Running: Developing the Skill of Breathing
How should we breathe when we run? Shouldn’t this be the easy part? Yet it is a question for many athletes, elite and recreational runners and, of course, sports scientists, doctors and so on. It is a pretty important subject, I would say a vitally important one. Breathing is a question of life and death. Just a 2-3 minute break in our breathing function could cost us our life.
In spite of the fact that breathing is a ‘natural’ and ‘automatically maintained’ process in living organisms, it would be a mistake to think that we know ‘how’ to breathe or that we know everything there is to breathing.
We breathe, yes, but there are better ways to breathe. And of course there are breathing techniques that allow our body and mind to function at a whole other level completely unfamiliar to most of us. It is already known that altering the way we breath can lower blood pressure and may assist in improving asthma control. One can only imagine what else we might find out in the near future. So, without a doubt, how we breathe makes a difference.
Historically, the question of correct breathing was always an important point of interest in human society. It is enough to just mention yoga or martial arts in order to understand the extent of this old subject.
The Function of Breathing
Breathing is a way to maintain life, the delivery of oxygen to our working tissues is a process of supplying them with energy. So our breathing is energy for our life. Therefore, the question of how to breathe is the question of how to better maintain our life, and if we extend it further – how to maintain our movement. Additionally, our breathing is a part of our interaction with the environment where the main stimulator of oxygen consumption is gravity or, to be exact, the rate of using it. So, for example, when we run faster, meaning, we fall more, the use of oxygen increases.
But in order to attempt to find what type of breathing is right for physical activities and specifically for running, we have to follow the line of ‘breathing logic’ related not only to physiological functions of delivering oxygen, but also as part of the psycho-emotional and mental state of our body.
Mindfulness & Stress Control
Our mind controls our entire body, its response to everything. It is an important factor that increases oxygen consumption. When our psycho-emotional condition is going crazy, when, for example, we get scared, our breathing becomes faster and harder. It can become this way even as we stand still to say the least of running, but just from the expectation of fright, or just from uncertainty, etc. So one of the first questions on the topic of correct breathing in sports should be directed at the effort on how to reduce the dependence of our breathing from the mental and psycho-emotional condition of our body.
This is where the use of different kinds of breathing is helpful. For example: deep, through the nose only, diaphragmatic, with a certain rhythm. Here’s a link to some breathing related terms that you might find helpful. We can breathe to reduce our mental and psycho-emotional stress by focusing on how we breathe and of course the technique itself will have an impact. This will allow our body to perform at its optimal level or at least minimize the effects of stress. I don’t have a particular source to recommend but wherever you start you will be benefit. Older printed books tend to have more carefully selected information. So find what resonates with you at this moment.
The Workload of the Lungs
Another component of optimization of breathing is related to the reduction of unnecessary and unnecessarily hard work of breathing organs – lungs and diaphragm. These organs themselves become the major consumers of oxygen when the length and intensity of movement increase. And at a certain point they start to consume more oxygen than the working muscles of the body, like, for example, legs in running. In this case, a shallow and fast breathing technique makes a lot of sense. This kind of technique could be observed in fast running animals (dogs, for example) and in some elite runners.
In conclusion, I would like to say that most of breathing techniques have their own specific meaning and goal, which should be recognized, learnt and used correctly for the purpose. Any athlete would benefit from learning what’s already available and is considered effective such as tai-chi breathing techniques, yoga and such. You have to start somewhere, so while I have my opinion based on my research and experience, it is prudent to say that the jury is still out and there is no established protocol or standard, but nonetheless it is a good idea to start building the foundation with simple, well known basics. So, again, I am talking about development of skill. It always comes down to learning and developing a skill. Breathing is no exception.
Understanding and improving running technique is part of the Pose Method Certification Course. Designed for health and fitness professionals, it is also a great starting point for anyone looking to become a coach. This seminar offers 16 CE hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists.
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