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  • Writer's pictureGeoff

Run Basics Series - 3. Listen to Your Breathing

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

Listen to your breath while running

In the last blog in this series, we talked about some of the impacts on your body. Although it's nice to know what's affecting your body, we actually don’t need to know what they are. Your body gets impacted and reacts. If you listen, it’ll tell you how hard it's working today. The best tool for hearing that is your breathing.

Refining Your Listening

Just as when you were a child, your motor function for your limbs was unrefined and choppy. As you practiced using them, your movement became more accurate and fluid. This is the same process for learning any skill including listening to your breathing.

At first it will seem like there are only a couple different ways you breathe, but as you become more in tune with it, you’ll notice subtle differences. Differences like when you’re running and your body is in an anaerobic state (using more oxygen than you’re breathing) or aerobic state (breathing more oxygen than you’re consuming), essentially whether you’re going to burn out.

You may even get the point where you are able to tell from your breathing how far away that burnout is. Is your breathing going to last for 5K? 10K? Half marathon? Or does it feel like you can last forever? This gives you an idea of the benefits to developing your skill of listening to your breathing/body.

Types of Breathing

Let's start off with segmenting your breathing into four categories. As you become more in tune with your breathing you’ll refine these and create sub-categories.

These categories represent a spectrum for your breathing starting at your Resting Breathing Rate and going all the way to your All-Out or Sprinting Breathing. I like to think of your breathing spectrum like this:

Resting Breathing -> Easy Breathing -> Race Breathing -> Sprinting Breathing

Let me give you some guiding questions so you can start to listen for how these sound for you.

Resting Breathing - What does your breathing feel like when you’re not exercising? Is it deep? Shallow? How effortful is it? This is your baseline, your point zero. Your breathing will never be this low when you’re exercising, but it’s important to know so you can compare it to the other levels of breathing.

Sprint Breathing - This is the other end of the spectrum. This is your max breathing and it's easy to recognize, it's a pant. You can only exercise at this for a short period of time, it is your max. It makes you want to stop and gasp for breath. If you’re not doing a 100m dash you’re probably not going to reach this. If you are reaching this point, you’re probably sprinting or your body is telling you that, whatever the factors are that are impacting you today, this pace is like sprinting to you. Be careful.

Easy Breathing - This is probably the most underrated breathing state and also the hardest to maintain. We like to push ourselves, so it's easy to push past this point as it seems like we have so much more available to us. When you listen to this breath, it's not laboured, it’s a bit louder than resting, slightly more intense, but you should be able to talk comfortably without spurts. You’ll have to play around with this one to find out what it feels like. Listen to other people breathing when you’re going for easy jogs together. Especially a run leader or a more experienced runner, as their breathing will be much less laboured at faster paces because of their training. Don’t worry, you’ll get there. This is an amazing breath because it's your point where your cardiovascular system (your breathing) isn’t the main limitation for the run, so your body can focus on other things like endurance and form.

Race Breathing - This breath will help you determine if you’re going too fast or if you have more room to push. This breath depends on the length of your race or run but to start, find the general sound. You shouldn’t be able to talk at this pace or if you do, it’ll throw off your breathing by being much more laboured or sporadic. It will be heavier and faster than your easy pace, but not out of control. As shown in the spectrum above, it lays between the easy pace and the sprint pace. As you listen to it over your run/race, it shouldn’t increase in intensity or if it does, it's a slight increase.

Using Your Breath

A good question to ask yourself is “What does my breathing tell me about how my body is feeling?”.

This should give you some insight into the different stages of your breath. If you’re out for an easy run and your breathing is a sprint or race breathing, you may want to adjust. Always make sure that your breathing or the feedback your body is giving you is matching your intention for your run. If it's not, adjust your run speed or change the type of run (easy or challenging) you’re going for today. Inconsistencies between your intended type of run and the feedback your body is giving you can be frustrating. Think about this, usually when I’m frustrated with my running it's because I think I should be doing one thing and my body is telling me something different.

These categories may seem broad right now, but as you collect more data on the sound of your breath and refine your knowledge about your breathing, you’ll start to gain valuable information about your body that no watch or run tech can give you.

Now that you’re starting to listen to your breathing, we can talk in more detail about what it's telling you or the effort you’re exerting.

Food for thought

There is a correlation between your breathing, your HR and how hard you’re working, can you hear it? Can you feel it?

For further reading about breathing while running check out: Run Form Focus - Breathing Level 1 and Run Form Focus - Breathing Level 2.

Key Takeaways

  • Your breath can tell you invaluable information about how your body is feeling today.

  • Refine your ability to recognize differences in your breathing so you can use that feedback to optimize your runs.

  • Start by recognizing when your body goes between a resting, easy, racing and sprinting breath.

  • Develop your ability to adjust your running to align your breathing with the intended intensity of the workout

Learning to listen to your breath takes time, but it helps you to understand the work that your body is doing. When you can hear the effort, you can start to adjust how hard you push yourself based on your effort. This is the topic for the next blog.

Related Article:

Run Form Focus - Breathing Level 2

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