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Running, Breathing and the Nose

Posted Mar 08 2011 10:16am

Let me start off by reminding everyone that I am the “average Joe” runner.  I am not a coach or trying to pass myself off as some sort of expert.  I am just a living experiment.  So, with that out of the way I wanted to tackle something that I have been thinking about for the past few weeks, breathing and running.  My reason for thinking about this is that I am preparing for a high altitude race at the end of the month.  It will be my second time running a race at high altitude and from what I remember last year, breathing was the most important piece that helped me finish the race.

Thinking about breathing and running I decided to do a quick search online to see what others were saying about it.  My advice, don’t do it!  You will just become more confused and start thinking way to much about foot striking and breathing and ratios and this and that and everything until running is just not fun anymore.  Seriously, how can you decode this:

Keeping the 3:2 ratio means that for the first three steps you’re inhaling, meanwhile exhaling for the next two, alternating between steps. A 3:2 ratio is most commonly used for a light jog. If running exceptionally fast your body may instinctively switch to a 2:1 ratio. That means for every two steps of inhaling you only exhale for one step.*1

Okay, breathing is important but that stuff about ratio just takes all the fun out of it- in my opinion.  I mean, I want to enhance my performance, but if I tried to make sense of all this while running I’m afraid that I would just quit.  I get why experts are giving breathing techniques, for maximum amount of oxygen intake and management while creating a more efficient run.  Got it.  But, I really can’t sit here and write that I totally am on board with paying attention to this.

So here is MY solution to this.  I may be criticized for my technique but I already have said that I am not a coach or expert.  This has worked for preparing me to run at high altitudes and focus on breathing and it is much, much easier than counting foot strikes and figuring out some ratio.  It is called- are your ready for this- nose breathing.  Crazy, huh.

This is what I have been doing, when going out for my Monday and Wednesday runs of 3 to 4 miles I concentrate the entire time on breathing only through my nose.  This does a few things for me, but specifically it helps me maintain a more comfortable pace while also keeping me more relaxed, I am not gasping for air and am only able to keep up to a pace that is allowed by the oxygen being breathed through my nose.  Next, it helps to train my body and mind for improved  performance by using my lungs more efficiently.

Somebody smarter than me wrote the following:

When you mouth-breath while running, you are taking in rapid breaths of large volumes of air. The result is that your body is able to throw off large quantities of carbon dioxide, a waste-product of the body. This is good right? Well, yes…..but only to a certain degree. The problem is, mouth breathing quickly puts people into a state where they create an artificially low concentration of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. With low quantities of carbon dioxide in the blood, oxygen is not released as freely into the cells of the body. The body is tricked into thinking it is hyperventilated, or already has enough oxygen! The body needs to maintain a certain level of carbon dioxide in the blood to maximize its ability to absorb oxygen from inhaled air.*2

Seems easy enough, right?

Think of yourself as a race horse.  These big, majestic, fast animals can hammer out crazy speeds for long, long distances at a time.  Know what? They only breathe through their noses.  That is right, I was pretty surprised when I read that myself.  If it is good enough for a horse to breathe through their nose and dominate mile after fast mile then it is good enough for me to practice with nose breathing to become a more efficient and prepared runner.

As I have said in the past, it is all about balance.  Maybe this nose breathing technique during some shorter runs will also help bring a balance to your running efficiency.

What are your thoughts about nose breathing?  Do you think it is all just as confusing as the ratio idea? Do you not care and just want to ‘run’? Have you tried nose breathing before as a training tool?


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