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How to Breathe While Running a 5K

Amanda Wendorff

There are many ways to improve your running speeds: training, equipment choice, proper nutrition, etc. But did you know that learning how to breathe while running a 5k can also majorly affect your performance? Although breathing seems very simple, proper breathing techniques can help you run farther and faster. 

This article will discuss the following topics:

  • How to breathe while running a 5k
  • The difference between nasal breathing and mouth breathing, and which to use in a 5k
  • How diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, helps runners, and how to practice diaphragmatic breathing
  • The rhythmic breathing technique and how to time your breathing with your run strides
  • How to use breathing to avoid side stitches
  • Tips for breathing when you have asthma

How to Breathe While Running a 5k

With so many things to think about while running a 5k race, it may seem like breathing, an automatic action, would be low on the list of concerns. Not so! 

A 5k race is fast-paced, and your muscles depend heavily on oxygen to run at speed. Learning proper breathing techniques will help you maximize your oxygen intake. More oxygen means faster running! In fact, studies show that focusing on breathing methods can result in improved running paces. 

We’ll discuss a few breathing techniques for running in this article. For all of them, it’s best to practice in training. Then, during the race, do whatever feels natural to you. 

Should You Breath Through Your Nose or Mouth While Running?

In a 5k race, the goal is to get as much oxygen into the body as possible so the muscles can contract quickly and move your body forward. The best way to do this is to breathe through both your nose and mouth.

Although nasal breathing, or breathing only through your nose, is an effective training technique for easy running, it doesn’t allow the body to take in enough oxygen for an intense effort like a 5k. Similarly, if you only breathe through your mouth, it could result in feelings of hyperventilation

A mouth-nose combination for inhaling and exhaling works best to create a calm, steady breath, gives your body all the oxygen it needs to race, and also works to expel carbon dioxide efficiently.

Does Diaphragmatic Breathing Help Runners?

Diaphragmatic or belly breathing is a very effective way to breathe while you run. Diaphragmatic breathing involves a few movements in the body that happen so quickly that they are almost unnoticeable: 

  • First, your diaphragm, the muscle at the bottom of your rib cage, engages
  • Then, your entire rib cage, or thoracic cavity, expands
  • Finally, your lungs expand fully to fill the rib cage

Expanding the rib cage and lungs allows the body to take in the maximum amount of oxygen in each breath. This is very useful for runners. When running fast, you need all the oxygen you can get! 

Additionally, practice belly breathing has been shown to calm the nervous system, which is why it is so popular in yoga classes and similar activities. It’s normal to feel excitement and even anxiety during a 5k race, and diaphragmatic breathing is a good technique to calm yourself, lower your heart rate, and improve your focus.

You can try diaphragmatic breathing outside of running. To try it, follow these steps:

  • Lay on the floor on your back
  • Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest
  • Practice breathing slowly, and with every breath in, or inhalation, try to expand your belly more than your chest.
  • As you exhale, feel your belly going down.
  • Keep repeating the breaths, focusing on the belly's movement and how you feel.

Once you master belly breathing at home, try incorporating it into your running training. Ultimately, whether to use belly or chest breathing during a 5k race comes down to which feels best to you. If diaphragmatic breathing feels good, then try it during a race.  

What is the Rhythmic Breathing Method?

Another useful way to breathe while running is the rhythmic breathing method, or timing your breaths with a certain number of counts. 

Many runners use rhythmic or cadence breathing to time their breathing with their running strides. For example, some will use a 2:2 breathing pattern, which means inhaling for two foot strikes and exhaling for two foot strikes. Others prefer an odd-numbered pattern, like 3:1 (inhale for three strides, exhale for one). 

Should You Time Your Breathing With Your Strides in a 5k?

Rhythmic breathing, or cadence breathing, is a great technique for your 5k race.  Rhythmic breathing has been shown to have several benefits for runners, including: 

  • Improved running economy
  • Reduced feelings of breathlessness
  • Ease in keeping a consistent pace
  • Cognitive benefits, as the rhythmic counting makes it easier to achieve a flow state

Many runners have reported feeling better when using rhythmic breathing patterns at high intensities. This is likely largely because cadence breathing emphasizes exhalation. When you feel short of breath, it’s often due to a build-up of carbon dioxide rather than a lack of oxygen. Focused exhalation will reduce that carbon dioxide. 

Experiment with different breathing patterns as you try out rhythmic breathing in training. You should find that your breathing pattern differs at different paces, with more frequent exhalations when you’re going hard. For a 5k race, a 2:1 pattern (breathing in for two strides, breathing out for one stride) is a good place to start. 

How Breathing Can Affect Side Stitches

Many runners have experienced the dreaded side stitch (a stabbing pain in the abdominal area while you're running.) Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer to why runners get side stitches or why some people seem more prone to experiencing them.  There is evidence, however, that breathing techniques can play a role.

Take a few deep belly breaths next time you feel a side stitch coming on. Also, try switching to an odd-numbered cadence breathing pattern so that you are exhaling during foot strikes on opposite sides.  For example, instead of a 1:1 breathing pattern that would have you exhaling every time your left foot hits the ground, try 2:1 so that your exhalation “side” will change.

Tips for Breathing if You Have Asthma

If you’ve been diagnosed with asthma, you must pay even more attention to your breathing to run comfortably. 

As a priority, speak with a doctor who can prescribe medications or other individualized plans to keep you breathing well.  

After that, keep these tips in mind: 

  • Make sure you warm up slowly, especially before hard efforts like a 5k race
  • Focus on controlled breathing, using the diaphragmatic and rhythmic breathing patterns discussed above
  • Make sure you’re inhaling through your nose
  • Be mindful of environmental triggers like grasses and smoke

Having asthma doesn’t need to stop you from racing 5ks. Many runners can successfully race 5ks with asthma, including some of the world’s best. You just need to pay close attention to your body and work with your doctor to find the best strategies for controlling your asthma. 


There’s a lot to think about when running, and often beginners are surprised to learn that they need to focus on something as basic as breathing. But the benefits of proper breathing using different techniques can improve your running and make fast races like the 5k feel better. 

In this article, we’ve touched on the following topics:

  • How proper breathing technique is important for moving oxygen to your muscles
  • The need to breathe in and out through both your nose and mouth during a 5k
  • The benefits of diaphragmatic, or belly breathing, for runners
  • Rhythmic breathing, or cadence breathing, and how it helps runners
  • The connection between breathing and side stitches
  • Breathing tips for asthmatics

Most breathing techniques we’ve discussed can be mastered during training or while lying in bed. Put a little focus on how you breathe, and watch your running times get faster!


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Amanda Wendorff


Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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