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Practising yoga breathing can make you a faster runner, new study says

After three weeks of breathing practice, runners could go faster with less effort

runner doing breathwork

Recent research sheds light on an unexpected ally in the quest for improved running performance: yoga breathing techniques. According to a new study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, integrating yoga breathing practices into a runner’s training regimen can lead to significant enhancements in overall performance.

Researchers discovered that incorporating specific breathing exercises derived from yoga can yield remarkable results. By harnessing the power of controlled breathing techniques, runners can tap into a deeper reservoir of oxygen, improve respiratory efficiency and enhance endurance capacity.

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The study

The study had experienced runners of various fitness levels, both male and female, who were enlisted to explore the effects of three specific yoga breathing techniques: Dirgha (breath awareness), Kapalbhati, and Bhastrika (high-frequency yoga breathing). Over three weeks, participants received instruction in these techniques, while a control group received no instructions.

Before and after the instruction period, both groups underwent running tests on a laboratory treadmill, maintaining a prescribed rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Remarkably, after the yoga breathing instruction, participants demonstrated a significant improvement in running pace while maintaining the same RPE as before. In contrast, the control group showed no change in pace.

yoga breathing

Pranayama to power performance

The concept of using yogic breathing isn’t entirely new—past studies have demonstrated the profound impact of pranayama, or yogic breath control, on respiratory muscle function. Through regular practice of pranayama techniques, runners can strengthen the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, leading to more efficient oxygen uptake and utilization during exercise. This translates into better aerobic capacity, reduced breathlessness and prolonged endurance during long-distance runs.

woman doing yoga

How to get started

Dirgha Pranayama (three-part breath)

Inhale deeply, filling your belly, ribcage and chest with air. Exhale slowly, releasing the breath from your chest, ribcage and belly. Repeat for several rounds, focusing on smooth, controlled breathing.

Kapalabhati

Sit with a straight spine and take a deep inhale. Exhale forcefully through your nose by quickly contracting your lower abdomen. Follow each exhale with a passive inhale. Repeat this rhythmic pattern for several cycles, maintaining focus on the breath.

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