CLINIC: Altering a Breathing Pattern

Wed, 22 Feb. 2012 - 6:36 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

QUESTION:
I am a 57-year-old male with almost 20 years of running behind me. I do speedwork on a track twice a week with a corporate track team, and otherwise run about 30 miles a week. I’m mainly a distance runner—anything up to half-marathons.

The coach and several teammates on the track team believe I breathe too fast, and tell me I should cut my rate in half. When I run hard, I inhale on every other step. (To give you an idea of my pace, I run the 800 in about 3:10, the 1600 in 6:46, and 3200 in about 14:00.) My question is, does it make sense to try and alter my breathing at this point? I’ve been doing it this way for almost 20 years. 

Thomas Kirner 
Cape Elizabeth, ME

ANSWER:
I think you should continue to breathe the way you have been. Rate of breathing during vigorous exercise is partially controlled by the nervous system. Messages are sent to the muscles that surround the rib cage to contract and help lift the rib cage at a faster rate. Your rate of breathing will be dictated by your cardiovascular condition and the speed you try to maintain while running. I would not change my breathing from someone else’s response or comments.

It would help if I knew your body size and height. Maximal ventilation rates of 100 liters per minute are common in smaller individuals, while rates exceeding 200 liters per minute are found in larger people. Whatever your body type, pulmonary ventilation increases during exercise in direct proportion to your body’s metabolic needs. Your best bet is to simply breathe as comfortably as you can for your condition, atmospheric conditions, and the reasonable rates of speed you are trying to achieve during your workouts.

Tom Woltz Sr., MA, Exercise Physiologist
Houston, TX

ANSWER:
Altering a breathing pattern can be very difficult since it has been second nature for so long. If you wish to experiment with modifications in your breathing rate, however, do so during less important runs and workouts. Based on my own research and coaching experience, when running at about 75% maximal heart rate (MHR), most runners average 30 to 45 breaths per minute. Although there are limitations in the method, for a rough approximation of your MHR, you could subtract your age from 220, in your case 163 beats per minute (bpm). Seventy-five percent of this would be about 122 bpm. As the pace quickens from 75% MHR, a pattern of two steps to inhale and two to exhale will allow more oxygen. This is about 60 breaths per minute. For intervals, a kick at the end of a race, or races lasting less than three minutes, try a pattern of two steps to inhale and one step to exhale. Any faster than this can create a state similar to hyperventilating.

Greg Tymon, MEd, CSCS
East Stroudsburg, PA


(RUNNING & FITNEWS® September/October 2005 • Volume 23, Number 5)
 
DISCLAIMER: The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Please consult your health care provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition.

The American Running Association (ARA) and its Clinic Advisory Board disclaims responsibility and shall have no liability for any consequences suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained in this site. ARA does not endorse specifically any test, treatment, or procedure mentioned on this site.
 
 


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