Breathing Rhythm For Runners

By Dr. Jack Daniels

I strongly believe that breathing rhythm is closely associated with stride rate, and this association is not exclusive to runners. In fact, in some sports the act of breathing is determined very clearly by the rate at which the legs and/or arms are moving. Take the example of swimmers; here breathing in all strokes (except back stroke) is strictly dictated by arm turnover – you breathe in rhythm with stroke rate or take in a lot of water. In rowing and paddling, breathing is pretty nearly limited to getting a breath between strokes.

The question is how many breaths do you take per stride, or how many strides do you take per breath? Again, in counting breathing rates of elite runners, I have found that over 80% use a “2-2” rhythm most of the time, especially when running at a fairlydemanding intensity. A 2-2 rhythm means you take 2 steps (1 with the right foot and 1 with the left foot) while breathing in and 2 steps while breathing out. Some will use a 3-3 rhythm when on an easy run, and often go to a 2-1 or 1-2 rhythm when starting to work really hard toward the latter stages of a race or during a hard training session.

How To Prevent A Late Marathon Slowdown

Michael Cavalli:  What is the most important aspect(s) of marathon training to help the runner maintain pace/efficiency in the latter, more difficult miles of the marathon?

Dr. Jack Daniels:  A very important approach to maintaining pace and efficiency in the latter miles of a marathon race is to not go out too fast in the beginning. Run the first 20 miles no faster than your training and any recent racing VDOT values suggest for your marathon race pace.  It is often very easy to go out too fast early in a marathon because you have tapered and rested for the race and normal marathon race pace seems too slow.  The best part of a marathon to run faster than anticipated is the 2nd half of the race; particularly the last 10k of the race.  The first half of the race should feel like a pace that you could increase at any time, and something that might help in those early miles is to concentrate on being relaxed and turning over with a nice quick leg cadence and breathing with a comfortable 2-2 rhythm.  It might help to spend some time thinking about being relaxed in the face, jaws, then shoulders, arms, stomach, legs and feet.