Here is a technique that will crank up your running performance considerably with one simple change.
I was in the middle of reading about six triathlon books by Dave Scott, Scott Tinley, Dave Molina… the gods of triathlon, and particularly the Hawaii Ironman. It was here I learned about belly breathing as a technique to improve my running. What’s amazing is that it is an instant improvement, and easy for anyone to implement.
Recently, the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University in England examined fatigue levels of marathon runners’ respiratory and leg muscles. What they found was a direct link. Runners with strained breathing (chest breathing), showed the most weakness in leg muscles. Researchers concluded the more inefficiently the respiratory muscles (diaphragm and intercostals) had to work, the more the muscles of the legs would find it difficult to push harder.
When you breathe at rest, like sitting in a chair at home typing on the computer like I am now, you are probably belly breathing. Your stomach goes out with each inhalation of breath. Your stomach is totally relaxed and your breath flows evenly in and out.
When you’re running, your breathing changes. There’s tightness in your stomach and chest. This is brought on by a number of things, physical and mental. You need to counteract your natural instinct to tighten your abdomen. You need to relax it.
Belly breathing means your belly, your intestine area really, expands as you take every in-breath. It cannot expand if your muscles make the area tight. Practice running with total looseness in the stomach. What you’ll notice when you start to accomplish it is:
1. Breathing is Deeper. You’re able to inhale more air into your lungs because your stomach muscles aren’t tight and restricting airflow.
2. Breathing Rate is Slower. If you choose, you can breathe more slowly as you implement this. You’re breathing in more air, so you need not breathe as fast. This is up to you, I usually don’t slow my breathing down, I just keep on at the same rate and slightly increase my rate of speed as I run to take advantage of the extra oxygen my muscles are getting as a result of breathing with my belly.
3. Body Relaxes More. You feel considerably more relaxed as you run. Tightness in the abdominal area makes you feel ‘you’ more. It makes you feel like a separate entity from what is around you. It makes you feel your body and you more. When you are relaxed and breathing easily, you’ll feel less separate and more in the flow of the run. It’s a great feeling.
4. You Revert Back to Old Breathing Style. You’ll revert back to non-belly breathing often. This is something that doesn’t come naturally to most of us. We can change for part of the run, and then as we get relaxed, our body goes right back to the way it is used to breathing. I find this constantly happening to me as I run, climb steps, bicycle, whatever it is that I’m doing for my workout. Check yourself every couple of minutes and strive to make belly-breathing a natural part of every workout. Eventually it gets to a point where you don’t have to think about it at all, it just happens.
I think belly breathing gives an immediate 10% increase in performance, and about a 20% better feeling of flow than running without it.
What do you think? Do you use this technique? Does it help mentally? Physically?
[Image credit – Robin McConnell at Flickr]