How to Run a Faster Parkrun or 5k just by breathing better.
Breathing is critical to running or any form of physical exercise. Breathing allows Oxygen to be delivered to the muscles where it’s needed.
Improved breathing could be the answer if you are looking to beat your Parkrun personal best but are stuck in a running rut.
Here are some simple exercises you can do before your run to help improve your breathing.
1. Clear your airways
Stand or sit up straight, gently inhale and exhale through the nose, then pinch both nostrils shut. Tip your head up and down or from side to side slowly until you feel the need to breathe. Take a slow breath in through the nose or through pursed lips if the nose is still congested. Breathe calmly for 30 seconds to a minute and repeat five more times.
2. Shut your mouth
If you drive or walk to your local Parkrun, shut your mouth and breathe nasally on the way there. This will help prime your airways for exercise.
This can be challenging at first and you will need to build up a tolerance to the feeling of air hunger you might experience. If you do feel air hunger slow down or take a break for a couple of minutes. Whilst some air hunger is a good stimulus to improve CO2 tolerance, it should never feel stressful.
3. Warm up with small breath holds
The objective of this exercise is to gently prepare the body for a tolerable feeling of breathlessness. By holding the breath for short periods, the gas Nitric Oxide (NO) pools inside the nasal cavity, and the gas Carbon Dioxide (CO2) slightly increases in the blood. Upon resumption of breathing, breathe in so as to carry NO from the nasal cavity into the lungs.
As you hold your breath, you may feel a light hunger for air. This signifies that the CO2 is increasing in your blood. Both gases play an essential role in opening the airways, improving blood circulation and allowing more oxygen to be delivered to the cells.
- Take a normal breath in and out through the nose.
- Pinch your nose with your fingers to hold your breath for five seconds 5,4,3,2,1.
- Let go of your nose and breathe in and out through your nose for ten seconds.
- Just breathe as normal for ten seconds.
- Repeat this five times.
You should not feel stressed while doing this exercise. If the air hunger is too much, then hold your breath for three seconds only.
4. Focus on breathing light, slow and low
During your run, it is unlikely you will be able to breathe nasally throughout, and that’s okay.
Focus on breathing through your nose as much as you can. You may find (as I do) that you feel more comfortable breathing in through your nose but out through your mouth.
The important thing is to try and focus on breathing light and breathing slowly (or at a steady rate) as much as you can. Finally, concentrate on drawing the air (either through your nose or mouth) down low into your lungs. Breathing low is much easier via the nose, but it can be done through the mouth with focus. Expand your lower ribs laterally and ensure you are drawing the air down into the larger part of your lungs.
We want to avoid fast, shallow upper chest breathing as much as possible. This may mean reducing your effort to start with, but over time, your tolerances will increase.
5. Use nasal breathing to recover faster
When you have finished your run, you may feel a strong sensation of air hunger if you have exerted yourself. Immediately after finishing the race, try to return to nasal breathing as quickly as you can. Slow, light and deep (drawing the breathing low into the lungs) breathing will help you recover much faster.
We touched on the role Nitric oxide plays in breathing biochemistry earlier in this post. The purpose of focusing on nasal breathing post-exercise is to increase the blood flow derived from NO synthesis as this may improve recovery processes.
Breathing is just breathing, isn’t it?
Due to our modern lifestyles, many of us do not breathe optimally. We spend large chunks of time crunched over desks and screens, compressing our diaphragms and forcing our breathing higher up in our chest—many people breathe predominantly through their mouths during wake and rest, which is far from ideal. Excessive mouth breathing can also contribute to and exacerbate a range of illnesses.
Nasal breathing has a vast array of benefits for performance and our general health. Focusing on breathing nasally during day-to-day activity and rest can significantly enhance our physical and mental performance.
Should I only breathe through my nose then?
No. When starting with breath training, it isn’t manageable for most people to breathe primarily nasally during exercise. Air hunger is too strong, and many find they actually need to slow down and reduce the intensity first. It is, however, possible for most people to breathe nasally during more low-intensity day-to-day activities such as walking.
Over time you can increase your tolerance to air hunger when nasal breathing and studies have shown that athletes can continue nasal breathing even at a high rate of Anaerobic Power Output. Read the study on the Effects of Nasal or Oral Breathing on Anaerobic Power Output and Metabolic Responses to learn more.
How do I get started?
The first thing to do when embarking on breathing training is to measure where you are now. You can use a simple method called the BOLT score to do this. Your score will give you an initial indication of how optimal your breathing is.
Depending on our score, you can start with simple exercises that can be worked into day-to-day activity.
Looking for a breathwork instructor?
If you would like to learn how to improve your functional breathing, choose a qualified breathing instructor like me. I can guide you through personalised exercises to help you improve your performance and overall well-being in just eight weeks. Get in touch today and let’s start a conversation.
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