How to Breathe While Running – Nose or Mouth?
It’s the million-dollar question: how to breathe while running – nose or mouth? We’ve all heard it whether we’re a runner or couch potato. How do I know this? Well it’s an educated guess, of course, but based on the fact that when I was in the junior school running race in the summer months, my good friend, Darren Longstaff, who is no longer with us unfortunately, told me to breathe through my nose. So if he knew at 10 or 11 years of age, it’s a good chance that most adults also know this bit of misinformation.
We also run in bare feet, due to the fact that this was the 80s and we’d seen Zola Budd blitz the competition at the Olympic games without a shoe in sight. Bare feet and nose breathing it was…
Now there is a lot to be said for barefoot running, which is backed by science and even Nike have trainers made to mimic the action of running in your bare feet. Breathing through your nose is an entirely different story.
Why is Nose Breathing Wrong?
There’s a lot of complicated things to grasp when science and the body are involved, but for once this is pretty straightforward. The simple reason that nose breathing is wrong is because it actually hinders your breathing. (When I say nose breathing, I refer to the typical approach of in through your beak and out through your kisser.)
Think of it like this, your body is crying out for oxygen and it’s telling your lungs to get a bloody move on. Your lungs have two options: either breathe through the mouth or through the nose.
Considering our mouths are much bigger than the two skinny holes we call nostrils makes total sense for us to breathe through our mouth rather than our nose. Mouth breathing it is, then.
Apparently, according to science, the most we take in through our nose is anywhere between 27 and 40%, but this will naturally differ from person to person.
Different Types of Breathing for Runners
There are quite a few myths that runners like to pass about, just like people spread falsehoods in other walks of life, runners are no different. This is quite often meant with good intentions, but the fact of the matter if you don’t do your own research the chances are you will get caught out from time to time and end up doing something completely wrong because your mate swore it was best practice.
Some runners have started preaching the breathing ratio magic like 2:2 or 2:3, which means you run 2 strides per inhale and 2 per exhale. The slower you run the more likely you are to stick to these methods. However, they have no scientific backing. Just hype.
Basic Breathing Methods
As we’ve already discussed, mouth breathing is avoiding the nose and breathing through the mouth.
Diaphragm breathing is a deeper form of breathing that you would use in a relaxed environment like Yoga or meditation. It’s hard to practice diaphragm breathing when you are gasping for breath on a run. However, if you can master it then you might benefit from this type of breathing as it pulls more oxygen in and is considered a stronger form of breathing than mouth breathing.
In general mouth breathing is what you will normally be starting out with as an athlete or runner, but if you are serious about your running then diaphragm breathing is the way to go as it ensures that you can reach VO2 max.
Can I Breathe Through My Nose When Running?
You might think that the way I’ve slated nose breathing it would be totally off the menu by now. Well, not quite. You can legitimately breathe through your nose on one condition. That’s if you are breathing through your mouth as well.
If you think about it, your mouth has X capacity. If you include the nose’s capacity that is Y then now you’ve got X+Y for a bigger overall capacity. Try it! It might seem a bit weird at first, but it’s not as hard as you might imagine once you get used to it.
Breathing through your nose and mouth is called oronasal breathing and most runners will automatically switch to this once they get to about a third of their oxygen requirement. It might not be a perfect ratio of 1:1 nose to mouth, but you will most likely take at least some air in through your nose when you start to pick up the pace while out running.
Use Breathing to Your Advantage
If you’re breathing relatively smoothly and your rivals are puffing and panting, it’s a quick way to gauge how fit other people are. You can incorporate this nifty little spy tricks into your running strategy and know when to turn the taps on and blast off out of sight.
Most people will be able to keep to a 3:3 or a 2:2 ratio when they’re relatively fresh, but once they start tiring they are more likely to switch to a 1:1 and it’s easy to spot them doing so.
Winning races whether that is running or on a mountain bike takes tactics and you have to seize the moment when you clock a weakness in your opponents game. It’s not being sneaky, its’ being smart!
Breathing Ratios for Running
- 3:3 low intensity running/jogging.
- 2:2 medium intensity effort, starting to pick up the pace.
- 1:1 high intensity, laboured breathing or strong controlled breathing in a fitter person.
These are the different ratios that people often practice, but you needn’t pay much attention to them. There are other formats such as 2:3 or 3:2, but to be honest this is just the type of thing where people are inventing something out of nothing.
Breathing shouldn’t be a complicated process, it should be built on our natural breathing form, but enhanced slightly to suit our running style.
Take a Deep Breathe!
So the bottom line when breathing is to learn how to practice diaphragm breathing in order to get the most out of your running and hit V02 max. Also you can try inhaling through your nose and mouth at the same time – otherwise known as oronasal breathing.
Don’t pay too much attention to breathing ratios and other fads. The only thing they are good at is for spying on the competition and seeing when they are getting tired.
The key to having a superior breathing technique is about getting as much oxygen in as possible and evacuating the waste gases quickly, by using deep, powerful chest breathing rather than week, shallow panicked breathing.
Like anything else, the more you practice and pay attention to your breathing the better you will get and you’ll notice the benefits in your running over the long term.
Five More Runner’s Reads
- 30-Day Running Challenge for Beginners
- Couch to 5K Runner Smartphone App
- 10 Wickedly Simple Running Pace Calculators
- 30 Ways How to Run Faster and Longer
- Treadmill Workout to Burn Fat
How Have You Been Breathing?
Throw your fingers down to the keyboard and let us know how you’ve been breathing. Have you had any problems that you overcame, for example?
It’s always good to hear other people’s opinions, so feel free to comment below.