Some Thoughts & Observations on Breathing

2 Comments October 29, 2007 / Posted in Running Form & Style

Some quick thoughts and observations on breathing:

1. Keeping the same cadence, my speed depends on the lean of the body from ankle to the top of the head. The more the lean, the faster I go and the quicker I have to move my foot through its cycle while maintaining the same cadence.

2. When I am running slowly, 9 to 10 minute pace, I can breathe 8 steps out and 4 or 6 steps in. That means I get one cycle of air every 12 to 14 steps.

3. As I speed up, but maintaining the same cadence I will shorten the breathe cycle so that my perceived effort (Borg Scale) will support my increased speed. University of Waterloo has a great little learning site on the Borg Scale & RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion).

4. As my speed increases I take in the same volume of air with each cycle. I would go from an 8 out/4 in to a 6 out/4 in to a 5 out/4 in to a 4out/4in to a 4 out/3 in to a 3out/3in, to a 3out/2in, to a 2out/2in. So not changing my cadence, I can run faster and go from a one breath cycle in 12 steps(8out/4in) to a 3 breath cycle in 12 steps (2out/2in). Why breathe 2out/2in all the time when I don’t need that much O2 to run a slower pace. Aren’t I overusing the diaphram unnecessarily-which takes extra energy?

5. If someone breathes 2out/2in all the time, where do they go for more O2 when they run faster? Using my breathing as gears, (gotta think about that metaphor), I can maintain the same cadence and go from a 10 minute/mile pace to a 7 minute mile. I use my breathing to support me as I pick up my speed while maintaining the same step cadence. (If you’ve seen the Marine Corps Silent Drill Team, you’ll know what I mean)

6. At times when I am really pushing a run and want to keep my mind from going into panic from O2 deprevation, I use an 3 breath cycle in 8 steps to keep me focused as I keep the body oxygenated. The breathing during the 8 steps is:
in/out/in/out/in-in/out-out. This cycle makes it easier to get in a 3rd cycle where most people would only get 2 cycles(2out/2in/2out/2in). This gives me a slight edge as I am getting one more cycle of air every 8 steps than you are.

7. The problem for most runners with breathing is not that they can’t get enough air in, it’s that they can’t get enough air out. I train people to march in place and count their steps, starting at 10 out/4in and working up to 20 out/2in. People have to gasp for air not because they can’t get enough air in, they haven’t gotten enough air out, so that they can relax on the 2, or 3 or 4 steps of breathing in with no effort.

8. In a marathon you are in a trance from about mile 15 onward. It is the breathing that keeps the mind focused and in the present. If I am tired, depleted of muscle glycogen and liver glycogen (feeds the brain), I will be moving slowly at a 10 minute/mile pace and breathing with a 2 cycle breath for 8 steps or even a 3 cycle breath for 8 steps. I need the O2 to keep the mind and body going since I’ve depleted the energy stores.

9. If you listen to a respirator, it is so monotonous that it can put you to sleep. Breathing for me is that respirator. I breath out as many steps as comfortable to support my pace so that I can relax in for 2,3,4, or more steps. I never gasp for air. I have gotten all the air out, and figuratively created a vaccuum so that when I relax the diaphram, the atmosphere breathes me.

10. When running with someone and using an even number of breathes in and out, i.e. (3out/3in; 4out/4in; 2out/2in) I do reciprocating breathe. Your 2out are my 2/in and vice versa. So after a while we have created a reciprocating engine where I am breathing you and you are breathing me. As you breathe out, you are helping me breathe in. Again, it further helps the trance state occuring in longer distances. It calms the mind/brain, which always wants to know that it has enough O2 so that it won’t have to worry.

11. I have found over the years that many people have injuries to one side of their body. One observation is that they use symmetric breathing. That means when you add up the number of steps in one cycle of breathing( 5out/3in; 4out/4in; 9out/3in) and they are even then you will always be landing on the same foot at the beginning of each cycle. With asymmetric breathing (4out/3in, 7out/4in; 5out/2in) every cycle you will be landing or opposite foot at the beginning of each cycle.

12. There’s a lot of other “stuff” to talk about but that’s enough overload for now. There will be many who say that this is obsessive/compulsive about counting or changing breathe patterns. It’s stated: “Just run and your breathing will take care of you.” These are some things I’ve played with over the years and taught to a large number of people.

I’m interested in hearing your comments. Have any of you read Ian Jackson’s book from a few years ago about Breathe Play.

Check out the websites of Drs. Nicholas and Ivana Romanov: Pose Running and Danny and Katherine Dreyer: ChiRunning and ChiWalking

2 Comments... What do you think? Subscribe via RSS
  1. Betsy Thomason said on February 3rd, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Hi Tad,
    I’m enjoying all the info you are sharing. I’m a respiratory therapist/breathing trainer. Ian Jackson suggested I learn more about you and read your books. I’m currently writing a book about BreathPlay.
    Ian says you influenced him greatly. He calls the Joy of Running ‘my bible.’ I would like to include your thoughts about Ian/BreathPlay in my book and on my web site (which is beinf remodeled). You are a great example of a doctor teaching, sharing what he knows. I am now writing about the origins of BreathPlay – I’d like to talk with you.

  2. Ozzie Gontang said on February 5th, 2008 at 12:07 am


    You can find Tad at:
    is the article from US Mag. In the picture I’m the one to Tad’s right with the T-shirt that has what looks the the iris of an eye. I worked with Ian in the early years and have championed his work since first meeting him. If I can be of help regarding your writing, email me.

    In friendship and on the run,
    Ozzie Gontang

Join the discussion by leaving a comment...

How do I change my avatar?

Go to and upload your preferred avatar.

Please visit WP-Admin > Options > Snap Shots and enter the Snap Shots key. How to find your key