SOOTHING THE SAVAGE BREATHE
By Calvin W.
One of the early challenges I remember when I first started running is figuring out how to breathe. It all felt so ragged until I got to that point in a given running effort when my breath rate finally matched my pace. Until it didn’t again as I got further into the run. Until it did again as I progressed even further.
I came to realize that the first period of smoothness came when it took 3 footsteps to inhale and another 3 to exhale. That happened relatively early in a run not long after I got started. But that never lasted long as my body moved to the next level of effort. That’s when my breath rate and running cadence became asynchronous and ragged again. The next level of synchrony happened when I settled into the next higher level of effort when my breathing pattern became 2 steps to inhale and 2 to exhale. Once I reached that level, which fortunately lasted the majority of a running episode, I was comfortable and my breathing rhythmic.
There are terms for the phenomenon of breathing rate matching the footsteps—rhythmic or cadence breathing—and it’s the kind of issue that running authorities address. Conducting an internet keyword search on ‘breathing pattern running’ returns several popular running authorities who do just that: Runner’s World and RunConnect among others.
Reading through some of their pages, you can find information about even patterns like 3:3 and 2:2. Runner’s World (Exactly How to Breathe When You Run So You Can Go Faster and Longer) also talks about 4:4. The author even talks about odd-pattern breathing rhythms like 4:3 and 3:2.
I first heard about odd-pattern breathing in conjunction with the assertion that your body relaxes when you exhale which leaves the runner susceptible to injury when you consistently land on the same foot. Odd-pattern breathing alternates which foot you land on when your body is most relaxed. It’s an assertion that hasn’t been borne out in research. Here’s an article that talks about the practice and the research: How Should I Breathe When I Run?
What no one seems to talk about is transitioning. They talk about finding the right breathing pattern for yourself for different running efforts. But who of us maintains the same level of effort throughout a run? Even starting a given run, it takes a few minutes to warm up. And if you’re a long distance runner like I am, I don’t warm up for 3-5 miles. That’s a lot of minutes of irregular breathing.
I started experimenting with odd-pattern rhythmic breathing for my own reasons. During that period, I found that 3:2 breathing worked for a lot of my running: inhale across 3 footfalls, exhale across 2. It takes some getting used to, but like any habit, once you get used to it, it becomes second nature.
Still, as I asserted, no one maintains consistent effort level through a given running episode, and I still experienced irregular and awkward breathing across the transition to 2:1.
Then it hit me. What about combining both even-pattern and odd-pattern rhythmic breathing across a run? Here’s where I’ve landed.
I start out with 3:3 breathing as soon as I settle into a steady pace at the beginning of a run. That happens so quickly these days that I barely get going before that’s the pattern that I notice myself using. Then as my effort level increases, I switch to 3:2 breathing. As my pace picks up faster and my energy demand increases, I then switch to 2:2 breathing. Finally, for the fastest and most aggressive running I do, typically toward the end of a run, I switch to 2:1 and finally 1:1 breathing.
That might seem like a lot of transitioning—and no question it made for a lot of attentiveness when I first started figuring it out—but it’s become effortless.
In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about how breathing patterns and transitioning works for the different kinds of running I do.
-CtCloser (Calvinthe), "Negative split or positive splat"
Text: Calvin Wang, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
The contents of this post represent the opinions and convictions of the author alone and not necessarily those of any associated entities. The author is not a medical professional and does not offer the included information as medical advice.
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