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I recently started a C25K program. I'm in the UK and using the NHS C25K podcasts and last night I did the first day of week 2 - the voice over told me that during the running segments I should be trying to breathe in for four steps and out for four steps, specifically counting four steps of my left foot for each (so: breathe in, L, R, L, R, L, R, L, R; breathe out, L, R, L, R, L, R, L, R).

Now, I am very unfit indeed (hence doing the program in the first place) and I do end up quite out of breath during the workouts, but there is NO WAY I can manage to inhale for that long while running. I can just about manage half that (breathe in, L, R, L, R; breathe out, L, R, L, R).

My husband, who is much fitter (but not particularly a runner), said that he wouldn't be able to do that either.

So the question is: is this really sensible advice that I should be TRYING to follow (as in actively working on extending my breathing pattern), or is it something that will happen anyway as I get fitter / better at running, or is it just daft advice that I should ignore?

I've seen When running out of breath, keep breathing rhythm or take in air? and Breathing Pattern while running but neither of those are quite the same question.

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When you say

breathe in, L, R, L, R; breathe out, L, R, L, R

we like to call this 4:4. That is 4 steps on inhale, 4 steps on exhale.

This study tries to analyze some of the breathing dynamics of humans during running. While it's pretty long and technical, it's been written about in more layman's terms here.

The gist of it suggests that a 2:1 pattern is more beneficial because of how you evenly distribute exhale weight shifts onto both legs.

In any case, the 8:8 you mention seems farfetched. If you're able to do 8:8, I posit that you're not really getting tired. Shorter, more explosive breaths, increase circulation.

  • 2
    Thanks for the link, that is interesting. So a 2:1 pattern would be: in, L, R, out, L, in, R, L, out, R (repeat)? Also, the article does say "That optimal pattern is 2:1 steps per breath for fast running" and I should point out that I am definitely not fast by anyone's definition, so would that still apply for a slower jog? Either way: overall I think your last sentence there really sums it up for me, to do 8:8 I would have to be walking very slowly indeed and there's no way that could be better exercise. I'm wondering now if I somehow misunderstood the advice in the podcast. – Vicky Jul 28 '15 at 11:34
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    Yes, that's right. Since you're alternating left and right on exhale, the weight shift that happens during an exhale is balanced between the two legs. If you do 2:2 for instance, one leg is always going to be pressured the most (when you've exhaled completely), and the other leg will never have to deal with it, unless you purposefully switch it up. – Alec Jul 28 '15 at 11:37
  • I start at 8:8 partly because I can and partly to pace myself. If I have to drop below 6:6 before the halfway point of the run then I ran too hard and need to slow down. I usually end a run at 4:4. – Todd Wilcox Jul 28 '15 at 14:20
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    I usually do 2:2, but then also change it from R-L to L-R every 2-3 km. This way I get (almost) the same benefits as 2:1, but I don't have to think about it while running. I find it very hard to do 2:1 properly and usually end up out-of-breath in very few minutes. – Tonny Madsen Jul 28 '15 at 16:21
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If humans run, their breathing is not connected to their stride. Why don't you just breath the way it is comfortable with you?

Especially when you just started to run, you shouldn't worry about anything like breathing patterns. Just try to find the "fun" in running!

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    I count my breaths and sync to stride for a few reasons. Mainly to prevent hyper- or hypo-ventilation and possible cramping. The other big reason is my comfort at a certain breath frequency tells me how hard I'm running and whether I'm running too hard or not hard enough. – Todd Wilcox Jul 28 '15 at 14:22
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    This is the right answer. Just breathe as you need to. Don't worry about strides, or timing, whatever. Just breathe. – JohnP Jul 28 '15 at 14:43
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    Dummkind, controlling your breathing and taking in large breaths increases blood flow and provides oxygen faster to your brain and the rest of your body. Very similar to yawning. That is why you will sometimes see people yawn when they are working out (I tend to do this). A lot of people tend to breathe quickly, taking short small breaths. The point of the exercise is to breathe steadily as you run which in return generates more oxygen for your body. The exercise helps break the habit of taking short breaths. It takes some time to get used to. – MB41 Jul 28 '15 at 14:45
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    @JohnP - That's a pretty bold statement. I expect you've done the research? And I expect it can solidly counter this? ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6849136 – Alec Jul 28 '15 at 17:00
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    @Alec - I know it's a summary, and I would like to read further, I just don't have access to that particular site. Unfortunately, all the summary says is that they infer there is a link in humans because other mammals adapted it. I would be interested in seeing if they address the fact that humans are the only mammals (that I am aware of) that exercise and run for sport, and if that makes a difference. – JohnP Jul 28 '15 at 20:55
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It depends why you're running. If you're running to build your general aerobic and cardiovascular fitness, the rule of thumb I learned in the US Marine Corps is not to follow a particular breathing pattern, but to aim for a certain level of exertion. You should be breathing in a way that allows you to talk, but not sing. If you can sing at a normal tempo, you're not pushing yourself hard enough. And if you can't talk to your running partner, you're pushing yourself too hard.

If you're running for a more specific goal, like time over a given distance, your target breathing pattern could be entirely different. I have no advice about that.

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You might be interested in reading this about the research of the late prof. Buteyko:

@MR04:

"controlling your breathing and taking in large breaths increases blood flow and provides oxygen faster to your brain and the rest of your body."

Not necessarily. If you lose too much CO2 by breathing too much, you'll actually reduce available oxygen for the brain. I'm not going to write an essay here, but rather I'd like to refer to this:

"Many people believe that breathing more air increases oxygen content in cells. This is not true. Generally, breathing more even reduces oxygen content even in the arterial blood. Indeed, hemoglobin cells in normal blood for very small normal breathing are about 98% saturated with O2. When we hyperventilate this number is about the same (in real life it gets less since most people make a transition to automatic costal or chest breathing that reduces arterial blood O2 levels), but without CO2 and the Bohr effect, this oxygen is tightly bound with red blood cells and cannot get into the tissues in required amounts. Hence, now we know one of the causes why heavy breathing reduces the cell-oxygen level of all vital organs."

Source: http://www.normalbreathing.com/CO2-bohr-effect.php

Much more:

http://www.normalbreathing.com/cardiovascular-endurance.php

I cannot post more links b/c of my reputation level, but that website contains plenty of relevant material for this discussion.

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Breathing in for 4 lefts and out for 4, like you are doing seems extreme, especially for a beginner runner. In for 2 left, out for 2 is probably what they mean in that article. It also matches most Army running cadences, by the way.

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