Running is part of our DNA. It goes back to our prehistoric ancestors who ran for survival. It turns out that when a T-Rex is behind you, you run.
Today, we also run to survive. But for the most part it’s to keep our bodies and minds fit and sound. However, when we run there are two things we normally don’t think about how we do it – our cadence and our breathing.
To cut to the chase, whatever stride you have it’s most likely the right one, according to a recent study.
Researchers found that runners of any level tend to find the stride that is most efficient to them. When we first start to run as toddlers and as we grow older and continue to run – for the bus, in the airport, or in a race – we do all this quite naturally.
The problem has been that researchers have over the years debated what the ideal running form should be. They have focused on stride length and cadence, or the number of steps you take per minute.
The study conducted at Brigham Young University took skilled competitive runners and active people who have not done much running and played with their running form.
Using a treadmill, of course, the researchers filmed the runners at different speed levels to see how each person ran. Then, they measured their oxygen intake to track efficiency. Running economically is a measure of physical demand. Some forms of movement require less oxygen making it less strenuous and easier to maintain.
The researchers altered people’s strides by asking them to match their footfalls to a metronome – landing with their right foot every time the metronome sounded. The treadmill’s speed was constant but the metronome kept speeding up or slowing down.
The results showed that when runners modified their preferred running strides, whether lengthening or shortening them, their economy generally declined and became more difficult.
Changing strides didn’t make the runners more economical, it made them more inefficient. So, it turns out NOT thinking about your stride and doing what feels natural is a good thing.
As opposed to stride, breathing is something we should think about. It may be the most natural thing we do. And pairing breathing with your running cadence may actually make things easier for you.
Respiration just happens, right? We breathe in, oxygen diffuses into our blood, hemoglobin takes it to our muscles, and energy is produced. The leftover waste – carbon dioxide – is sent back to our lungs to be exhaled. Easy.
Running forces our legs to work harder. It increases our demand for oxygen. Our chests heave more rapidly in response, but eventually it can’t keep up with demand. Carbon dioxide builds up and soon our muscles are fatigued. Our body has to decide where to shunt the oxygen-rich blood – our legs or our respiratory muscles. The lungs typically win and our legs feel like lead.
According to Alison McConnell, Ph. D., author of Breathe Strong Perform Better, we only use 50% to 60% of our available lung capacity. We actually rely too heavily on our chest muscles when we breathe.
There’s a concept of rhythmic breathing, which focuses on becoming a “belly breather”. By making our diaphragm a bigger player we give our breathing more options. Contracting our diaphragm fully during each breath maximizes the amount of oxygen we take in and the carbon dioxide we remove, which delays fatigue.
Running is a high-impact sport. Every time your foot hits the ground, you jolt your joints with a force equal to more than twice your body weight. This stress is compounded when we exhale because we relax the muscles around the diaphragm and reduce our core stability. And worse, most runners breathe evenly inhaling every two steps and exhaling every two steps, which means you exhale on the same foot potentially causing one side to always be uneven.
Rhythmic breathing disrupts that process by extending inhalations to a count of three and exhalations to a count of two. This keeps the core stabile by changing your breathing and cadence patterns. This five-count pattern is best for slow and moderate running while a three-count pattern is good for faster paces.
Most importantly, this breathing style helps measure effort. By managing effort you become more efficient and ensure you don’t run out of fuel too early.
One of the best places to see your cadence and figure out your breathing is on your home treadmill. You can control the environment by reducing the distractions of an outside run. And, if you have a mirror nearby you can see what you look like as you practice running on air.
Check out some of the best, top-rated treadmills such as our Landice L7 or our larger surface L8 models, right here, and act naturally.