There have been times when I’ve been running and felt as though my legs could go forever. There have been times that I’ve never even thought about breathing. And, of course, there have been times when one or the other of them (legs or lungs) have stymied me on the path to greatness. Or at least on the path to a comfortable run. Most notably, and recently, was the Utah Valley Marathon, in which my lungs proved inadequate to process the thin mountain air and left me slow and sick at the end of the race. Pity, that.
I’d never really thought about actually doing exercises to strengthen my lungs and improve my breathing. I always just thought that the more I ran, as long as I challenged my lungs regularly with speedwork, tempo runs, hills, etc., that they would keep pace with my legs. But it turns out that strengthening your breathing muscles (mostly your diaphragm) can do wonders in keeping your legs from being left behind when your legs take off. The harder your lungs have to work, the more difficult it will be for your legs to get the oxygen they need to keep you going.
The trick to strengthening your lungs is to learn to fill your belly (and not just your chest) when you breathe. Keeping your mouth open when you run can help; so can breathing deeply into your belly when you aren’t running. And if you want to get even more serious about it (or maybe just more structured) pilates and yoga are both good for training you to breathe deeply, open up your chest, and strengthen your diaphragm and other core breathing muscles.
Bonus: Your lungs will be so strong that not only will you be able to run forever, you’ll be able to call all the way across the playground to your child, who has wandered to far for the 37th time in 2 hours, and you’ll know that he hears you. Because with lungs like yours, how could he not?
For more information and videos of some specific exercises, see this article from Runner’s World.
photo from Vilo