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Beginner Runner

8 Ways to Increase Lung Capacity For Running

9 Mins read

Are you ready to take your running to the next level? Then you need to understand the importance of lung capacity.

Think of your lungs as the engine of your body, powering you through every step of your run.

Your lung capacity determines how much oxygen you can take in and how much carbon dioxide you can expel.

Without strong lungs, your body can’t perform at its best, and your running goals may seem out of reach. But don’t worry, with the right strategies, you can boost your lung capacity and achieve your running dreams.

In this post, I’ll dive into the many strategies that can help you increase your lung capacity for running. I’ll provide you with research-backed advice to guide you toward running farther, faster, and with less fatigue.

Whether you’re a seasoned runner or just starting, increasing your lung capacity is a great way to boost your performance and feel more powerful and stronger. So, let’s get started!

What is Lung Capacity?

Imagine your lungs as two balloons. The bigger the balloons, the more air they can hold. This is exactly how your lungs work.

Lung capacity is the amount of air your lungs can hold, and it’s a vital factor in determining how well you perform in cardiovascular activities, particularly running. The larger your lung capacity, the more oxygen your bloodstream can receive, and the more efficient your body becomes at converting that oxygen into energy.

Unfortunately, just like any other organ, our lungs start to deteriorate with age, and our lung capacity typically begins to decrease after we hit our 30s. If you have a preexisting health condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), this process can happen even faster. But don’t worry, there are many things you can do to improve your lung capacity and, ultimately, your overall health and well-being.

8 Ways to Increase Lung Capacity For Running

Without further ado, here are eight strategies to help you improve lung capacity for running.

Start Slow

Have you ever found yourself gasping for air while running, even with perfect technique? It turns out that lack of conditioning is often the culprit, especially if you’re new to running.

When you run, your muscles require more oxygen, and the more you push your body, the more oxygen you need. This can cause you to become exhausted earlier than you’d like.

So, what can you do to improve your lung capacity for running? The key is to start slow and keep it at a conversational pace. You should be able to speak in full sentences without gasping for air. Once you can do this for 30 minutes straight, work your way up to more challenging sessions.

Here are a few effective strategies to help you increase your lung capacity for running over time:

  • Run a longer distance at a slower pace. This approach can help increase your red blood cell count, grow more capillaries, and strengthen your heart, which is a muscle, after all. By gradually increasing the distance you run, you can gradually build up your endurance and improve your lung capacity.
  • Run more frequently each week. When you run more frequently, you provide your body with enough stimulus to build more cell mitochondria and capillaries. This, in turn, allows more oxygen to course through your bloodstream, ultimately improving your lung capacity and endurance.
  • Consider cross-training. Engaging in cardiovascular activities like cycling, swimming, and skiing can help push your endurance without putting too much stress on your body. This can help you improve your lung capacity without risking injury or burnout from running too much.

Learn Deep Breathing

Breathing is an essential part of running. Deep breathing, in particular, can help you increase your lung capacity and improve your endurance. But did you know that most runners breathe from their chest instead of their bellies? It’s like trying to fill a balloon by blowing air into the nozzle instead of using your whole mouth!

To fully engage your lungs and diaphragm, practice deep breathing. The diaphragm is a muscle shaped like a jellyfish or a parachute that sits below the lungs and helps you breathe. When you take a deep breath, your diaphragm pulls down on the abdominal cavity, inflating your lungs with maximum air. On the exhale, it deflates, squeezing the air out.

Belly Vs. Chest Breathing

Most runners tend to breathe from their chest instead of the belly.

Don’t you believe me? Go run a mile at a challenging pace, then place your hand on your belly and the other one your chest, then watch.

You’re breathing right if the upper hand stays relatively still while the lower hand is moving on each breath, which is more than often not the case.

Also known as shallow or thoracic breathing, chest breathing occurs when the act of respiration originates from the top lobes of the lungs.

When breathing this way, you expand and contract the chest but without engaging the diaphragm, which in turn, draws in minimal air into the lungs.

Here’s how to practice deep breathing in the comfort of your own home.

1 –  Start out lying flat on your back, chest open, and shoulders relaxed. Keep one hand resting on your chest and the other on your belly.

2 – Breathe in slowly, spending about ten seconds on your inhale. Visualize your lungs filling up with air. Feel the air moving into your chest, stomach, and abdomen.

3 – Once your lungs are full of air (you might feel mild discomfort in the solar plexus middle of your torso), hold your breath for a count of ten, then exhale slowly for ten seconds through pursed lips while pulling your belly button to your spine.

And that’s it! By repeating the exercise over and over again, you’ll teach your body how to rely more on the diaphragm for the act of respiration. This, in turn, should help you increase lung capacity for running.

Breathing Exercises

Looking for more breathing exercises? I’ve got you covered.

The breathing exercises described below can increase strength in your respiratory muscles and help build endurance.

That, in turn, will improve lung function.

Long-term result?

Improved running performance.

Winner winner, chicken dinner!

These breathing exercises are simple and can be done anywhere.

Feel free to do them at home, at work, during your commute, or, preferably, as a part of your warm-up routine.

Repeat each exercise three to five times.

Bhastrika Pranayama (bellows breath)

Rib Stretch

Abdominal Breathing

The 4/7/8 Technique

Kapalbhati Pranayama (Breath of Fire)

Pilates Exercises

Breaking away from chest breathing is easier said than done, especially when you’re busy running, trying to keep pace.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

One thing you can do to help you practice deep breathing while exercising is doing Pilates.

Pilates exercises are a form of cross-training that improves endurance without putting too much stress on your body.

They are also ideal for improving lung capacity.

Pilate exercises focus on isometric exercise.

It deliberate breathing patterns to increase muscle strength, build mobility, and improve posture.

More specifically, Pilates exercises to strengthen all the muscles of the core—including the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles, which are super useful for your breathing.

Practice the exercises below two to three times a week, either as a part of your cool down or as a stand-alone routine.

You might find some similar positions in yoga but with different names.

  • The Swan
  • The Standing Chest Expansion
  • Spine Twist

Breathing While Running

“Should I breathe through my nose, my mouth, or both?” This is a common question in the running world.

My answer makes everybody happy: use both pathways.

When you’re running, you should focus on getting as much air as possible into your lungs so that the oxygenated blood can meet your muscle’s needs.

Don’t know how to make that happen? Try the following:

Open your mouth—preferably in a “dead fish” position.

The mouth is larger than the nostrils, so it’s more effective at drawing in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide.

Rhythmic Breathing

If you want to run like a pro, try rhythmic breathing, which is the practice of coordinating your inhales and exhales to your foot strikes.

It’s not as complicated as pranayama.

For example, a 2:1 breathing ratio means taking two steps on the inhale and one step while breathing out.

The exact ratio to follow depends largely on your training intensity, fitness level, speed, and personal preference.

The rhythmic patterns I recommend for beginners are 2:2 and 2:3.

These work well for training at slow to moderate intensity.

To take your breathing power to the next level, I’d recommend taking up yoga.

To get started on the right foot, try a paid subscription service that can cost you up $10 to $15 a month (but worth it).

Additional resource – Your guide to Runners cough

Advanced Tactics For Expanding Lung Power For Running

By now, you have all the tools you need to increase lung capacity for running.

But if you still want more, check out the following.

Altitude Training

Altitude training is a technique used by elite athletes from different sports for a reason – it works. At higher elevations, the air contains less oxygen, forcing your body to compensate by triggering red blood cell and hemoglobin production. This increase in oxygen-carrying capacity and your body’s ability to use oxygen can improve your running performance. Once you return to lower elevations, your body maintains this increased level of red blood cells and hemoglobin for up to two weeks.

But be careful! Altitude training can be dangerous if you don’t give your body enough time to adjust to the thinner mixture of oxygen in the air. You may experience symptoms of altitude sickness, such as gasping, fatigue, and dizziness. If you can’t go on, don’t force it. Overdoing it can damage your respiratory tract.

Respiratory Training Equipment

Another strategy is respiratory training equipment, which partially blocks airways, simulating high-altitude training. While it can be effective, it’s neither easy nor cheap to access some of these tools. Overuse of these tools can also lead to overtraining, which is why it’s not recommended unless you’re a pro athlete.

Some tools include:

  • Hyperbaric sleeping chambers
  • Low-oxygen tents
  • Swimming while using a snorkel with restricted airflow
  • Working out with a hypoxic air generator
  • Portable hypoxic machines

There’s one important caveat.

It’s neither easy nor cheap to get access to some of these tools.

A good hypoxic mask may be within your budget—they retail for under $100.

You also risk overtraining when you overuse them.

That’s why, unless you’re a pro athlete making a living out of running, I don’t see any reason to turn to hypoxia training.

Additional Resource – Running and pollution

Keep Your Lungs Healthy

All of these tips will be of no use if you neglect your lung health. The best thing you can do to improve your lung function is to simply take good care of your lungs.

The following tips will help keep your lungs as healthy as possible.

  • Stop smoking. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 40 years, you already know that smoking is bad for your health.  Research has shown that smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, lung diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Eat healthily. Choose foods rich in antioxidants, such as leafy green and cruciferous vegetables. They contain many healthy compounds that can help rid your body of harmful toxins. Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are good examples.
  • Get vaccinated. I’m not going to argue about vaccines’ pros and cons, but we didn’t get rid of polio by accident. Shots like the pneumonia vaccine and the flu vaccine can go a long way in preventing lung-related issues and promoting overall health. Make sure to contact your GP before deciding.
  • Improve air quality. By keeping your home well-ventilated, reducing pollutants like artificial fragrances, using a humidifier, and getting rid of mold.

Additional resource – Guide to Urban running

Don’t Hesitate to Seek Medical Help

If you’re dealing with symptoms of poor lung health, such as pain when breathing, shortness of breath during daily activity, or persistent coughs, contact your doctor.

The earlier you receive treatment for your lung problems, the sooner you’ll heal, and the better the outcomes are likely to be.

Remember that your lung consists of pocketed air sacs, so be careful.

Don’t dismiss everything as simple as a common cold.

What’s more?

It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor before trying any new exercise, especially running.

This is especially the case for beginner runners with underlying health conditions, such as COPD or other obstruction diseases.

Increasing Lung Capacity for Runners – The Conclusion

In conclusion, increasing your lung capacity is crucial for taking your running to the next level. Your lungs are like the engine of your body, supplying the necessary oxygen for optimal performance. By understanding the importance of lung capacity, you can work towards achieving your running goals and surpassing your limits.

Remember, before embarking on any new exercise or training regimen, especially if you have underlying health conditions, it is advisable to consult with your doctor. Additionally, if you experience symptoms of poor lung health, seek medical help to receive proper diagnosis and treatment.

By implementing these strategies and caring for your lungs, you can expand your lung capacity and unlock your full running potential. Embrace the journey of improving your lung capacity, and enjoy the benefits of increased endurance, improved performance, and overall well-being in your running endeavors.

Thank you for dropping by.

Keep training strong

David D.

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