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Breathing for Runners

Why do we train breathing?

We do this to help us run longer (endurance) and with less effort. Runners think about training their legs and heart, but not always their lungs. However your diaphragm is a muscle and is responsible for 80% of the work to inhale. Better breathing leads to increased oxygen to the muscles, so it is no wonder that our leg muscles (which use oxygen to generate the energy to contract) have greater endurance if we have stronger diaphragms.

Drills for 3 elements of breathing:

  1. Breathing using the belly rather than the ribs. Inhale while pushing your abdomen out, then exhale drawing your tummy in firmly. Practice this when you aren’t running until it feels more natural. Also, try the pilates exercises below.

  2. Trying out different rates of breathing using footfall to assist us (eg. 1-1, 2-2, 3-3) Deep, rhythmic breathing is the most efficient way to absorb oxygen - and it helps your body to relax. Your breathing rate will change during your run with intensity gradient, try gradually, over time, to lengthen your breath.

  3. Breathing using the mouth and nose at the same time! Before leaving for a run, take a moment to focus on your breathing patterns. Regular practice will make efficient breathing come naturally, even in hard runs and races.

Here are some pilates/yoga exercises that will help you with the belly breathing.

  1. Hundreds (ref: Why? It teaches controlled breathing – inhale and exhale is balanced. Bonus: strong abs

  2. Up dog (ref: Why? It opens the chest & deepens lung capacity to correct shallow breathing

  3. Standing Chest Expansion: (ref: Why? Stretch the intercostal muscles (between the ribs, responsible for breathing out), relaxes shoulders, engages diaphragm and pelvic floor.


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