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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Running Tips and Questions Answered


Last week I sent out some information for anyone interested in starting a running program the correct way. I received several questions as a result of that email and I thought that this week I would share those questions as well as the answers.

Should I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth?

This is not a "rule" and not advised unless you are running very easy. If you feel like you are not getting enough air then definitely breathe through your mouth...you'll get a lot more air that way. I assume that this "myth" started as a way to get people to control their breathing and not begin to hyperventilate. If you feel that your breathing is abnormally quick and labored when running, keep reading...there is a much better solution than breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

What about a cooldown?

Someone brought it to my attention that I didn't include any cooldown time in the running plan. The plan is designed to be a moderate intensity plan and the walk breaks tend to put a cap on the intensity level, but a cooldown is definitely important if you are running at a high intensity. Obviously that level is going to differ from person to person. The plan shouldn't be high intensity, but for some people who are at a very poor level of fitness, it could be high intensity. If the program seems really tough and really gets you breathing hard, simply include a 5 minute walk at the end of each running day to allow your heart rate to come back down to a normal level.

Should I take long strides or short strides?

Shorter, quick strides are more efficient and will tire you out less. When you take long strides, you need to push yourself higher off of the ground each time to take a step to give yourself time to get your other leg around. This wastes a lot of energy. Short, quick strides are better because you tend to push your body forward, as opposed to up off of the ground, thus moving forward faster for less energy expenditure.

My breathing seems to be all messed up. Am I breathing "correctly"?

I've had about 5 people talk to me about breathing, asking if there is a "proper" way to breathe while running. If you think that you are breathing properly, then you probably are. If it isn't broke, don't try to fix it. Obviously, your breathing is going to be quicker when running than when at rest, but if you think that your breathing is very labored compared to how quickly (or slowly) you're running then you are probably taking very shallow, quick breaths. There is a better way...try timing your breaths to your foot strikes. This is very hard to explain in text, but really easy to demonstrate, so I'm going to do the best that I can. If you really can't seem to get it, talk to me about it the next time that you see me. Here is what you should do:

  • Foot Strike ----L----R----L----R----L----R----L----R----L----R----L--R--
  • Breath ----Out--Out--In---In---Out--Out--In---In---Out--Out--In-In-
  • Cycle Count ----1----2----3----4----1----2----3----4----1----2----3--4--

The foot strike line represents your feet hitting the ground, L for left, R for right. The cycle count is an attempt to graphically display what's going on for each step during a complete inhalation and exhalation cycle. Even though you might think it's stupid, actually counting when you first try this is VERY helpful. The breath line shows whether you should be inhaling or exhaling on each step. On cycle count 1 and 2, you should NOT exhale fully twice...it is a single exhalation completed over 2 steps...same for the inhalation on count 3 and 4. Don't start your exhalation when your right foot hits the ground...you're more likely to get a side stitch if you do. This works for all running speeds except when you are running very slowly or very fast. If you are running very slowly, it's too much breathing and just feels weird. If you are running very fast, it's not enough air and you need to breathe more. But for almost all running, short of racing, it works like a charm. For some people this is intuitive and they don't need to practice it, for others it takes a little practice to do it correctly. It may seem cumbersome at first, but running will be easier once you get the hang of it, then it becomes second nature and you don't have to think about it. It won't make you run faster or farther than your current capabilities, but it will make your runs feel much less labored and I'm guessing you'll need all the help you can get.

For additional tips and techniques for beginning runners, check out eRunningGuide.com. It's a great site for information on completing your first race, or for more advanced runners hoping to train for faster times.