How to breathe when you run

Between running and breathing, you’ve probably heard a lot about both topics individually but have you ever considered the role they play together? 


If you struggle with breathing when running, if you regularly get stitches, if you feel light headed or you’re generally frightened by the thought of running then read on.


One of the most common issues when it comes to breathing whilst running is that we breathe too much.


A bit of chemistry will explain this: 

When we think of breathing, we all know that it is about getting Oxygen (O2) in and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) out. It is often thought that CO2 is the bad guy and O2 is the good guy, we want more O2 and less CO2 right? 


Unfortunately, this is terribly misguided. 


O2 is not really the good guy when it comes to breathing, too much O2 can be corrosive and certainly influences the body's base chemistry. The more O2 in our system causes vasodilation and reduces the diffusion of O2 from your blood to your cells. 


In a more youthful time with your mates you might have done the old huff and puff until you feel so light headed that you pass out (do not try this) - this is the direct result of too much O2 causing vasoconstriction, influencing blood pressure and restricting O2 from getting to the brain in general (let alone diffusing to the cells where we need it). 


Our body actually works the opposite, if we have more CO2 in the system, our body recognises this and increases the uptake of O2 at a cellular level. 


To put it simply, less breathing = more oxygen in the places we need.


Now, if you are sprinting, or doing high intensity training of any kind, your body is going to be burning energy and CO2 will be abundant in your system as a result. You’ll have no problem if you breathe heavily; this is more in reference to the recovery phases of high intensity bouts, or aerobic training in general. 


Far too often, people head off for a well intended run and start heavily breathing their way through the first kilometre leaving them feeling lightheaded and unaccomplished within minutes. This is followed by feelings of shame and self doubt thinking they are terribly unfit and even hopeless! 


It is likely the issue is not due to a lack of fitness, rather your system being drunk on oxygen! 


So next time you skip out for a run, or you're struggling to recover between sets of a training session, close your mouth, take a deep breath in and breathe out long and slow. It'll help you relax, slow your heart rate and help you enjoy the process a whole lot more.