Have you ever found yourself running beside someone who sounds like they are gasping for breath while they are running, even though you may not be going at a very fast pace?
Or have you ever gone for what was meant to be your weekly slow run, but found that you are breathing quite heavily after 15 minutes of your 60 minute run?
It may surprise some people, but the way that you breathe can have an effect on how you feel with regards to energy levels, muscles tightness and mobility.
For runner’s, who put a lot of effort and time into training and are looking for ways to help improve their running and their times, breathing effectively should be of interest to them.
In this blog, I’m going to go through how breathing and how the muscles involved in breathing can influence aches, pains and stiffness and what you can do to help improve this and your running.
The effect of stressors on your body
I’m going to refer to stressors as anything that causes a stress on your body. This can be physical, mental, emotional or lifestyle stressors and of course diet, to name the big ones.
And yes, running and training does place a lot of stress on your body.
When a stress is placed on your body you go into a state called ‘fight or flight’ which is needed to ‘get your going’. Your heart rate will increase, blood travels quicker to your muscles and adrenaline and other hormones are pumped around your body.
Your heart rate will also increase and will speed up.
The two main muscles involved when you breathe, are your diaphragm and your pelvic floor. When you breathe in, your diaphragm shortens and moves down and your pelvic floor lengthens and the reverse happens when your breathe out.
When you are breathing calmly through your nose in a relaxed way, your diaphragm and pelvic floor will lengthen and shorten nicely.
However, when your breathing rate increases and your breathes become shorter, these muscles will not go through their full range of motion and can tend to stiffen up slightly over time.
This can affect the position of your rib-cage and pelvis which can have an effect on your running.. Let’s talk about this below.
How can this affect runners?
When these muscles tighten and loose some mobility they can also have a knock on effect to the muscles around your rib-cage (diaphragm lies underneath) and also your pelvis (pelvis floor lies here).
This can lead to stiffness and tightness through your obliques and back muscles and also your glutes and hip muscles, such as groin and hamstrings.
If you find that you are often feeling quite stiff through your back, groin, glutes or hamstring, no matter how much you stretch them, then it could be down to a diaphragm or pelvic floor issue.
This stiffness can mean that your body does not have the same ‘elastic’ free energy when running and certain muscles will have to work harder to pull your legs through. This can lead to lead to niggles or injuries down the way, but it can also affect how you feel when you run.
You may not feel as ‘free’, or as ‘loose’ when your run and you may be missing that spring in your step.
Another big thing to note is that when you over-breathe through your mouth, you are not getting the oxygen to your muscles as effectively as you should. Too much air is going in and out.
If you think about the benefits of high altitude training and why the Kenyans and Ethiopians are such good long distance runners, this may help explain it a little more.
Some tips to help
A nice tip to help is for your recovery runs. When you go for your recovery run after a hard session you should be able to run, while breathing through your nose and keeping your mouth closed.
If not, you are more than likely running too fast. Also by practicing running while breathing through your nose, you will in-fact increase your endurance capacity and improve your ability to run for longer with less air (think high altitude training).This will increase your overall fitness levels.
The second tip is for people who find that they just run out of steam or energy quickly and finish their run just about making it to the end.
There is a good chance that you are running to quick at the start, breathing too heavily and not getting the air around to your muscles effectively.
My tip is slow down and focus on having a calmer and quieter breath. This will leave you with LESS energy spent on your breathing and with MORE energy left to put into your running and finish your race strongly.
There are other movement and breathing exercises that can also help, but that may be another day.
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