Deep breathing exercises for stress management is often what we hear about these days. Our world can at times be a busy place. Most of us are rushed off our feet with work, family, travelling, exercising and fitting in as much fun as possible. It’s little wonder that many of us practise deep breathing exercises for sleeping and breathing exercises to calm anxiety.
Running for fun, running a race or running to improve your fitness are all popular activities many of us enjoy as a method of stress release. For optimal stress release and enhanced running and fitness performance have you experiences the effects of breathing exercises while you run?
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 you are breathing ineffectively, you could very well be underperforming and sabotaging your running performance and fitness goals. As necessary as this sounds, it is actually hard to breathe correctly while running. There are many things you need to focus on while running such as good posture, relaxing your shoulders, correct mid-foot strike. Breathing correctly is often something that gets missed.
If you want to run your best and get the maximum fitness benefit from your run, you are going to be pushing your boundaries, challenging yourself and your muscles are most probably going to hurt. Pushing yourself through the pain, often referred to as the ‘pain barrier’ requires enormous mental strength. Many find that effective breathing exercises help to channel your thoughts and strengthens your mind enough to push through these pain barriers easier than if one didn’t tune into the breath.
Breathing exercises are effective before, during and after your run. Breathing before your run helps calm your nerves and channel your anxiety into beneficial energy required for your run (1). Effective breathing during your run helps focus your mind, find your flow, increase your strength and enhance your performance (2). Who knows, your inner Usain Bolt may even get released. Breathing after your run deepens your stretching technique and improves your recovery.
How Breathing Exercises Before Your Run Helps
Running a race or running for fitness, you’ll need to keep pushing your limits to reach your goal. To see substantial progress in your running your mind and body need to become efficient and effective at pushing through these training barriers. Driving through these training thresholds or barriers often causes pain in your muscles. You know it’s going to be tough. The thought of pushing through your pain can be a challenging thought, and sometimes this thought is enough to cause many of us worry or even become anxious. This is when effective breathing exercises help calm your nerves, channel your anxiety and take control of any negative thought patterns. The ‘monkey mind’ is a term used for these negative thoughts and that repeated negative voice within your head trying to talk you out of something, in this case, your run can be so annoying and de-motivating. Even if you are a top athlete, it is totally normal to have negative thoughts about your run, performance and goals. Regularly practise some form of meditation, so you become an expert at controlling your thoughts, especially if you often have a ‘monkey mind’. Focus your thoughts, mind and anxiety with a few rounds of diaphragm breathing.
Diaphragm Breathing Before Your Run
Use this time, while you are warming up and stretching your body before your run to also warm up and focus your mind. Now is not the time for that ‘monkey mind’ to get going. We need to quieten the negative thoughts, get your mind focused and your body into gear ready for your run.
To practise 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.
Maybe try saying on your inhale “when the mind says no” and on your exhale say “let your body go”. Find motivating words that resonate with you enough to calm your nerves and mentally prepare you for your run. Use this breathing exercise to become centred within yourself and zoned into the activity ahead. As you progress through your run this centred place within your mind is the place to return to when the going gets tough.
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 and that helps your running performance to improve. Try to synchronise your breath with your stride. This will help with your running efficiency and pacing.
Progressive Breathing Patterns
A popular method of breathing during running is breathing in for two steps and breathing 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 pattern. According to running coach Jack Daniels, this maximises your intake of oxygen. Other head coaches suggest the reverse method to this of exhaling for three breaths and inhaling for two breaths. Effective breathing directly relates to a good posture which equates to fewer injuries and better running performance. Again, diaphragm breathing is as positive during your run as it was before your run as chest breathing may lead to hyperventilation.
Effectively you want as much air in and out of your body as you can and with as much ease as possible. Of course, this comes with improved physical fitness, but it can start with effective mental fitness. Practice all the different breathing options to see which suits you, your current fitness level and your running goal. Some find the 2:2 breathing pattern effective for shorter runs and workouts. For longer runs and workouts you might like to try a 3:3 or a 4:4 breathing pattern.
As you physically begin to tire your breathing pattern may start to become a challenge and your form slightly disjointed. Staying focused on your breathing helps you maintain a steady flow of oxygen to your muscles. Which allows you to put more power and efficiency into your performance.
Breathing To Boost Our Motivation To Succeed
Studies show that your mind may actually ‘shut down’ your body even when you have enough physical energy left in the tank and your body has more to give. Apparently, when we run, our brain weighs up ‘perception of effort with our motivation to succeed’. When your perception of effort out weights your motivation to succeed you may slow down or even stop. So, if you engage with your breathing exercises during your run to boost motivation, you could actually be helping ourselves get more from your body and succeed in reaching your goals.
How Breathing Helps You Push Through Pain
If you are trying to improve your fitness or running performance, you will be pushing yourself through your comfort zone. Each breath may feel like fire, your muscles may be throbbing, and each step may be sending shock waves through your body. Your mind is saying “Stop!” This type of pain must be conquered if you want to succeed in improving your fitness and running goals. 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 will need to get used to it. A scientist has shown that physical limits are imposed by the brain and 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 are not the same things.
When the mid-run pain really sets in, you need to really have a useful breathing exercise practised and perfected before your run. You will have no time, energy or extra head space to start drilling a new technique at this stage of your 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. If none of those ideas resonates with you understand and reflect on the scientific studies suggesting that running can actually slow the ageing process. One research indicates that leukocyte telomeres, DNA-protein structures within our cells typically shorten as we age (6). A shorter leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is not just a sign of cellular ageing, it is also associated with inflammation and cardiovascular disease. Studies show that running is associated with significantly longer LTL’s (7).
Be prepared and organise what you are going to focus your mind on during this breathing exercise. Your breathing is the most effective physical tool you have for succeeding in developing a healthy and razor-sharp mindset here. It is a strategy to help you endure the most terrible moments of your run. The moments when you really are improving, pushing your boundaries and succeeding.
Nasal Breathing For Endurance Running
Nasal breathing is a popular method used to train and improve your respiratory system and cardiovascular system. Some runners say breathing through your nose helps regulate your breathing and warms the air before it hits your lungs. Some runners swear that mouth breathing is the best way to breath as it brings in more oxygen than nasal breathing. And then other runners believe that breathing naturally increases your ability to maximise 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 feel more of a relaxed method of breathing for you, then stick to what you feel more comfortable with. Whether nasal or mouth, the most effective way of getting the maximum amount of oxygen into your body is with diaphragm breathing.
Combination Breathing During Your Run
Whether you are pushing through your pain or merely finding your flow, you might like to try a method of breathing called combination breathing. This entails simultaneously breathing in and out through your nose and mouth. This helps maximise the efficiency of oxygen intake and output.
Breathing Exercises After Your Run
Recovering after your run is just as important as putting in the miles. To reach your peak physical fitness, there must be a balance. Recovery is when your body adapts to all the training you’ve done. This is how your body rebuilds and replenishes itself during periods of recovery. With your breath, you are able to find a deeper inner peace which effectively helps your body relax and recover. Recovering after your run is essential not just for your muscles and bones, but it is also vital for your grey matter. Relax your breathing, relax your shoulders, relax all your muscles. Rest both your mind and body to improve your running program and achieve your running goals.
Breathing With Gratitude For Pain Relief
You’ve completed your run, recovery and maybe if you have really pushed your physical boundaries, you might be experiencing some form of muscular pain. Practising gratitude towards yourself, to your life, to a loved one or whatever, almost always makes things better. Gratitude may help most of us transition from a self-focused to a more optimistic and content thought pattern.
The latest research found that gratitude and reflection positively affect how we experience pain and effort (8). 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.