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How to Increase Lung Capacity in Order to Run Longer

Ellie has been a runner for years, but starting running was a huge challenge—especially learning how to breathe for it!


Improving Lung Capacity and Running Stamina

If you are about to start a new exercise plan, it's important to prepare your body first. Understanding that your body may not be ready for a lot of stress all of a sudden is the first step to a healthy exercise regime.

Lung capacity is one of the most important factors to consider before starting a new cardiovascular exercise. Running is a good way to maintain shape, fitness, and strength, but efficient breathing while running requires its own conditioning.

Build up your lung capacity gradually by doing these breathing exercises. You'll develop more stamina, deliver more oxygen to your muscles, and generally feel calmer and stronger.

Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise

The diaphragm is a large muscle at the base of the lungs. By engaging this muscle it is possible to breathe more efficiently and build lung capacity. Here is how to strengthen the diaphragm muscle and increase oxygen into the lungs.

  • Lie down on the floor or a bed.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other just below your rib cage.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose. You should feel your stomach move out while your chest remains relatively still.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles and exhale through pursed lips.
Practice breathing from your diaphragm by lying on your back with one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. When you inhale, your belly should rise as it fills with air and your chest should remain relatively still.

Practice breathing from your diaphragm by lying on your back with one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. When you inhale, your belly should rise as it fills with air and your chest should remain relatively still.

Deep "Belly" Breathing Exercise for Running

Deep, or "belly" breathing, is a great way to warm up your lungs before a run. Here's an easy exercise to follow:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
  • Place both hands on your stomach.
  • Take a deep breath into your stomach (not your chest).
  • If you're breathing correctly, your hands will rise and fall as your stomach fills with air.
  • Do 10 of these before running.
Exhaling through pursed lips is a great way to reduce a feeling of breathlessness while making each breath more efficient.

Exhaling through pursed lips is a great way to reduce a feeling of breathlessness while making each breath more efficient.

Pursed-Lipped Breathing

Pursed-lipped breathing is a simple way to reduce the feeling of shortness of breath. Slow the pace of your breathing, and make each breath more effective.

Here's how to do it:

  • Relax your neck and shoulders.
  • Breathe in and count to two.
  • As you exhale, pucker your lips as if you were going to whistle. Count to four as you slowly let the breath out.

Rhythmic Breathing While Running

Runner and author Budd Coates developed a rhythmic breathing pattern while running. His technique allows runners to coordinate their breaths with their footstrikes, making breathing more efficient and preventing injury. The impact of footstrikes causes the greatest amount of stress on the body. The idea is to alternate the foot that strikes the ground when exhaling, to reduce the chance of repetitive impact causing injury.

  • Make sure you're breathing into your belly, not your chest (see above).
  • Create a breathing-running pattern. Some runners inhale for three steps and then exhale for two.
  • This technique takes practice. The main goal is to avoid exhaling on the same foot strike over and over.

How Lung Capacity Helps You Run Longer

Your lung capacity determines how long you can perform and exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercises like running. A strong respiratory system will help you become a stronger runner with better stamina.

Think of it this way: When you breathe too shallowly or quickly, you tire more quickly. You need to stop running even before your legs are tired. This happens when your lungs cannot satisfy the oxygen needs of your muscle tissue. You tire quickly and have to stop to catch your breath.

There are, however, simple steps you can follow to build up your lung capacity, start running efficiently and keep at it longer and longer each time.

How to Improve Lung Capacity for Running

The first step to improving lung capacity is checking in with your posture. You are only able to breathe as well as your spine and rib cage allow. Do not slump. Balance your head directly above your tailbone and imagine your skull is "floating" at the top of your spine.

  • If you are sitting, make sure your weight is evenly distributed along the backs of your thighs. If possible, rest your arms at your sides so your elbows are in line with the seams of your shirt. If you are standing, place your hands on your hips and take a deep breath so that you can feel your rib cage expand to the maximum. Count to 20, and then exhale as slowly as you can through pursed lips. Repeat 3 or 4 times.
  • The second exercise to build lung capacity is a bit more demanding. From a standing position, take a deep breath to expand your lungs. Then slowly bend over and touch your toes with your fingertips. Slowly release the breath while rising back to an upright position. Repeat 4 or 5 times.
  • The third breathing exercise is done while walking. Take a deep breath and expand your lungs to the max, and then walk 15 steps before releasing the breath. If you cannot hold your breath for 15 steps, take fewer steps. If you can do more, by all means. This method will give you better insight into how you are progressing.

Giving Your Breath a Break

It isn't always necessary to work hard at breathing, even while exercising. Give your breathing organs—the lungs and diaphragm—a rest when needed. Nicholas Romanov, a doctor of physical education and professional cross-country trainer, says that the lungs and diaphragm themselves consume more and more oxygen as the movement becomes more intense.

"At a certain point they start to consume more oxygen than the working muscles of the body, like, for example, legs in running," he says. "In this case, a shallow and fast breathing technique makes a lot of sense."

Breathing for Beginning Runners

To be ready for your first run, do these exercises to help expand your lung capacity. You can do them at home, in the car, or at work with no preparation. You can even do them while walking.

Take in as much air as possible and hold it for about 20 seconds. If you cannot hold your breath at full lung capacity for 20 seconds, then hold your breath for as long as you can. Increase the duration gradually. This will set up your lungs to receive more and more air each time. Repeat 3 or 4 times in one series.

After doing breathing exercises continuously for a little while, you should notice that you breathe less heavily when performing activities that made you pant before. You should be able to walk quickly without losing your breath. Now you have kick-started your running plan.

The important thing for beginner runners is to begin gradually to accommodate the new "stress".

Start out running in intervals with walking. This will help you regain your breath and composure. If you strain yourself your muscles may overflow with lactic acid (which is that infamous muscle burn) and your session for the day will end sooner than it could. If you run and walk in intervals, you will progress more quickly and help your lungs accommodate your oxygen needs. This will result in better stamina, increased lung capacity, better circulation, and more oxygen in your blood and tissues.

Monitoring Your Heart Rate While Running

Your lungs and your heart benefit from running and exercising in general. Your lungs provide the oxygen for your blood and your heart makes sure it gets to your muscles that need it. It's important to maintain your heart rate at a certain level if you know what kind of results you aim for.

Many runners measure the intensity of their workout by using a heart monitor while running. First, figure out the healthy upper limit of your heart rate during exercise. The simplest way to do this is to subtract your age from 220. If you're 50 years old, subtract 50 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 170. This is the maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise.

Now you can calculate your target heart rate zone or the range of heart rate without overworking your cardiovascular system. The American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a general target heart rate of:

  • Moderate exercise intensity: 50 to about 70 percent of your maximum heart rate
  • Vigorous exercise intensity: 70 to about 85 percent of your maximum heart rate

If you're a beginner, aim for the lower end of your target zone and gradually build up.

Exercising Will Increase Your Lung Capacity

The American Lung Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week to improve lung capacity. Moderate exercise includes brisk walking as well as running, jogging, and other cardiovascular activities. In fact, regular workouts can increase the amount of air you can take into your lungs by 5 to 15 percent. This can improve endurance and reduce breathlessness overall.

Breathing Exercises for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

If you have ever hurried somewhere or climbed a flight of stairs, only to experience heavy sweating, panting, or muscle soreness, then your lung capacity could be improved.

Many people notice reduced lung capacity, due to sedentary habits and other factors. But there are also medical issues that can cause this problem. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a group of diseases that obstruct airflow. The American Academy of Family Physicians reports that breathing exercises can help improve lung capacity, even for people with a COPD condition. These exercises, described above, can help people with COPD improve their lung capacity.

  • Diaphragmatic breathing
  • Pursed-Lipped breathing
  • Deep breathing

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Ellie Lowe


Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on August 23, 2020:

This is an excellent article useful for joggers, runners and even walkers. Thanks.

Dipali Gandhi on May 02, 2020:

Thanks. It is a very useful post for me as i want to improve my lung capacity.

zaryab on February 13, 2020:

im fist time visit this side i see second your post i read carefull


very use full video

ProjectResolute on January 30, 2020:

Never would have thought of doing exercises tk increase your lung capacity. Does holding your breath for longer and longer periods of time help too?

Mike on March 24, 2018:

if you are a more advanced long distance runner and are in the best of shape will these exercises still help your lung capacity? Or will the improvements be unnoticeable.

aaditya kashyap on January 02, 2017:

did it the most of all.....wonderfull

krazzyK from silicon city on March 14, 2014:

Wow this helps in almost all kinds of exercises... thanks for posting this hub..

Kelly A Burnett from United States on February 10, 2014:

I have just taken up running and while I have always taught my fitness clients about deep breathing, you tie together very nicely the need for deep breathing and cardiovascular exercise.

I will print off the breathing exercises and try each one. Excellent guidance. Thank you very much!

JPSO138 from Cebu, Philippines, International on November 09, 2013:

A great hub.. Running is indeed a great way to gain endurance.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 02, 2013:

Wonderful hub!

You are so right that we must gradually increase our lung capacity to exercise more or run longer and it should not be hasty. Your 3 breathing exercises are correct way to do it--I actually performed it and felt better.

Thanks for sharing this useful and informative hub!

Voted up!