Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Run longer, easier right this minute - with a wee breathing technique shift.

When i used to run x-country "seriously," the coach said go for time, not distance. So getting more minutes in in a single run was always the biggie: increase our minutes, much of the rest - especially speed - follows this first priority. Maybe that's changed over the years in running circles but it still seems a pretty good way to build a foundation: main work is quality runs improving time (duration and speed); other sessions: technique and speed work.

I've been experimenting for a few months now with revising the breathing technique in my runs. It's immediately let me run longer and have gas in the tank when i'm done. It's going to sound obvious, i'm sure but let me try. Here it is: gait the run by the tempo at which one can inhale through the nose, exhale through pursed lips, and use the belly, not the upper chest, to breath.

In other words: only run as fast as you can maintain breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth, with a focus on getting the breath from the belly region rather than just the top of the chest.

Yes,  that slows the tempo of the run down from what i can run if i'm sucking air in through my mouth - but the difference is actually quite small in terms of speed and the benefit seems to be a smoother stride, more effortless-feeling movement, no cramps and of course, building up more running minutes.

Complete Athlete DVD:
includes sprinting techniques
I feel that this approach has let me, personally, concentrate more on my form while i'm running - it's a sufficiently relaxed pace that i can think about and practice head and eye position, breathing from the belly, where my hands are, what my hands are doing, shoulder drive, body position. It also lets me play with things like A march steps for sprinting practice without sprinting (detailed in the s-phase complete athlete DVD (review here)- with tons of sprinting technique stuff). And all literally without getting out of breath.

And here's a kicker - the other day i noticed doing some hills where i hadn't noticed i'd done some hills. Now that's likely a product of improved endurance, i grant you, but i don't recall ever previously not feeling hills like that. Hard to describe.

i haven't done a longish run in eons; running's not a main thing in my training life right now. Last weekend i wanted to see how long i could go with this technique. I ran out of time to test it. Made me wonder if gosh, this IS how we as humans could outlast a horse.

This is also turning out to be an interesting way to do Fartlek: going as HARD as possible for as long as possible not based on distance but on capacity to nasal inhale. Oh, and i don't seem ever to get any kind of cramps with this technique either - could be coincidence. But maybe not.

Just as an aside, i'm also running in vff's (and sunday's run was in the new bikilas without socks), and that's done a lot for improving the energy in my form too over the past year+.

So, really simple technique:
  • i keep the pace to what can be maintained with nasal inhalation, mouth exhalation.
  • i focus from time to time on ensuring the breath comes as much from the belly (not upper ribs/chest) as possible
If i do a hill that's starting to suck air, i've either slowed it down, and kept nasal breathing or slowed down at the crest, and gasped a few in through my mouth to recover, and back to nasal breathing.

What i've found is initially, once i switched over to mouth breathing to recover, the rest of the run was mouth breathing - i couldn't seem to get it back to nasal inhalation. Now, it's no biggie to switch - it's just about pace. And once i let go of the issue around slowing down for a bit to recover then picking up, all seemed to be ok.

So not sure why this is turning out to be a cool way to extend and tune my running, but here's a theory. In the Z-Health frame this would be threat reduction/modulation, and we know, as a part of that, easier breathing also helps manage stress hormones. If we also accept that we're wired for survival not performance, if we keep those stress hormones that are released when we exercise managed, perhaps the threat perception to the nervous system is also reduced, so survival issues go down, performance focus can open up. Sure felt that way on the wee hills i did yesterday.  Personally, i have never found running so easy even going at a good clip and kinda delightful to have as an aside fun movement thing to do since practicing this technique.

If you try it, please let me know what you find.

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Travis said...

"Here it is: gait the run by the tempo at which one can inhale through the nose and use the belly to breath."

Could you describe this a bit more? I'm experimenting with VFFs and running and this morning was doing 1 min alternating walk/run only breathing through the nose. I'd like to try what you're describing, but I don't quite follow. Thanks!


Jim Hansen said...

I had played around with nasal breathing while running last year a little bit. This week I have been working on "crocodile breathing" and hoping that will help with my mobility and biomechanics when I run.

mc said...

Travis, simply put: don't inhale with your mouth; use your nose. Exhale through your mouth, not your nose.

Once you get that going, try to be aware of where your getting your breath. is it just at the top of your chest or is your gut relaxed letting you use your diaphram low down to suck more air in, shoulders/chest relaxed, tip of tongue on start of stoft palette.

Jim, ya combining that crocodile - or diaphram breathing with nasal inhalation/mouth exhalation is really interesting. It's also a surprising hit to the abs. keen to hear how it goes.

i'm noticing how much face muscles get involved with nasal inhalation too: when i try to relax my cheeks, it's harder to get the good breath in the nose.

best and thanks both for writing.

Travis said...

Thanks for the clarification MC, wasn't sure if you were implying more than that, i.e. coordinating number of strides per inhale/exhale cycle and adjusting the strides to maintain pace.

The description is almost exactly what I'm trying to achieve, though I was not exhaling through my mouth; was trying to emphasize full-lung breathing, though I find it hard to relax my gut as I feel I have poor running posture due to scoliosis when I do that.

mc said...

travis, we're designed to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.
if you can do it through pursed lips and take longer to breath out than breath in, even better for co2 balance which means ph balance which means better buffering of those H+ ions potentially...


M. George said...

This approach is written about extensively in "Body, Mind, Sport" by John Douillard. It's a great way to train with less stress.

M. George said...

Be sure to read about Warren Wechsler on page 5 of the book with "Look Inside" on Amazon: Body, Mind, Sport by John Douillard. He ran a 6 min. mile pace with only 12-15 breaths per minutes, heart rate bpm averaging 120. Impressive.

Jason said...

Have found myself doing this almost sub consciously. In through the nose deep in to the belly and out. For me. This is often accompanied by a "Zoned out" state of mind. Running breathing etc. all becomes a oneness.

Sinztah said...

Nice article. This regulation of pace to breathing is EXACTLY the advice I have given to workmates in my pseudo-law enforcement role.
"Run as fast as you can breathe; get there and be useful. Run faster than you can breathe; get there slightly faster and be a waste of space."
People always comment that even when running my radio comms are very clear and without this, that'd be impossible.
Maybe the RKC could call it "Tactical Running"! Haha.


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