The shoes are on. The water bottle is full. Your watch is ready to go.
Great. How do we breathe?!
It seems like a simple enough affair, but the question comes up frequently from both new and experienced runners.
There are plenty of resources with various breathing exercises, but we're going to offer a simpler strategy aimed at improving every breath.
As we become more experienced runners, muscles are on our mind a lot. How do those quads feel after a downhill trail run? Why are the shin muscles so sensitive?
Even so, we don't talk a lot about another important muscle: the diaphragm. The diaphragm helps us control our breathing. When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts and creates more space in your chest, which in turn allows your lungs to expand and fill with air. The respiratory system assists in a process called gas exchange: oxygen is carried throughout the body while carbon dioxide is removed.
What's the best running gait? A natural one! Apply the same thinking to breathing. Our body needs air and it already knows how to get it, so don't get in the way of a natural process. Breathe naturally. While breathing exercises are helpful, we need a base and a foundation first.
Don't think of breathing as an input to your physical fitness. Think of it as an output. Breathing is a function of your fitness and physical features, namely the strength of your diaphragm, your lung capacity, and your efficiency.
Just like running encourages the growth and health of blood vessels in the body, the physical characteristics of your respiratory system can improve.
A vastly oversimplified but useful rule of thumb: occassional anaerobic exercise and routine aerobic exercise may, over time, improve the strength and efficiency of your respiratory system. The metric to keep an eye on is your heartrate. Some watches even provide stats at the end of a run on your anaerobic training.
The key to improving your breathing, more than any breathing exercise, is consistency exercise. So set aside the guides to breathing and instead focus on consistent training. Your diaphragm will be right there with you.