Out of Breath Running What Causes Shortness of Breath?

Running coach Sam Murphy answers your training questions

Out of Breath Running What Causes Shortness of Breath? Photo Gallery

Q I’m new to running, and while my legs feel fine, I have to slow down because I’m so breathless. Can I train my lungs?

A It’s very common for new runners to have a ‘legs and lungs’ mismatch when they start out. Some complain that their breathing feels fine but their legs give out’ while for others, like you, it’s the reverse. The first thing to say is that it’s very unlikely that it’s your lungs that are the weak link here (unless you have an undiagnosed respiratory problem, such as exercise-induced asthma, which may be worth looking into) – it’s much more likely to be an efficiency problem.Healthy lungs do a good job of bringing oxygen into the body. However, the key thing as far as running is concerned is how much of that oxygen can be delivered (by the heart) and accepted (by the working muscles) in order for you to sustain pace comfortably.

To maximize oxygen delivery, a host of adaptations have to occur in a new runner – for example, a greater volume of oxygenated blood needs to be pumped out by the heart and more capillaries need to develop in the muscle fibres to ‘soak up’ more of it. These adaptations take time. Over time, with consistent training, your heart will get stronger, allowing it to pump out more blood with each beat and your muscles will become more efficient at extracting oxygen from the blood that arrives.The second point is that there’s no crime in slowing down so your breathing stays under control. For your running to progress, you need to be able to keep going for a prolonged period – so find a pace at which your breathing feels comfortable and not restrictive.Finally, there is a way of helping to improve breathing efficiency: inspiratory muscle training with a piece of kit such as a Powerbreathe (from £29.99; powerbreathe.com). The premise is that training the breathing muscles to become stronger and more efficient will ‘use up’ less of the oxygen needed by the wording muscles. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found adding inspiratory muscle training to a running programme for four weeks improved 5km run time by 4.3 per cent more than run training alone.


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