Sunday, 14 August 2005

Form Principle #7

Posted by speedygeoff on Sunday, August 14, 2005 with 3 comments
“New breathing techniques may help”

You have been running along at a steady state for many years and then a coach takes you to the track and says, run a lap flat out. Suddenly you are gasping for the first time since you were a little kid. At the end you stop and double up because you have not been getting enough air. Or you start coughing because you have discovered there are depths to your lungs you have just never used before.

Does an all out effort mean that it matters how you breathe?

What should you do? Speed the breathing up and breathe more quickly? Split the difference and do what comes naturally? Slow the breathing down and breathe more deeply?

The trouble is, all your easy running has meant that you have not needed to extract the last bit of oxygen from your lungs before. Your legs have been your limiting factor, not your air. You have learned to run comfortably – aerobically – and not had to worry about your breathing at all.

Perhaps it isn’t a 400 – perhaps it is a sprint at the end of a race. Some smart alec told you to run at three steps per second; you have been working towards that; building up some leg strength until you have attained that, getting your posture and stride pattern right. Now suddenly it’s getting out of breath that stops you running faster.

Here is the good news.
Maybe you don’t have to worry. Keep practising running fast and your aerobic capacity will improve with time.

Here is more good news. There are several things you can try which should help.
1. Let the body and arms rise a little and relax a little as you breathe in. Higher arms breathing in, lower arms breathing out.
2. Fill the lungs with air as quickly as possible from the diaphragm up as you breathe in.
3. As you breathe out, force every last bit of air out of the lungs you can. Don’t forget the relaxed throat. Roar like a lion! (Lions wear green shoes?)
4. After you have breathed all the way out, breathe further out! Keep expelling air!
5. As you breathe out your arms and body drop slightly.
6. As you breathe out you surge forward. So it’s breathe out; surge. Breathe in, relax.
7. Practise relaxed higher arms breathing in; driving lower arms breathing out.

8. Now try learning some new breathing patterns. Here is a series of patterns you can try. Many runners breathe in a one-two-one-two pattern - two steps breathing in, two steps out. If that’s you here is what to do.

8.1 Determine which is your lead foot, the foot you step down with on “one”. For example suppose it’s your right foot, i.e. you start to breathe in and out on your right foot step, “one-two-one-two” is “right-left-right-left”. Now change it! For several days on all your runs, make a conscious effort to run “left-right-left-right” instead. Persist until it is just as easy to start on either foot. Once you have done that, or if this is all irrelevant and you don’t favour either foot, proceed to point b.

8.2 Move to a three step pattern. This should be easy if you have tried to increase the tempo of your running to three steps per second and you are already thinking of three-counts. You breathe in for one-two-three then out for one-two-three. Your steps are left-right-left then right-left-right (or vice versa, try both). It is a three beat pattern and as you can see you are alternating which foot is emphasised. Many of you probably do this naturally when you are not over-extended

8.3 Now the breathing really starts to come into it. I said in point three that you should see if you could prolong your air exhalation. You do that by changing the pattern to two steps in and four steps out. “one-two” “one-two-three-four”. This enables you to surge for four steps – a big difference. It enables you to expel a lot more air in one go. It enables you to maintain a mid-race surge for longer. It also means that when you breathe in you need to do so very fast.
You should practise this running at speed, or you could hyperventilate.

8.4 An adventurous runner could take this further and move to a two-step in, six step out pattern. But I don’t think we are talking about anything slower than a flat out 800m race now.

Does this apply to long slow runs? Maybe not. Have a go anyway. It won’t hurt.

Here is a summary. Breathe out long hard and vigorously to get all the air out and to use that time to surge. Breathe in as quickly as possible to refill. Let the body rise and relax as you breathe in.

Form Principle # 7 – New breathing techniques may help.


  1. Someone has asked me about "breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth". That's just nonsense, you need all the air you can get, in and out, so use both the nose and the mouth.

  2. Chin-up Charlie14 August, 2005

    Hi Geoff,I only breath in thru the nose and out thru the mouth. The reason is I nearly choked to death once on a stray moth that flew into me gapping mouth at the end of a Monthly handicap run one day.
    I figured that the little bugger wouldn't have caused so much drama if he had tried to shoot up my nostrils.

  3. Hi Chin-up Charlie, a better way to catch moths is to stand under a light with a mouthful of beer, catching them in your mouth and swallowing beer and moth together. This is best done late on a Saturday night after you have already drunk a lot of beer.