How to Breathe While Running: A Lesson From My Three-Year-Old Son

How to Breathe While Running: A Lesson From My Three-Year-Old Son

Mark Kennedy
Founder of None to Run
November 29, 2023

Breathing is one of the most natural, automatic things we do. It's essential for survival and for the most part, something we don't think about.

When it comes to beginner runners though, how to breathe while running is one of the most common challenges.

This is a real comment from one of my subscribers:

"I'd love to run for miles, but my chest can't take it and in a matter of a couple of minutes I'm out of breath which is harder to keep pushing myself."

Heck, I'd like to run a 4-minute mile, but I too would be out of breath in seconds and unable to push myself!

Breathing is not the problem.

Running With My Son

Off to the races :)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Off to the races :)                                


Imagine back to when you were a child.

Running around with what seemed like, endless energy. I have been watching my three-year-old son running around lately.

It's exhausting!

The other day we were at the park and we both felt we should have a race (we'd been inspired by the recent track and field world championships).

We ran 4 or 5 races. I lost each one :)

I knew my son was getting tired by the last two.

He was panting like a dog.

But not once did he complain about it being difficult to breathe or want to quit.

Instead, he slowed his pace down those last two races. Simple.

His breathing was dictated by his effort.

To keep racing with dad, my son slowed his pace down. When and why have adults lost this intuition?

Perhaps we're too proud to slow down?

Don't Focus on Breathing

I found a great article written by Runner's World columnist (and a neighbor of mine!), Alex Hutchinson.

In the article, Alex points to a study that looked at whether it's better for a runner to focus on external cues (e.g. the scenery around you) or internal cues (your running form or breathing).

Here's an excerpt from the article:

The results for the breathing condition lead to the assumption that breathing, which is a highly automated process, will adjust most efficiently to the needs of the body when it is not subjected to conscious control. In other words, you take care of the running, and your subconscious will make sure your muscles get enough oxygen.

Just run.

Isn't it better to breathe in a certain pattern?



Not to me. It sounds complex and no fun. Here's some advice from a Runner's World article (Source: Runner's World - Running On Air: Breathing Technique)

A new runner has enough to think about and now you're supposed to count steps and align your breathing to them?

I appreciate that this technique may work for some, but it's not the approach I recommend.

Slow Down!

Want to gain more control over your breathing? You need think about it less and worry about your controlling your pace more.

Check your pride at the front door. Running slow to allow you to be in control of your breathing is what you need to do.

And this may mean running with walk breaks - that's totally fine (and recommended).

Need to catch your breath - slow down.

Can't have a conversation with you friend during a run, slow down.

When you feel like ending a run because you're breathing too hard and it's uncomfortable, slow friggin down.

Should You Breathe Through Your Mouth or Nose?

The best way to get the most oxygen to your working muscles is to breathe through your mouth.

Not your nose.

End of story.

Run Tall

Try curling your body up into a ball and take a few deep breaths.  It's more challenging to take in the amount you'd be able to breathe if you were standing or sitting up straight.

The same applies to running. Avoid hunching forward or leaning back and keep your shoulders back.

By running tall and relaxed, you'll be in a more efficient posture to consume the oxygen your body needs to run.

Your Turn

Let yourself be a kid again. If my three-year-old can figure out the key to breathing and running, so can you.

Your body knows how to breathe, so get out of its way and let it.

And as legendary athletic development coach, Vern Gambetta, so eloquently advises ...

@KenstonTrackCC @stevemagness @JasonFitz1 Don't pick the fly shit out of the pepper. Make sure they are not holding their breath!

— Vern Gambetta (@coachgambetta) July 8, 2015

** Of course, if you suspect a medical problem such as asthma, be sure to seek professional medical advice.

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