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.

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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.