Breathing Exercises for Runners: But First, Are You Able to Breathe Nasally?

Screen shot 2013-10-17 at 5.39.10 PMWe run primarily with our legs?  So why is the Natural Running Center publishing a three-part video series (with accompanying text) on breathing? The answer is simple: Better breathing is the secret weapon to running better, feeling better, relaxing better, thinking better, being in better posture, sleeping better, and so on. Trust me here.

Maybe better breathing can even lower your IRS bill. Well maybe not.  Our trusted friends and sharers of natural movement wisdom, Sarah Young and Jenn Pilotti, who created the super-useful, three-part video series on glute exercises for runners, are back with some simple but powerful instructions on improved breathing. Featured here is part one of “Breathing Exercises for Runners.”  You might want to watch the video first, and then go back and read the accompanying text (scroll down the page).

It is critical to eliminate overbreathing in running and throughout the entire day. Overbeathing causes an imbalance of carbon dioxide.  Blowing off carbon dioxide will bind the oxygen tighter to your hemoglobin, preventing optimal release of oxygen to the brain and the tissues.  Overbreathing reduces the carbon-dioxide level, thereby increasing the affinity of oxygen to hemoglobin so it stays in the blood and does not diffuse optimally to the tissues.  Instead, you want to allow carbon dioxide to rise to its natural levels, and this facilitates the oxygen offloading from the hemoglobin to the tissues. And this is also is why you to stay aerobic when running. Overbreathing and thoracic breathing will sabotage good performance in training as well as racing.

Think meditative breathing. Slow your breathing down and you think more clearly.  This increases oxygenation to your brain. If you hyperventilate, you feel lightheaded and can pass out.

This why nasal breathing  (not the mouth) is a respiratory regulator. It is almost impossible to overbreathe through the nose, and it engages the diaphragm when done correctly.

My challenge to everyone: Breathe only through your nose ensuring diaphragm breathing. Do this for two weeks all day and while running.  You will feel calmer, run calmer, and stay more aerobic.  I exclusively nasal breathe.  Not sure if it makes me faster, but I run to relax.  It is hard to stay calm while panting.  –Dr. Mark***

Breathing Exercises for Runners, Part One

by Jenn Pilotti and Sarah Young

The lungs are the reservoirs of air, and air is the lord of strength. Whoever speaks of strength must know of air. -Jui Meng, Shaolin Monk, 1692

Breathing: if we don’t do it, we die. As runners, how we breathe can make the difference between a good run or a great run. It affects both our fitness and our health. Unfortunately most of us fall into faulty breathing patterns that weaken us and hinder our running. Worse yet, we retain those faulty patterns. The video and text here is about reclaiming your natural and functional breathing pattern. It’s about gaining strength from breathing.

Once upon a time we all knew how to breathe. As babies, most of us breathed the way we were designed to breathe. We breathed from our little diaphragms with our little rib cages wonderfully and functionally positioned over our little pelvic girdles. We moved from our center and breathed from our center. Then we grew up.

As we grew up we started sitting more and moving less. Our rib cages no longer oriented gracefully over our pelvic girdles. The stresses of life began to weigh more heavily on us. As a result, we began breathing differently, less optimally. We started breathing more from our chests, using our upper back and neck muscles. Our diaphragms, while designed for breathing, became inhibited by this new pattern of breathing and less than ideal posture. We lost core stability and our backs hurt.  We have become all cattywhampus in the breathing department.

Screen shot 2013-10-17 at 12.16.11 PM

A bit of anatomy to illustrate how important the diaphragm is to core strength: The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle at the base of the lungs. It connects to the lower half of the thoracic spine and the upper half of the lumbar spine. Its fibers also weave into the transverse abdominus and the psoas. If your diaphragm isn’t moving, your body will leak strength.

The exercises Jennifer demonstrates in the video are designed to help you reclaim your breath. This is often done best by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through your mouth as it helps to optimize the positioning of your ribcage, thereby allowing the diaphragm to move more fully. As a result, breathing becomes more functional, and the diaphragm can also reclaim its role in core stability. But to get the full benefits of breathing, in running and your everyday life, you need to breathe nasally.

Once you’ve performed the breathing exercises in the video, try maintaining your alignment while nasal breathing. Our bodies have been designed to breathe nasally. That is why we have hairy nostrils filled with mucous– to warm and filter the air we take in. Also, breathing (in and out) through a smaller opening (nose) versus mouth keeps you from overbreathing. And as Dr. Mark stated in his introduction, carbon dioxide will bind the oxygen tighter to your hemoglobin this way.

For nasal breathing, gently place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth to create space between your teeth and relax your jaw. Keep your lips together. Inhale for a count of three and exhale for a count of five to six. Feel your diaphragm as you breath in and out. Let your inhale and exhale be relaxed. Breathe as quietly as you can. Practice this for a few minutes a couple of times a day.

Breathing Exercises Shown in Video   

You will need a small balloon (see right after the 2-minute mark.) Blow up the balloon. Inhale though your nose and exhale into the balloon. At the end of your exhale, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and pause.   Repeat these steps until the balloon is inflated.

The next position is a seated position on the ground with your legs in front of you. Knees are bent and feet are on the ground. Your right hand will be placed on the back of your right thigh. The balloon will be in your left hand. Inhale through your nose, placing your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and then exhale into the balloon. When you exhale you will focus on pressing your mid back towards the wall behind you while dropping your sternum down. At the end of the exhale, pause, then inhale again from the exhaled position. As you exhale push your mid back even further towards the wall behind you and drop your sternum further down. Pause. Repeat until the balloon is fully inflated.

The next position is the ‘Angry Cat’. You will be on your hands and knees. You will not be using a balloon this time. Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth and inhale. Exhale pushing your mid-back to the sky while drawing your sternum up. Maintain your exhalation position and inhale again from that point. Exhale again pushing further into the ‘angry cat’ position. Repeat for a few more breathes.

Last position. Lay on your back with your hips bent at approximately 90 degrees and your feet off the ground. Arms are straight and extended up. Palms are facing each other. Curl your fingers down. Thumbs are pointing away from your feet in the direction of your head. Feel your shoulder blades wrapping around your back and integrated with your ribcage. Drop your ribs down so that your ribcage is parallel with the floor. Developmentally you are three months old again. Breath into your belly with your tongue touching the roof of your mouth. Exhale. Inhale again. Now when you exhale drop your right foot to the floor. Inhale and bring the right leg back to the starting position. Repeat on the left side. Repeat again on the right side and again on the left. There should be no weight shifting in the pelvis.


If you have any questions about these breathing exercises, feel free to contact Jeniffer Pilotti, M.S or Sarah Young, M.S.


26 Responses to “Breathing Exercises for Runners: But First, Are You Able to Breathe Nasally?”

  1. Iggy says:

    Are there any scientific study that supports this? Would be handy if there are any supporting research/study to back the claim and the process/technique.

  2. Chuck W says:

    Breathe through the nose while running? Seriously? How do you get enough air?

    I am a slow enough runner without adding an airway restriction…

    • MarkC says:


      nasal breathing ensure diaphragm breathing …try it. not just running but all day. Mark

      • Chuck W says:

        Thanks for the reply! I breathe quite easily through my nose while at rest or while walking. When I run, I am breathing hard and fast, with my diaphragm, through my mouth. I tried nasal breathing while running, and I didn’t make it 50 yards, it was just like holding my breath.

    • JK says:

      Hi Chuck, google thoracic mobility and see if you tend to hold your thoracic spine flexed all the time (of course how you hold your pelvis will affect your thoracic spine also.) Extending through the thoracic spine will create more space in your rib-cage and allow for a deeper breath even while breathing through the nose.

  3. Jenn says:

    There are peer reviewed studies located on the Postural Restoration Institute’s website ( and on the Prague School’s website ( These are to support the techniques and statements made in the video. As someone who has both experienced pattern changes in myself and seen incredible things happen with my clients when I started implementing the principles of both PRI and DNS, I certainly can attest to their efficacy on a practical level.

  4. Craig says:

    I have used Buteyko breathing for asthma and have transitioned from an exclusive mouth breather to nasal breathing during the day and while sleeping. But I struggle with it during exercise. It leaves me with an intense burning sensation in my sinus that remains unpleasant for days. When I have done it I notice that my heart rate at a given speed is lower.

    • Sarah says:

      Glad to hear that nasal breathing is helping to lower your heart rate while running :)
      Not happy to hear that it leaves your sinuses with a burning sensation for days :(
      Please email me at so that we can discuss this in more depth and hopefully come up with a solution or two.
      Happy Running,

  5. Indy M says:

    Is Nose/Diaphragm breathing a must for Ketotic people undertaking endurance activities?

    I was wondering, since it takes more oxygen to burn/use fat for energy?

    Indy M.
    Sunnyvale , CA

  6. Indy M says:

    I think you meant ‘facilitates’, Dr. C.

    That makes good sense to me. I feel a lot fresher after say a 10K with Nose breathing(using a ‘breatheeasy’ strip), than open mouth breathing. Albeit tad slower.
    ( I have been in NK for about an Year now, with some small gaps).

    Will continue the self-tests with Nose/Diaphragm breathing.

    Thank you!

  7. Danny Dreyer says:

    I’ve been nose breathing for years now. I first learned about it from John Duillard in Boulder and back in the’80’s he called it Aryuvedic Breathing. At this point I can run a 7:30mpm pace with my mouth shut (no limit when downhill running). There’s no comparison between how I feel when I’m mouth breathing and when I’m nose-breathing. I’m much more relaxed, centered and patient. I think that those of you who have a difficult time when first trying out nose breathing should take more time to get used to it. It’s not an overnight process and it takes patience to allow the process to happen. I suggest doing your warm-up and not trying to nose breathe until you’re 10 or 15 minutes into your run. Breathe-rite strips are definitely a help, especially in pollen seasons.

    • MarkC says:

      thanks Danny. Agree the nose breathing and Sarah and Jenn’s video (a great exercise set to get the diaphragm working) will make you more relaxed, even if not faster. goal is relax and enjoy. Best Mark

    • Indy M says:

      Thank you Danny D. for that;

      One observation(anecdotal):

      Other day running (with Nose Breathing) around a track, I noticed that as I increased my cadence/speed, the urge/need to Mouth breathe increased. To counter that I ran backwards for about 50yds, and the pure nose breathing resumed with ease. This pattern of alternately running backwards and forward, I could run for ~90mins with Nose breathing alone, backward running acting like a ‘governor’ for continued Nose breathing, if you will.

      My 2C.

      Indy M.

      • Sarah says:

        Indy M… very cool. I can see how running backwards would act as a kind ‘governor’ as one’s speed would slow down. A number of runners I’ve worked with have noticed that when they increase speed/cadence they start wanting to mouth breathe. Natural as O2 demands go up. I may start suggesting a bit of backwards running (straight aways on tracks only for safety reasons) to some of my runners with stronger vestibular systems. On another note… I am a big proponent of Phil Maffetone’s methods. I’ve found that nasal breathing helps to keep me close to my Maffetone Heart Rate.

  8. Sarah says:

    Danny… Yes to breathe right strips. Lois Laynee who teaches restorative breathing recommends both breathe right strips (especially for sleeping) as well as Xlear nasal spray to open up the nasal breathing passageways. The more one practices nasal breathing (L.O.I.S. Breathing per Lois Laynee) throughout their day and utilizes the drills that Jenn so wonderfully demonstrates in the video (daily is great) the more nasal breathing will come naturally when they run. It’s much like we teach posture in ChiRunning. The more a person refines their posture thru their day the more their best posture will be there when they run. And as you stated so well… when you nasal breathe you feel more relaxed, centered, and patient. That enhances running & everything else in life :)

  9. Rajiv says:

    First of all thanks for this video.
    I am nose and belly breather through out day and try to breathe through nose while running. I am able to do this for 3-4 kms but after that I feel urge to breathe through mouth and when I start breathing through mouth and again come back to nose breathing, it becomes very hard.Any suggestions on that.

    Also how can we get notified about your next videos?

    • Sarah says:

      It is common that after running for a bit that the urge to mouth breathe increases as the physical demands on your body increase. A proper warm up (Maffetone recommends walking for about 15 mins) can help. You may also want to slow down your pace and/or walk to regain your ability to breathe nasally. A nice complement to nasal breathing is to use a heart rate monitor and run at your Maffetone Heart Rate. The more you develop your aerobic base the more easily it should become to breathe nasally.
      Hope that helps…
      :) Sarah
      ***Regarding the next video installment… please check back periodically :)

  10. Molly says:

    When u say nasal breathing us that also on the exhale?

  11. Ben says:

    I totally agree. I took a Buteyko class for my asthma and have switched to nasal breathing all the time. I took the class just as I got into running. I started with a 13 week run/walk program and at the beginning, running for 1 or 2 mins seemed difficult breathing through my nose. After 12 weeks, I could run for an hour no problems, and no longer needed my inhaler. Your body will adapt, just give it time. In the space of 9 months, I went from not being able to run 10mins with getting severe asthmatic symptoms to running a marathon without medication.

    • Sarah says:

      Ben… I am somewhat familiar with the Buteyko Method thanks to Patrick McKeown’s work. I really like what I’ve learned about BM so far. And you might be interested to know (unless you already do) that McKeown will be releasing a book in the next year or so on his work with athletes. I’m looking forward to it :)

  12. Donny says:

    Hi, I found this blog after listening to Dr Mark talk about nasal breathing recently on a Trail Runner Nation podcast. For the last two weeks I’ve been trying hard to only breath through my nose all day and I do feel better for it. However during exercise my nose starts constantly streaming mucus making it difficult to breathe and uncomfortable. Is there anything you can suggest I try to overcome this? I don’t think I have any allergies. Thanks.

    • Sarah says:

      Donny… While I’m far from being an expert regarding the intricacies of nose mucous here are some things you may want to try (some you may have tried already)…
      1) Breathe Right strips while running
      2) Stop and blow your nose as often as you need to get the snot out
      3) Some people have found using Neti pots or a nasal spray such as Xclear are helpful
      4) Breathe Right strips at night during sleep
      5) Utilize Dr. Phil Maffetone’s training (especially regarding his heart rate formula) & health (including diet) principles My clients who have are running much stronger!
      6) Contact your physician if you think your nasal congestion requires further medical attention

      Hope that helps :)


  13. Gabe says:

    I find it much easier to run and/or cycle while breathing (both ways) through my nose… :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *