During vigorous exercise, breathing can become more rapid and shallow; if you’re breathing from the tops of your lungs, chances are your shoulders are tight, too. It’s an inefficient way to work out, because you’re not fully oxygenating your blood and you’re also expending too much energy to breathe — energy you could use elsewhere to perform well during a long run.
Many people breathe inefficiently at rest, and vigorous exercise magnifies the problem. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing —also called abdominal breathing — at rest will enable you to use this breathing technique during exercise.
Some runners like to maintain a specific breathing rhythm; such as inhaling for 2 steps and exhaling for 2 steps; a 3:2 inhale/exhale pattern; and/or inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. If these patterns help keep your breathing deep and relaxed, go for it. There’s no single rhythmic breathing pattern that will work best for everyone. Personally, trying to coordinate my breathing with my steps just adds to my stress during a run. So if that doesn’t work for you, either, don’t fret — your brain stem is the ultimate master of your breathing, and it’s got you covered.
Staying relaxed, keeping your shoulders down, and focusing on diaphragmatic breathing will go a long ways toward breathing easier and more efficiently while running. Also — be sure to check out my previous post on inspiratory muscle training, a technique that boosts lung capacity in some people.