Stress management is a hot topic these days. Our world is a crazy-busy place. We spend our days with work, family, traveling, exercising, carpooling, cleaning, cooking and fitting in as much fun as possible. To cope, many people employ mindfulness practices, which include breathing exercises. Those “in the know” understand that breathing fosters better sleep, centers the mind and calms anxiety. So how do these helpful practices enhance a runner’s output? Well, the two (exercises and deep breathing), go hand-in-hand. Both relieve stress and increase endorphins. When done right, you could feel better times two!
How Breathing Enhances Your Running Performance
As we all know, breathing is the process of taking oxygen in and out to keep us alive and fuel our activities. However, there is a right and wrong way to breath. If breathe ineffectively, you might be under-performing and sabotaging your running goals. Though is seems second nature, it is actually hard to breathe correctly while running. Many components come into play while running: good posture, relaxing your shoulders, correct mid-foot strike. Breathing correctly often gets missed.
Achieving maximum fitness benefits from your run requires pushing boundaries. Your body may hurt a bit. Pushing yourself through the pain, often referred to as the ‘pain barrier’ requires enormous mental strength. Many find that effective breathing exercises help channel thoughts and strengthen the mind to push further.
Breathing exercises are effective before, during and after your run. Breathing before your run helps calm your nerves and channel anxiety into beneficial energy required for your run (1). Effective breathing during a run helps focus the mind, find a flow, increase strength and enhance performance (2). Breathing after a run deepens stretching and improves recovery.
How Breathing Exercises Help Before Your Run
Running often requires pushing your limits to reach your goal. To see substantial progress in your running, your mind and body must become efficient and effective at pushing through training barriers. Driving through these training thresholds often causes pain in your muscles. This is when effective breathing exercises help calm your nerves, channel anxiety and re-frame negative thought patterns. The ‘monkey mind’ is a term used for these negative thoughts and the repeated negative voice within your head trying to talk you out of something. Even top athletes experience negative thoughts about performance and goals. Regularly practice some form of meditation to help control your thoughts.
Diaphragm Breathing Before Your Run
Use warm up time to also warm up and focus your mind. Practice diaphragm breathing. Put your hands on your stomach and focus on expanding your belly not your shoulders and chest as you inhale. Your hands should rise and fall as you breathe in and out. Expand your stomach with each long slow inhale. Feel your large diaphragm muscle activating as you inhale. Repeat for about ten long, slow breaths.
Breathing Exercises During Your Run
Focusing on your breath while running is just as important as focusing on your posture, shoulders, the positioning of our arms and foot strike. Breathing allows you to train more accurately, improving your running performance. Try to synchronize breath with your stride. This helps running efficiency and pacing.
Progressive Breathing Patterns
A popular method of breathing during running is “in for two steps and out for two steps,” otherwise known as the 2:2 breathing pattern. Alternatively, try breathing in for three steps and out for three steps, the 3:3 breathing pattern. Some prefer 2:1 or even 3:2 breathing patterns. According to running coach Jack Daniels, this maximizes the intake of oxygen. Effective breathing directly relates to a good posture which equates to fewer injuries and better running performance.
Essentially, you want as much air in and out of your body with as much ease as possible. Of course, this comes with improved physical fitness, but it starts with effective mental fitness. Practice all the different breathing options to see which suits you best.
Breathing To Boost Our Motivation To Succeed
Studies show that the mind may actually ‘shut down’ the body, even when you have enough physical energy left. Apparently, when we run, our brain measures ‘perception of effort with our motivation to succeed.’ When your perception of effort outweighs your motivation to succeed, you may slow down, or even stop.
How Breathing Helps You Push Through Pain
Studies suggest that to feel less pain we must gain a willingness to tolerate the pain (3). Your capacity to put up with the discomfort of intense training isn’t the same as your capacity to endure other types of pain. To improve your tolerance to exercise-induced pain, you need to get used to it. One scientist showed that physical limits are imposed by the brain, not the body (4). Some experts came up with the theory that the mind rules the body when it comes to endurance performance (5). They suggest that perception of effort and actual effort differ.
When the mid-run pain really sets in, employ a breathing exercise practice. Decide on the type before the run. You won’t have time, energy or extra head space to start a new technique mid-run. Experiment during your easy jogs or walks so you are able to execute a useful breathing exercise at this stage of your run. Find words to use during your breathing exercise that really shift your butt into gear! Maybe change your focus to all the things you have sacrificed to get to this point; missing out on a hot date to train, passing on a few beers with the boys, the amount of time you have dedicated to your fitness and running.
Nasal Breathing For Endurance Running
Nasal breathing is a popular method used to train and improve the respiratory system and cardiovascular system. Some runners say breathing through the nose helps regulate breathing and warms the air before it hits your lungs. Some runners swear that mouth breathing brings in more oxygen than nasal breathing. And then other runners believe that breathing naturally increases oxygen intake. However, your natural breathing pattern may not always be the most effective or efficient for your running performance.
The whole point of breathing is getting the maximum amount of oxygen in and out of your body. If nasal breathing forces your jaw to clench and mouth breathing feels more relaxed, then stick to it. Whether nasal or mouth, the most effective way of getting the maximum amount of oxygen into your body is with diaphragm breathing.
Breathing Exercises After Your Run
Recovering after your run is just as important as putting in the miles. This is how your body rebuilds and replenishes itself during periods of recovery. With your breath, find a deeper inner peace, which effectively helps your body relax and recover. Recovering after your run not only relieves muscles and bones, but it also aids your grey matter. Relax your breathing, your shoulders, and all your muscles.
Breathing With Gratitude For Pain Relief
Practicing gratitude towards yourself, to your life, or to a loved one almost always makes things better. Gratitude pulls us out of self-focus to a more optimistic and content thought pattern.
Recent research found that gratitude and reflection positively affect how we experience pain and effort (7). For years we have known of the enormous benefits of meditation, but lately, a growing body of evidence suggests meditating helps manage our response to pain. Meditation may help you distinguish between physical pain and your emotional reaction to it.