Belly Breathing for runners

The human body becomes better at processing and delivering oxygen to the cells the more it runs. However, the lungs have a limit on how much they can hold. The objective of belly breathing is twofold: to increase the total amount of oxygen available and, at the same time, to eliminate Co2.


Once you master belly breathing, you can increase your usable lung capacity without using extra energy while running. Belly breathing can also help you get rid of side stitches, which often result from trapped air that isn’t being expelled. To learn the technique, first observe how you breathe while running: most people draw in air using their lungs, but as you exert more effort, it becomes difficult to expel all the used oxygen.

With belly breathing, you’ll reverse the process by using your stomach muscles to push air out of your lungs, which will clear space for fresh air. This allows for greater oxygen delivery throughout your body, leading to more efficient cellular function and faster running.

So how does this work?

With Belly Breathing, the idea is to get rid of all the foul air and then fill the entire lung with fresh air.

The goal is to expel the air as we contract our stomach muscles. The best way to illustrate this is in the lying down position.

Lie flat on a comfortable surface. Then totally relax. In this position, it is natural for the stomach to be in rhythm with the lungs. As you breathe out, your stomach also contracts. As you breathe in, your stomach muscles will slightly expand.

Now on the exhale practice tightening your muscles on the contraction phase. The object is to force a greater volume of air out of your lungs. After the air is expelled, completely relax. The air will naturally flow back into the lungs. By doing this, you will increase the total volume  of fresh air. In essence, you are increasing your lung capacity with a greater volume of fresh air.

After you have done this a few times, practice contracting your stomach muscles slightly before the contraction of you lungs. This will help you remove even more air. The goal is to push the  air from the bottom of your lungs first. By doing this, you will help to get a greater volume of fresh air into the lungs on the inhale portion.

The next step is to practice pushing more air out. Push hard until all the air is emptied out of the lungs.


Practicing Belly Breathing

During an easy run, it’s not necessary to use your full lung capacity. However, it’s still a good idea to occasionally empty your lungs, even during a super easy morning run. This can be done once every 30-45 strides, with a forceful exhale that produces a whooshing sound. When it comes to running harder, it’s best to practice on a long hill rather than focusing on running faster, which can be mentally exhausting. The goal is still to empty your lungs, but it’s more challenging when your body is low on oxygen and is striving to inhale more. As you exhale and push the air out, you should feel your stomach muscles contract. This technique requires practice, but once you master it, it will become second nature and require no further thought.

Getting rid of side stiches

Once you get them getting rid of side stitches can be difficult.  There is a debate on the exact cause, but it appears their occurrence occurs under certain conditions. It is very possible there isn’t a single cause. But there are several clues to their origin. For example, once you get them, breathing deeper can make them worse. For some runners, pressing hard with an open hand under the rib cage can alleviate the pain. Ironically, making an effort to increase the tempo can also get rid of them. This is because one has to move oxygen out of your lungs.

Breathing is tied to cadence. At a higher cadence when the breath is somewhat shallow, it is possible that all of the used air cant escape the lungs. How this causes pain is unknown, but once that air is finally expelled the pain quickly diminishes.
This is where a modified version Belly Breathing comes in. Runners that have mastered this technique can attest they never get these painful stitches. So if you ever feel those first twinges, try a deeper push with your stomach to expel everything drop of air out. Relax and let air flow back in.

Once you get a handle on the side stitch continue the Belly Breathing, but in a more relaxed fashion.

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