We often underestimate the power of the breath. Breath is a gift which can reap great rewards if you are breathing correctly. It can lower anxiety, enhance your immune system, improve focus, reduce asthma attacks, and improve the quality of any physical activity, such as running.
First of all, I suggest you carry out this simple test to find out if you are breathing properly. If you are fortunate enough to have a pulse oximeter to measure the oxygen saturation in the blood, attach it your finger and breathe as you normally do. An oxygen saturation reading of between 95% and 99% is good.
According to Patrick McKeown, author of ‘The Oxygen Advantage’ he suggests, “An oxygen saturation of 100% would suggest that the bond between red blood cells and oxygen molecules is too strong, reducing the blood cells’ ability to deliver oxygen to muscles, organs, and tissues. We need the blood to release oxygen, not hold on to it…Increasing oxygen saturation to 100% has no added benefits.”
The other simple method which anyone can do is by keeping track of your Body Oxygen Level Test score (BOLT). This will let you know if your natural breathing is efficient or not and the method is described by Patrick McKeown. It’s best to do this first thing in the morning rather than at night to reflect your natural breathing pattern.
To do this:
- Take a normal breath in through your nose.
- Let it out through your nose.
- Hold your nostrils with your fingers and stop breathing.
- Time the number of seconds until you feel the first clear desire to breathe. (You may feel the need to swallow or your abdomen or throat might lightly contract. When you feel something like this stop the timer).
BOLT is NOT checking how long you can hold your breath but how quickly your body reacts to a lack of air.
A score of 20 seconds is average. A score of 40 is particularly good. If your score is under 20 then that’s a sign of a poor breathing rhythm and maybe over-breathing through the mouth during the day or while you sleep.
Breathing through the mouth could lead to exhaling too much carbon dioxide and your tissues receive less oxygen as a result, so nose breathing is preferable.
Breathing methods such as The Wim Hof breathing method or pranayama breathing often used in yoga are examples of breathing techniques which have gained popularity. If you are following any breathing tehnique, keeping track of your BOLT scores overt the days you are using a particular technique is a good way to understand if the breathing technique is affecting your normal breathing rhythm.
How to Breathe While Running For Beginner Runners
There are a few signs to look out for that may show you are not using your diaphragm efficiently, besides just gasping for air whilst running. These can be things like tightness or pain in your neck, or shoulders that raise and lower, an asymmetrical rotation in your torso, an arched back or flared ribs, and paradoxical breathing, when your stomach rises as you exhale and sinks when you inhale.
Bringing awareness to your breathing builds more efficiency, a steadier pace, and a calmer mind, even during high-pressure races. Inhaling through your nose, expanding your stomach, and out through your mouth, allowing your stomach to sink is ideal for the best gas exchange at an easy pace. Give your body time to adapt, then it’s time to take focused breathing on the move with rhythmic patterns. starting by inhaling for two counts, then exhaling for two, a pattern called 2:2 breathing. This will help pace yourself better, the steadier you’re breathing, the less likely you are to go out too hard—and ensure a steady flow of oxygen to your muscles.
If you are new to this, practise it walking first, then on easy runs focus for a minute or two and gradually increasing your focus. As you grow more comfortable with focused breathing, you can use it for faster runs, such as intervals.
Many new runners breathe from their chest instead of their diaphragm, further limiting their oxygen intake. Combat this with belly breathing. For five minutes in the morning or before you run, lie down and place your hand on your stomach. Take slow, deep breaths that lift your hand as you inhale and sink it as you exhale. (I’ve been practicing the Wim Hof Method in a seated meditation position every morning. In through the nose and out through the mouth). Once you’re comfortable on the ground, try taking belly breaths when walking, then running.
So keep thinking to yourself: breathing from my belly, not shrugging my shoulders or straining my neck.
Good luck and breathe efficiently. I am NOT an expert on breathwork but I certainly like to seek out advice and reliable sources.
I’d love to hear if this has been of benefit or if you have any suggestions.
Alive & Kicking.