Friday, 15 August 2014

Breathing, running and me

Over the past couple of months I have begun to notice how atrocious my breathing sounds when I run. I know I have joked about sounding like I suffer from emphysema but that is how bad I think I sound!

At track on Tuesdays as people pass me they don’t sound as bad as I do. With this in mind I spoke to #runboss about my concerns.

My reasoning being when I coach swimming I know that some runners who are learning to swim struggle with the breathing and I wondered if the reverse were true i.e. when a swimmer (AKA me) starts to run and is struggling with breathing, is there a fundamental reason why they struggle to breath?

Now I know this might sound rubbish but I have always been a swimmer and never a runner until 2 years ago. Is there something different in breathing between swimming and running.

I booked an appointment at Blizard Towers to find out. Who better to advise me than two ex international runners, #runboss and my physio.

This Wednesday was the time for my appointment.

I had no idea what this would entail in the slightest.

First Dave got me to perform a peak flow test to see how powerful my lungs were. When I was a kid I had asthma so knew the process, big breath in and blow out as quickly and forcefully as you can.

The first set of results were:

PEF (peak expiratory flow) which is a measure of a person’s maximum speed of expiration of 601L/min. A normal reading for my age and height would be 636L/min

FEV1  which is the amount of air expelled in a one second period of time of 4.6L. A normal reading for my age, weight and height would be 4.36L

Jenny (my Physio) then set about seeing what my range of movement was across my thoracic spine, as this has an impact on how your ribs move which impacts on your breathing. I had severe stiffness in my back. After a bout of manipulation to free up my thoracic spine and check to see what the improvement in flexibility was like, we repeated the peak flow test again

PEF = 766L/min
FEV1 = 4.8L

A marked improvement.

Now we got down to the nitty gritty part. How I actually breath?

After I laid on the couch, Jenny asked me to breath in and out a few times. I did and she watched my chest rise and fall.

I was breathing with the top of my lungs first, my mid lung second and my diaphragm last. Which is exactly the opposite way a runner should breath.

When quizzed as to why I breath that way, I can only think that I learnt to breath that way as a kid who swam sprints for his town. When sprint swimming as a child it was about how quickly I could get breath in and the most efficient way to do this would be to use your top portion of the lungs.

After going through the correct “running” way to breath, which felt really weird at first as I had to isolate all the different portions of the breath before stringing them all together and breathing “correctly”, we checked my range of movement across my thoracic spine. There was a marked improvement from the first range of movement motions

So now I have to retrain myself to not breath in the way that I have breathed for as long as I can remember. Jenny gave me some exercises to do to help with this.

We then discussed how, when I have got my breathing sorted. To run I should breath in and then breath out for twice the duration I breathed in for. Why is there so much to remember?

Now for the important peak flow retest.

PEF = 784L/min, an improvement of 30% and a measurement which puts me 23% above what is considered “normal”
FEV1 = 4.94L, an improvement of 7% which puts me 13% above what is considered “normal”

I was shocked by the improvement with my breathing. I suspect the next few weeks will be odd, having to focus on relearning to breath. Even sat here typing I am aware of myself breathing the wrong way.

I went for a threshold run last night and really concentrated on breathing. I didn’t feel as out of breath as I had done previously. Coincidence? Only the future will tell.

Thanks for reading,


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