Take a Deep Breath… Part I

A while ago, my Brazilian friend Silvana decide to pick up running and she found that after about few minutes of jogging, she had a really hard time breathing, her chest was hurting, she was basically struggling with running and breathing.  So, she called me up and said: “Natascia, you need to teach me how to breath, okay?” It sounds silly, right?  After all, we  are all doing it right now without even thinking about it.  Believe it or not, how to breath when running is one of the first questions many new runners ask.  I know when I started running I did, and because I am like a curious three-year-old, constantly asking “why?” I started to research more on the topic and I will share with you what I found out on “How to breath properly while running.”

Out of breath...but on top of that Hill!!

Before I will do that,  I want to go into the science of running a little because I think is really fascinating besides it might help you understand better.

Many of you have probably heard the term VO2Max, and know that having a high one is good.  However, do you know what it really represents?  Well, the term broken down actually stands for V (volume per time), O2 (oxygen), Max (maximum).  You might hear runners referring to VO2 max as maximal oxygen consumption, maximal oxygen uptake, peak oxygen uptake or aerobic capacity.  Forget about all that fancy lingo!  What you want to know is that it stands for the maximum amount of oxygen your body can take in and in fact use at max exertion.  So, if you increase your oxygen uptake and you will have a high VO2Max, your performance in any aerobic endurance activity would improve. Therefore, you’ll run faster, bike faster etc.

Another thing you should know is that the amount of air inhaled and exhaled with each breath,  is called the “Tidal Volume.”  This will increase from .4 to 1 liter at rest to as much as 3 liter during aerobic exercise. Crazy ah!  Moreover, an aerobically fit runners’s tidal volume will  be more than the one of an aerobically unfit person.  She/he will also have a pretty complex network of capillaries at the muscle level.  The combination of the two things, high tidal volume and a more complex system of capillaries, will make more oxygen going into the lungs.  My good news for you here, is that anyone(YOU TOO) can increase its tidal volume, and expand their capillary network, by simply doing consistent aerobic exercise like running, cycling, swimming, etc.  So, the more you run, the more your body will actually increase all of the above and your body will be more efficient at getting oxygen from the blood and send it to the muscle that will make the energy you need to perform.  Pretty cool ah! Don’t you just want to go for a run now =))

To help improve your VO2MAx you can do more intense workouts such as intervals, hill repeats, tempo runs and so forth.  That’s where I am at right now.  Don’t expect to see a dramatic increase as you are working really hard to improve your VO2Max, it happens only to few runners.  I hear a lot of my friend runners saying that they hit their plateau and it’s much harder to make increases.  However,  continuing VO2Max training will help maintain the VO2Max level for longer periods of time and control fatigue for longer.  So, keep doing your hard workout and tackle those hills!

I know it’s a lot of information and probably most of you stopped reading by now, but aren’t  you wondering how do you find your VO2Max?  I know how was curious!  It turns out that the most accurate way to find your VO2Max is by doing a laboratory test.  However, not many runners (me included) can afford it!  I hope one day I will get to do it, as right now the way I estimated my VO2 max was using my most recent race finishing time in the table below.  Find yours!


If you have not completed any races lately, runner’s world recommend to do the following run test. Do a 5- 10-minute warm-up walk or easy jog. Then run 1.5 miles at or near what you consider max exertion. On a 1-10 perceived exertion scale you should be running at about a 9. Record your time. Then plug your body weight in kilograms, your run time in minutes and your gender number (1=male, 0=female) into the equation below. The result will be your VO2Max. (Note: Before doing the test, or beginning any new exercise, first consult with your doctor.)

VO2Max Equation
88.02 — .1656 (body weight in kg) — 2.76 (1.5 mile time in minutes) + 3.716 (gender)

The charts below show the Average to Excellent VO2Max ranges for men and women.

At this point you probably understand why new runners often experience rapid heavy breathing.  Moreover, when their heart rate increase, their body automatically knows it needs more oxygen, and the most natural thing they would do is to breathe faster.  However, this won’t be very helpful because those breaths are usually shallow and not getting the oxygen deep into the lungs where it’s taken by the blood stream to the muscle to make energy.  So, here we are finally going back to the beginning question that was “ How do we breath properly while running?”

Well this will be a topic for next time=)

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