Lee-Anne Wann is one of New Zealand’s most trusted health and fitness experts.

Lee-Anne Wann: Simple techniques to improve your running

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Taking a deep breath can help relax us, reduce stress, eliminate cramps, and increase our aerobic capacity. Photo / Getty
Taking a deep breath can help relax us, reduce stress, eliminate cramps, and increase our aerobic capacity. Photo / Getty

You may love the idea of running to stay fit and keep in shape, but do you find yourself struggling to get into a good run?

The first 30 to 40 minutes of a run is what they call the "settling in" period. I have a client who finds that every four or so minutes they have to stop and put their head down to get a decent full breath of air before they can continue. Does that sound familiar?

There are plenty of differing opinions when it comes to how you should breathe when running or engaging in aerobic exercise. This is largely because breathing should be relaxed and natural and will be unique for every individual.

Some people breathe through their nose, others use both mouth and nose; some use a form of "cadence" breathing and so on. The key is to try various methods and work out what suits you.

Often when we run our breathing becomes laboured and stressed. This can bring on cramps, poor performance and premature fatigue.

I have had clients who struggled for the first five minutes of a run, others for 15 or so minutes - it really came down to how quickly they settled into a breathing pattern.

You may be stressed or start to increase your breathing prior to running without realising it. So the best time to begin your breathing exercises for a run is at the start of your workout, as you warm up for the running itself.

Breathing exercises for running can benefit not only your racing times, but your overall stress levels. Yoga, martial arts, meditation and many other activities use breathing to focus our energies on the task at hand.

Here are three breathing exercises to try:

1. The Deep Breath

Most of our day-to-day breathing only involves the upper two thirds of our lung capacity.

It's only when we engage our diaphragm that we fill the lower part of our lungs. Taking a deep breath can help relax us, reduce stress, eliminate cramps, and increase our aerobic capacity.

Breathing exercises can be done when you're not running as well.

• Take a full breath in, filling up your entire lungs.

• Hold for a count of five, and slowly release it.

If you're doing this breathing exercise while running, do not hold the breath. In fact, the relaxation breath (in through the nose and out through the mouth), is hard to do when running. I personally use both my nose and mouth when running. The deep breath alone will help you get a bit more relaxed and it'll give you a good shot of oxygen when you need it.

2. Breathing to music

While the deep breath can and should be used for a pre-race calming or to settle yourself down in your first 20 to 30 minutes, one of the most effective breathing exercises for running is simply to adopt a cadence that works for you and your pace.

I find music or a particular song helps my breathing stay regulated and productive. It could be a fast-tempo song, or one with some positive lyrics.

If you don't think music has an effect on your breathing or pace, take note of the changes next time you run with your iPod.

3. Cadence

Cadences can be described as steps per inhale, followed by steps per exhale.

If you are a more disciplined runner, try a cadence per inhale and exhale. Most elite distance runners do a 2-2 (two steps per inhale and two steps per exhale) in the beginning of the race and finish on a 2-1 cadence (2 steps per inhale - 1 step per exhale).

If you find that you're getting cramps or feel light-headed with a 2-2 cadence, try a 3-3 cadence or vary the foot that you're starting with.

If that doesn't work relax your pace to the point where your breathing is not laboured.

For more resources on breathing and how it may affect us check out breathingworks.com.

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Lee-Anne Wann is one of New Zealand’s most trusted health and fitness experts.

Lee-Anne Wann is one of New Zealand’s most trusted health and fitness experts. She is the Vodafone Warrior’s team nutritionist, ambassador for Men's Health Trust NZ and runs a health and consultancy business.

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