when you’re not actually physically running, by consistently paying attention to how you’re breathing. Consider asking yourself how you’re breathing at rest, as this has direct influence over your breathing when the pressure is on.
If you’re able to breathe efficiently and emphasise low, less and slow, you’ll become more resilient and able to breathe better when it’s time to run. Your resilience will grow, you’ll be able to breathe better and run better and you’ll be able to bounce back more effectively.
Through retraining of your everyday breathing and tolerance to the buildup of Carbon Dioxide, you would be learning to improve the efficiency of your breathing by learning to get comfortable being in the space between breaths; in Running, this also translates to increasing the amount of time spent in-between breaths too, when the pressure is on.
BREATHWORK FOR RUNNERS EXCERCISES:
Here are some exercises that you can try to help incorporate Carbon Dioxide Tolerance into your training for Running:
For all of these exercises, first take 3 Coherent Breaths, (inhale for a count of 5 and exhale
for a count of 5), through your Nose, pinch and hold the nose on the last exhale and test:
- How many steps you can walk on a breath hold?
- How many steps you can walk and sprint as your need to breathe increases?
- How far can you run on a breath hold?
As you work on your breathing while running, you may experience greater focus, improved ability to stay calm and in control, less injuries, quicker recovery, endurance that goes the distance and improved overall enjoyment of running.
WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN TO RUN SMARTER AND NOT HARDER?
You don’t always need to be feeling sweaty, huffing and puffing and exhausted to experience the benefits from Running. It’s time to overtake the old mentality of “no pain, no gain” and leave it in the dust!
What if optimised breathing was the missing link that could help introduce people of all backgrounds, ages and abilities to move better, feel better and live better?
The only way to find out is to pause and take a step back in order to take many more steps forward! This might involve running along the road less traveled, however, with a focus on running for longevity in mind, the journey awaits and can be conquered, one breath and many steps at a time.
by Nathan Ho