Breathing Techniques for Runners To Improve Performance

As a coach, runners often tell me that when they go for a run that their body feels fine, it’s their breathing that is limiting their performance. Are you huffing and puffing during your run? Let’s take a step back and examine how you breathe while running and how it can affect your performance. If you’re looking to improve endurance or stamina, working on your form and these breathing techniques can help.


The first tip for better breathing is a running form correction. It’s easy to get tired or distracted on the run and start to hang your head. By keeping your eyes focused straight ahead, you’ll maintain a neutral neck position to hold your air passages wide open. If you’re hunched over with your chin down by your chest, you’re limiting the amount of oxygen you can take in. Keep your head tall, your shoulders down, and your eyes forward.

PRO TIP: I use my shoes as a cue. If my running shoes ever come into view during my run, it’s a reminder that I am not looking in the correct direction.


Try breathing in air through your mouth instead of just your nose. Your muscles need oxygen to perform, and breathing in through your mouth allows you to take in more air. Road Runner’s Club of America suggests running with your mouth slightly open; it keeps your face relaxed and makes it easier to breathe deeply.


Belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, allows you to take in more air into your lungs than shallow breaths from your chest.

You can practice belly breathing with this exercise:

  • Lie down on your back.

  • Take a slow deep breath in and watch as your belly rises as you inhale.

  • Exhale entirely and notice your belly fall as you breathe the air out.

  • Practice for about five minutes a day.

Once you get familiar with belly breathing, it will feel more natural during running.


Rhythmic breathing is synchronizing your breath with your foot strikes. It can help you control breathing, calm your mind, and positively impact performance.

When running at a slow to moderate pace, try taking in three breaths for every three foot strikes, then exhaling for two breaths for every two foot strikes.

3:2 breathing pattern looks like this:

Inhale - right foot - Inhale - left foot - inhale - right foot

Then exhale for two foot strikes.

Exhale - left foot - exhale - right foot


Inhale - left foot - inhale - right foot - inhale - left foot

Exhale right foot - exhale - left foot

Be mindful not to hold your breath waiting for the next step (this can be dangerous).

As you increase speed, you may find that you need to take in more oxygen, in this case, switch to a 2:1 breathing pattern.

2:1 Breathing Pattern

Inhale - right foot - inhale - left foot

Exhale - right foot

Inhale - left foot - inhale - right foot

Exhale - left foot

The 3:2 and the 2:1 breathing patterns allow the beginning of your exhale to alternate between the right and left foot. When you exhale, like you experienced in your belly breathing practice, your diaphragm and surrounding muscles relax, which temporarily reduces stability in the core during impact.

If you were to inhale two breaths and exhale two, you would always be taking the first exhale on the same foot. With less stability in the core during the first exhale and if the impact is always on the same side, it causes more stress on one side of the body. By alternating which foot strike takes the first exhale, you balance out the stress to both sides of the body, which can help reduce your chance of injury.

PRO TIP: Turn off the music while you practice rhythmic breathing. The beat of the music can throw off your count.

If you find that breathing is an ongoing issue after you’ve adapted to running and spent time practicing these techniques, it may be helpful to speak to a doctor, as it could be asthma, exercise-induced asthma or something else altogether.

Is breathing a limiting factor for you? Try these techniques to improve your running performance, stamina, and endurance, and let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about it.

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Questions? I’d love to help.

Coach Lea

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