Everyone has an opinion on breathing patterns during exercise: breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth! No wait, breathe in and out of your mouth. Use a 2-2 rhythm! Use a 3-3 rhythm! Take 45 breaths a minute! No…60! Breathe in for 2, out for 3. The truth of the matter is that you will ultimately find what works for you, but there are certainly a few times when putting thought into your breathing pattern will help your performance.
In general, we focus a lot of our training at an EASY pace where your breathing can be a little more relaxed at this effort. This type of work can often be done with a 3-3 rhythm (or even a 4-4). A 3-3 rhythm is taking 3 steps as you inhale, and 3 steps as your exhale (R-L-R = INHALE, L-R-L = EXHALE).
As we begin to work harder, however, this rhythm obviously becomes more difficult to maintain. Somewhere around your “TEMPO” pace, you may find switching to a 2-2 rhythm (2 steps with each inhale and 2 steps with each exhale) is more effective. These breaths, however, will have to be a bit more shallow.
A great time to practice these different breathing patterns is during your various workouts, such as the ones detailed below:
4:4- Sunday Recovery Runs
3:3- Easy and Long Runs
2:2- Tempo Runs
1:1- Speed and Hill Workouts
How can this help us? First, it can help you monitor your intensity during a race or a workout. If you plan to run EASY, and you find that you’re not able to maintain a 4-4 or 3-3 breathing pattern as expected, then you can conclude that your effort is too hard. Conversely, if the goal of your workout is to run at a harder intensity (tempo), and you’re running at a nice and cozy 3-3 rhythm, then it’s safe to assume your effort is too easy.
During these workouts, I encourage you not be scared of spending some time with a breath that’s a little more labored than usual as it’s important for runners to be comfortable at “uncomfortable” efforts. Breathing patterns can also help keep you in check when you are running hills. For example, when running uphill, in order to maintain a consistent effort during a race or workout, your breathing rate should relatively remain the same. Your pace would need to slow down, but your effort would stay the same as you focus on maintaining the same breathing pattern on the uphill as on the flat (the opposite can be said about running downhill).
So … whether you’re a 4-4, 3-3, 2-2 or some other combination of inhales and exhales, the answer is, there is no wrong answer. Ultimately, you will find what works best for you, but please take a minute to consider what your breathing is telling you about the intensity at which you’re working (it’s much more accurate than relying on your watch). We want you to be 100% prepared for race day, so by learning the different breathing patterns, you will be one step closer (or is it one breath?) to achieving your goals.