By Dr. Artour Rakhimov, Alternative Health Educator and Author - Medically Reviewed by Naziliya Rakhimova, MD - Last updated on August 9, 2018
Breathing techniques when
running and doing other exercises should be considered with one specific goal in mind: how to
maximize oxygenation of the body (or oxygen delivery to muscle cells) during running and at rest. This applies to long distance running, track and field, cross country running for beginners and people with asthma as well. Automatic breathing patterns at rest influence body oxygenation at rest, our automatic
breathing techniques for running, and VO2max during exercise or endurance.
We control the following respiratory parameters in order to
choose the best way to breathe for running: chest vs. belly
(diaphragmatic) breathing; mouth vs. nose breathing; breathing frequency with
breathing patterns; and tidal volume (the amount of air per one breath).
However, before considering all these factors, we are going to analyze effects
of body oxygenation at rest on physical fitness, endurance, and automatic
breathing techniques for running.
Respiratory methods while running: how to maximize fitness and body O2
While most people believe (and do that!) that
we need to breathe more air, medical research tells us
the exact opposite story. The slower and less we breathe
at rest, the more oxygen and less lactic acid we have
in body cells.
The reasons are simple. When we
breathe even 2-3 times less than
the medical norm or 3-5 times more than
the norm, our blood oxygenation remains
about the same: about 97-99% or nearly maximum possible.
The main effect of
hyperventilation is less CO2 (carbon dioxide)
in the arterial blood and tissues of the body.
This called "hypocapnia", and it causes
vasoconstriction (spasm of arterial blood
vessels) leading to reduced blood flow to all
vital organs and large skeletal muscles.
Another effect of hypocapnia is
the suppressed Bohr effect causing reduced
oxygen release by blood cells in tissues or cells.
How to breathe while exercising and running: chest vs. diaphragm
Since lower parts of the lungs get about 6-7 times richer blood supply due to
effects of gravity, diaphragmatic breathing during exercise
is a vital part of correct breathing techniques for running. Abdominal
breathing, therefore, is a must for excellent physical health and maximum body
oxygenation. However, if you don't have automatic abdominal breathing at rest
or during sleep, you are likely to have chest breathing during exercise. That
worsens endurance and physical fitness. Chest breathing is exceptionally common in modern athletes and
ordinary people, and one needs to get over 30 seconds for the body-oxygen test
24/7 in order to enjoy automatic diaphragmatic breathing at rest and during
exercise. Abdominal breathing is crucial for success in long-distance running and cross country, and for any other longer contest.
Respiratory exercises while running: nose vs. mouth
If you want to impress your friends and people of the opposite gender by
your running speed, and if you do not care about your breathing and body O2 when running, mouth breathing will likely be the best choice.
When my breathing students (sometimes athletes) have more than 60 seconds for the body-oxygen test, mouth
breathing will not provide them any advantages even for sports contests. They naturally breathe through the nose even at maximum intensity for longer sessions (up to 1-2 hours or more).
Furthermore, any athlete can
easily prove that, for the same intensity of running, mouth breathing causes
increased heart rate up to 7-10 beats per minute in comparison with nose
breathing only (in and out). The reasons are in two biochemical factors: nasal nitric oxide (a
powerful hormone and vasodilator that we generate in sinuses) and carbon dioxide
(most potent known vasodilator - see links below). Mouth breathing reduces
concentrations of these chemicals in the lung and arterial blood causing double
spasm of blood vessels.
Therefore, many modern fitness instructors and coaches teach that we need to
inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Other people advise
combined nasal and oral breathing as the preferred breathing techniques for running.
However, the best breathing techniques for running
are based on strictly nasal breathing since
it stimulates high altitude training and produces the most profound
effect on VO2max growth, and higher hemoglobin levels and body oxygenation at rest
in the long run.
Breath exercises when you run: breathing rate and tidal volume
Depending on the intensity of running, minute ventilation, and body oxygenation
at rest (i.e., alveolar CO2 and tissue O2 levels), the breathing center
naturally adjusts respiratory rates and tidal volumes during running. Many
athletes and coaches may find that a certain rhythm of breathing (i.e., 2 steps
inhale, 2 steps exhale) allows better physical performance, longer running at the same speed, fewer symptoms with asthma, etc.. This is probably true for their
current physiological parameters.
However, in order to get maximum benefits from running,
it is better to limit your ventilation slightly by taking less
air through the nose and extending the exhale. With
less than 20 s for the body-oxygen test,
breathing manipulations during running is very hard due to too heavy breathing
and low efficiency of O2 absorption. With over 30 s for body O2, it is much easier to have
nose breathing and manipulate these two factors in order to get best benefits
for endurance, VO2max, recovery rates, and overall health.
Tarahumara running techniques: 100 km every day, barefoot, with nose breathing
Tarahumara are native Indians living in Mexico. Running for very long distances
is a part of their culture and daily life. For example, when hunting for wild
animals, they simply run after them, until these animals, after hours of escape, drop from exhaustion.
Many Tarahumara runners can run up to 100 km barefoot every day without problems with recovery and
injuries. Even elite long-distance runners cannot endure 50 km per day. What are the causes or the secrets of
Tarahumara running? Some people believe that they can run better due to
their simple Tarahumara running sandals or Tarahumara
are some pictures of Tarahumaras running. You can watch YouTube
videos with Tarahumara running style. Then you can discover that nose breathing during running is
nearly the norm and provides the key to understanding their
If you think that nose breathing is uncommon and these are not typical pictures
of Tarahumara runners, search on YouTube for "Tarahumara
running" and watch them running. You will discover that their
breathing while running is based either on only nasal breathing (in and out), or,
for some Tarahumara Mexicans, mainly nasal breathing,
while their mouth can sometimes be partially open.
What are the biochemical advantages of Tarahumara running with nose breathing?
Strictly nasal breathing during running (in and out) produces the following effects on gas
composition in the lungs in comparison with mouth breathing:
- increased utilization of nasal NO (nitric oxide)
- decreased O2 levels (as for high altitude training)
- increased CO2
levels in the lungs.
In fact, due to higher CO2, strictly nasal breathing techniques for
running at sea level are even better than high
altitude training. Nose breathing is hard for
the unfit or poorly oxygenated people with heavy
breathing at rest, but most beneficial for training and long-term improvements in physical fitness, long-term endurance, and VO2max. In other words, it helps a lot for long distance, cross country, and other contests.
Strictly nasal breathing techniques for running cause
slower breathing and increased body-oxygen levels at rest later, after exercise
and especially during the next night's sleep. Therefore, it is suggested here that
Tarahumara running secret is based on slow breathing at rest with alveolar and
arterial CO2 slightly above the norm (40 mm Hg).
Nose breathing drastically reduces anaerobic
respiration in cells and lactic acid production accelerating recovery after long
runs. The Tarahumara running technique causes the following effect: the longer you
run, the better you are able to run.
Barefoot running or Tarahumara running sandals provide additional advantages, while
Tarahumara running form and Tarahumara running style could
also make slight contributions. How? Barefoot running provides physical contact
with Earth and, therefore, creates conditions for electrical grounding of the human body.
Electrons from Earth act as antioxidants (antioxidants neutralize free radicals
by donating them electrons). Medical studies indeed found that a grounded human
body has reduced blood viscosity (G. Chevalier, S. T. Sinatra, J. L. Oschman,
and R. M. Delany, “Grounding the human body reduces blood viscosity—a major
factor in cardiovascular disease,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary
Medicine, 2012.) Obviously, this is an additional positive factor in O2 delivery
since most athletes wear shoes that insulate them from Earth's electrical
The bottom line for breathing techniques for running and Tarahumara running.
If you breathe slower and less at rest (for automatic breathing), you have more
oxygen in body cells while resting and much higher oxygen utilization rate. As a
result of these factors, you are going to breathe less during exercise, have
natural nasal breathing even at high intensity, and use inhaled oxygen much more
effectively. Grounding the body (Earthing) is an
important additional factor.
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