Running- The impact of breathing efficiency

This morning I was talking to a client regarding breathing efficiency whilst running, this is a common problem I keep seeing so I thought why not write a blog on how we can combat this.

We do it every day, all day long, without even thinking about it, but while running, we should pay attention to breathing. Why should breathing while running be any different? Step 1: Breathe in. Step 2: Breathe out. Step 3: Repeat until you reach the finish line… right? Not quite.

If you already have some running miles under your belt, you know that there are more than a few bumps on the road when you’re trying to find the right breathing rhythm. If you’re a beginner just getting started with running, you may not have given much thought to how to breathe while running, yet – but you will eventually.

Whether you’ve already started working on the optimal way to breathe while running or you’re only getting ready to take your first running steps, here’s some insight into breathing while running that will hopefully help you take deeper, better breaths. We take approximately 23,000 breaths a day and 8,400,000 breaths in a year, and we do it automatically without being aware of it. The physiological process of breathing means taking oxygen from the atmosphere, which our bodies then use for cellular respiration, among other things, and expel carbon dioxide as a by-product. While all this happens automatically, some elements of life make us more conscious of our breathing – sports being one of them.


While running you should use deep belly breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing) as it’s better for efficient and

maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) than shallow chest breathing. The air you breathe in only remains in the lungs short time, thus preventing a complete exchange of air. This then reduces the amount of oxygen you take in. Poor breathing technique is often the reason why people get the dreaded side stitch while running.

Deep belly breathing, on the other hand, is a much more efficient breathing technique for running because it uses the entire capacity of the lungs. The air you breathe in also travels down to the lower portion of your lungs and stays there longer. This increases your oxygen uptake.


  1. Lie down on the floor or on your sofa and place your hands or a light book on your stomach.
  2. Breathe in and out deeply and consciously. You should be able to clearly see the book rise when you breathe in and fall as you breathe out.
  3. Focus on trying to exhale all the air out of your lungs. With a little practice, belly breathing will become automatic and feel completely natural.


In general, the goal should be to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide as efficiently as possible. Naturally, you can’t take in as much air through your nose as you can through your mouth. Thus, it makes sense to mainly breathe through your mouth when running. While it is true that the air is filtered and warmed when you breathe through your nose, it is not a good idea to deprive your body of a way of achieving maximum oxygen uptake when your body is under stress. As the intensity of your running increases, you will soon see that you cannot get enough oxygen by simply breathing through your nose.


  • Easy runs at low intensity: 3:3 (three steps while breathing in and three steps while breathing out)
  • Medium-intensity runs: 2:2
  • Maximum and high-intensity runs: 1:1 (i.e. the final burst at the end of a race)
Breathing Rhythm
Breathing Rhythms

These rates should only be used as a rule of thumb, and they do not apply to every runner. The best way is to try out a few different breathing rhythms and find the one that feels most comfortable to you.

Some studies even reject the notion of setting recommendations on breathing rates. Regardless of your breathing rate and running intensity, the most important thing is to focus on deep, conscious belly breathing while running so you can increase the length of time you breathe in and breathe out.


Avoid shallow chest breathing while running and focus on deep belly breathing. Breathe through both your nose and mouth, but primarily through the latter. Try out several different breathing rhythms and choose the one that feels most comfortable to you. Often your best breathing technique for running will develop by itself over time. If it helps switch off your heart rate monitor function in favour of concentrating on your breathing patterns, this will really help regulate your effort on your run.