The easiest way to become a faster runner may be to change the way you breathe. According to a recent study on coupled breathing also known as “locomotor-respiratory coupling,” or, in English, breathing in a set pattern along with stride, the practice can reduce the amount of work muscles have to do during a run.
In the study, 14 runners of varying skills levels were measured on treadmills. Some runners ran with regular breathing patterns while the others ran with coupled breathing. The runners who kept track of their breathing patterns, it turned out, had better airflow dynamics and used less energy to breathe than their unpatterned counterparts.
Having a pattern for breathing while running clearly helps efficiency, but what that pattern looks like is matter of personal preference. The method adapted by the runners in the study was two steps per inhale and two per exhale for a fast pace. This pattern allows runners to breath often and regularly. “I call it 2-2 breathing,” says Olympic running coach Jack Daniels. “[It’s] something that about 86 percent of the good runners I have tested tend to do.” For more leisurely jogs, Daniels recommends a 3-3 pattern.
Some runners mix it up even more, taking three steps during exhalation, but just two steps during inhalation. This has the advantage of alternating the foot that hits the ground when you breathe out – which has been shown to make greater impact on the front leg.
Besides helping you run faster, breathing with a pattern can help you run longer. “Rhythmic breathing can help reduce fatigue of respiratory muscles in endurance running,” says study author Monica Daley of Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire, U.K., “which could improve endurance performance and, quite possibly, reduce injury risk.”