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Breathe your way into your best running performance

If you struggle with nerves before a big race or workout, take a deep breath

runners at race start Photo by: Unsplash/miguel-a-amutio

Your breath has the power to shift your approach to an intense event and can be key to how you perform, sports psychologist and author Jeff Afremow writes in his book The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive. “To perform at a champion’s level, breathe deeply and rhythmically to maintain peak energy levels,” Afremow says. Here’s how to harness your breath and use it to run strong.

Tricks to proper breathing

Proper breathing helps you stay in the moment, promotes a relaxation response, and releases tension. Expand your belly as you inhale, and relax your belly during exhalation, letting your shoulders drop and jaw relax as you exhale. Try right now, as you read this. If it seems challenging, lie flat on the floor or a couch and place one hand on your belly to feel it rise and fall.

“Your breathing can become shallow when you feel angry or anxious,” Afremow says. This causes diminished oxygen intake, and increased muscle tension. Taking some deep breaths in tough situations helps calm your nervous system.

Breathe sign
Photo: Unsplash/fabian-moller

Three steps to taking a deep, grounding breath

1. Breathe in through the nose for a slow count to five.

2. Hold for two counts.

3. Breathe out through the mouth for a slow count to eight.

Mentally count to five on the in-breath, count to two as you hold the breath, and count to eight for the out-breath, suggests Afremow. Repeat the steps for four cycles (creating a one-minute breathing workout) or as many times as you need. “Breathing in this manner will help you to slow your heart rate, calm your thoughts, and find inner stillness in the moment,” adds Afremow.

person running at dusk
Photo: Lucas Favre

Practise throughout the day, not just pre-race

To make deep breathing a habit and to add it to your pre-race toolbox, check in with your breathing throughout the day, noticing whether you are breathing from the belly or the chest. Is the breath deep or shallow? Afremow suggests working on sitting quietly, simply following your breath. “Your mind becomes more powerful as it becomes quieter and clearer,” he says.

Being able to stay in the present moment, or using your breath practice to find your way back to the present, allows you to move forward through any fear or anxiety you’re facing and tackle the task at hand. Not only will a breathing practice benefit your running game, but you’ll find it useful in general life situations as well.

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