Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bilateral breathing.....for Runners?

So every once in awhile I come across a piece of information or an article in a magazine about training that really resonates with me. Last year I read Scott Jurek's book and decided I needed to clean up my diet and became what I would call an 80% Vegan.  I still enjoyed my post long run steaks and ate whatever when I went out with friends and family.  I think it did make an impact on my season last year and allowed me to get down to a relatively lean race weight for a change.

Anyway, this post isn't about diet, but rather another article I read this week in Runner's World that got me thinking about a part of running that I usually don't pay much attention to and that is breathing.  Most runs I tend to go out and just run because I enjoy it and I just let my mind wander and before I know it the day's prescribed mileage is up and I'm done.  For races and speedwork days I loosely monitor my breathing as a way to tell how hard I'm going.  Unless it's a 5k I shouldn't be out of breath.  If I'm doing speedwork and I'm hitting my paces and my breathing is under control then all is well.

The article, which can be found here, put the act of breathing in a whole new light for me.  There is evidence out there that suggest the greatest impact stress occurs when you exhale at the same time of a foot strike.  The argument was made that many runners will tend to exhale when the same foot strikes (ie always on the right foot strike or left foot strike) and that puts an unbalanced amount of stress on the body which can in turn lead to injury.

I thought about that for a bit and realized that every injury I've sustained while running has a occurred on my right side. Hip bursitis, Achilles tendon, and now the peroneal tendon. Coincidence? I don't know.  Maybe I just have one leg that's shorter than the other one.  That's possible too.  Anyway the article went on to explain a method for breathing in which you exhale on opposite foot strikes, with the easiest pattern to be a 3 step inhale, 2 step exhale so that way you're alternating exhalations on the left and right.  I figured I would go ahead and try and employ this next time out to see what it felt like.  There was really nothing to lose.  It's not likely that I would injure myself trying a new breathing method.  More likely that I would be annoyed with counting steps and doing something that didn't feel natural that I would give it up within a few miles.

So Thursday I gave it a shot.  It was a little weird because like I said it's not something I normally think about.  I found out that the 3:2 pattern was too short for an easy run and made me feel like I was forcing my breaths.  A 5:2 pattern was much more doable at my pace.  The only weird thing I noticed was a tended to look to the right or left depending on which foot strike I was exhaling too.  It reminded me of that scene in the Wayne's World movie where they're doing the five second countdown and Wayne and Garth kept nodding their heads and mouthing the countdown.

I've spent a couple more runs since then practicing on and off.  I did my weekly long run this morning (13 miles!) and would focus on it for a bit and then let my mind wander.  A few times I checked myself and found I was starting to subconsciously keep the new pattern up.  A few more times out and maybe it will be ingrained a little better and not feel so forced.  Like I said I think the switch is pretty low risk. Maybe it won't help with injuries, but if it does then bonus.  If anything, it can't hurt to be a little more conscious of how I'm breathing out there when I'm running.

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