Heavy breathers ……

Wheezing, panting, going hell for leather, the breathing is shallow, rapid and loud.  Nearly there, just breathe, breathe…….. Concentrate on the breathing it helps keep the mental calmness. Clearly focused on the goal, have a plan and stick to it.   Don’t get caught up in passion, sweat and breathlessness. Surprisingly women experience greater shortness of breath than men, they find it harder to keep going (Schaeffer et al., 2014; Cory et al., 2015) Proper breathing can control anxiety and allow you to last longer. But finally cresting the hill the torture ends and the downhill run comes as a welcome release. The pain is over. The lungs and body can recover and enjoy the free speed gratefully received from gravity.


Exercise scientists agree that endurance performance is dependent on the capacity to transport oxygen to the working muscles (McKenzie, 2012). At rest ventilation, is rhythmical and calm due to the contraction and relaxation of the main inspiratory muscles – the diaphragm and the intercostals. Contraction of these muscle groups increases the Lungsdimensions of the chest, creating a pressure gradient which draws air into the lungs. Expiration at rest is passive and is achieved by relaxation of the inspiratory muscles and recoil of the chest (Richter, 1982).  Breathing increases rapidly at the onset of running, at a rate which is proportional to the running speed (Yoshida & Fukuba, 1992). All runners experience shortness of breath, it’s supposed to happen. But it can trigger fear and insecurities and it makes you want to stop! Rhythmic breathing patterns can help control shortness of breath, reduce fatigue and make running more comfortable, it may even reduce injury risk. (Daley et al., 2013).

Unfortunately runners of all levels can fall into faulty breathing patterns that may hinder running performance. Novice runners characteristically have no pattern to their breathing – they have no rhythm, while experienced runners synchronize their breathing with their stride making them more effective and efficient (Phillips & Jin, 2013). The most common pattern among experienced runners is breathing in for two steps and out for two steps (2:2) as this can maximize the intake of oxygen. But it has been theorised that this pattern may predispose runners to injuries due to the fact that the footstrike coincides with the start of exhalation. This means that exhalation begins every time the left foot hits the ground, the left side of the body will constantly be exposed to impact at a point of vulnerability (exhalation) potentially predisposing this side of the body to more injuries. For this reason it may be worth adopting an odd numbered pattern –  a 3:2 pattern on easy runs and a 2:1 pattern when  running faster(Bramble & Carrier, 1983).
Rhythmic breathing patterns are most efficiently facilitated by learning to breathe using the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle and like all muscles it and can be trained and strengthened. Using the diaphragm to its full potential allows the lungs to expand and inhale more oxygen, making it more available to working muscles and improving endurance (McConnell, 2012). Many runners underuse their diaphragm, relying on their chest muscles (the intercostals), taking shorter shallow breaths and therefore taking in less oxygen.   The intercostals muscles are smaller and fatigue more quickly than the diaphragm.  As a runner I struggle with breathing, it’s irregular and sounds like a freight train, but I have ignored it because it feels “natural”. I have developed a sense of comfort with my breathing style (rough and gasping) and it is tempting to continue. However “natural” isn’t always the most efficient. It might be a tough transition, but it is time to change my heavy breathing habit.





Bramble DM & Carrier DR. (1983). Running and breathing in mammals. Science 219, 251-256.


Cory JM, Schaeffer MR, Wilkie SS, Ramsook AH, Puyat JH, Arbour B, Basran R, Lam M, Les C, MacDonald B, Jensen D & Guenette JA. (2015). Sex differences in the intensity and qualitative dimensions of exertional dyspnea in physically active young adults. J Appl Physiol (1985) 119, 998-1006.


Daley MA, Bramble DM & Carrier DR. (2013). Impact loading and locomotor-respiratory coordination significantly influence breathing dynamics in running humans. PLoS One 8, e70752.


McConnell AK. (2012). CrossTalk opposing view: respiratory muscle training does improve exercise tolerance. J Physiol 590, 3397-3398; discussion 3399-3400.


McKenzie DC. (2012). Respiratory physiology: adaptations to high-level exercise. Br J Sports Med 46, 381-384.


Phillips B & Jin Y. (2013). Effect of adaptive paced cardiolocomotor synchronization during running: a preliminary study. J Sports Sci Med 12, 381-387.


Richter DW. (1982). Generation and maintenance of the respiratory rhythm. J Exp Biol 100, 93-107.


Schaeffer MR, Mendonca CT, Levangie MC, Andersen RE, Taivassalo T & Jensen D. (2014). Physiological mechanisms of sex differences in exertional dyspnoea: role of neural respiratory motor drive. Exp Physiol 99, 427-441.


Yoshida T & Fukuba Y. (1992). [Control of breathing during exercise]. Ann Physiol Anthropol 11, 479-493.



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