Every breath you take, every muscle that aches…or maybe not

Catherine Jaschinski from Illuminate Consulting, is a Yoga and Mindfulness Teacher.  Her blog for Run Reigate examines the benefits of diaphragm breathing for runners.


Sorry if the headline of this article is a bad play on the Police song ‘Every breath you take’ but hopefully my verbal karaoke has got your attention.

About the only time we pay any attention to our breathing is when we are out of breath.  In running it’s usually on the home stretch of a long run and if we are unlucky it’s going up a hill as well. Does anyone remember that from last year’s Run Reigate Half-Marathon?

Our breathing is such a critical part of anything we do and yet we take it for granted.  In running it can play a number of important roles, one of them being a ‘barometer’ for how we are feeling during a run.  Sometimes when we run, our breathing is heavy, sluggish and a real struggle to draw into the body, other times it’s is light, smooth and up-lifting.  Paying attention to the nature of our breathing can guide us to how our body is handling this run and with this information we can decide how to ‘pace’ our run, i.e. whether to push through the tough patches or whether in this particular instance it may be better to ease up a bit.  Your breath can be a great tool to help inform this type of decision especially if you are the kind of person who tends to push your body to breaking point and get injuries.

Another great way you can use your breath is to improve your endurance and recovery.  Yes, that’s right.  Not only is the breath helping you to get up and down those hills, but also if you actively breathe using your diaphragm rather than your chest, you can improve your endurance and will be less likely to become fatigued.  Now wouldn’t that be nice – not to have such aches and pains after a long run.

The evidence for this comes from research from the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunei University.  They measured fatigue levels of marathoner’s respiratory muscles and leg muscles and found a direct link between them – runners whose breathing was the most strained showed the most leg weakness.  They concluded that the harder the respiratory muscles had to work, the more the legs would struggle in a race.  So the key to preventing lung and leg fatigue is breathing more fully which is exactly what happens when you breathe using the diaphragm.

This is all very interesting but how on earth do I actively use my diaphragm to breathe when I don’t know where it is!  Your diaphragm is a big muscle that sits underneath your rib cage and is responsible for 80% of the effort involved in breathing.  If your tuck your fingers under your ribcage and gently push upward you will feel it there.

The easiest way to learn how to diaphragm or ‘belly breathe’ is to do the following….

  1. Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and knees bent
  2. As you breathe in allow / encourage your stomach to gently inflate and rise upwards (this movement gets your diaphragm working)
  3. As you exhale allow your stomach to deflate and lower downwards
  4. Practice this for 5-10 minutes and then you can try it standing for a few minutes

Once you’ve started to train the diaphragm breathing in a stationary position (lying or standing) you can try to use it while walking and then eventually bring it into your running.

This type of breathing is also very good to relax the body and mind so can be used outside of running to manage stress, build resilience and balance in other aspects of your life.

Just as we would train our hamstrings and quads to improve our leg strength we can improve our respiratory muscles for better breathing and ultimately better endurance.  

So when you next head out for a run, take a moment to notice your breath, use your diaphragm (at the start of the run at least) and thank it for helping you to enjoy those longer runs a little bit more.

Catherine Jaschinski

Yoga and Mindfulness Teacher

Illuminate Consulting Ltd

Mobile: 07801 045 905

Illuminate Colour on Clear copy

The next Yoga for Runners workshop will be on Wednesday 5th October 7.30 – 9.30pm in Reigate. Call Cath on mobile number 07801 045 905 or email if interested.


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