Thursday, April 4, 2013

Running on Air: The Newest Oldest Running Technique

"To breathe fully is to live fully, to manifest the full range of power of our inborn potential for vitality in everything that we sense, feel, think, and do."  -Taoist belief

As runners, we fuel and re-fuel and stretch and hydrate and massage and lift weights and cross-train to improve our form, run faster, go longer, recover faster and avoid injury. Why wouldn't we train ourselves to breath correctly?

Respiration is so instinctual, it goes completely unnoticed until something - a cold, allergies, deep meditation, that piece of macaroni you shoved up your nose when you were three - brings attention to our airways that we even notice our inhale-exhale patterns. That's why Running on Air by Budd Coates, M.S., and Claire Kowalchik is set to take its place on the bedside tables of runners worldwide.
In this article for Runners World, Coates explains that his first encounter with breathing cycles and running occurred when he came across "Breath Play," by Ian Jackson, a coach and distance runner who connected breathing cycles with running cadence. Later he found a study from the University of Utah explaining that the greatest impact stress of running occurs when one's footstrike coincides with the beginning of an exhalation. "This means that if you begin to exhale every time your left foot hits the ground, the left side of your body will continually suffer the greatest running stress," says Coates. From there, he became his own guinea pig, developing a pattern of rhythmic breathing and tracking the impact on his chronically injured left hip. Well, incidentally it worked and Coates has now used his method to train many runners since.

New running theories and techniques are notoriously finicky and controversial, and never short on varying opinions. So, I won't wax poetic about the mechanics of Coates' method.
Instead, here are a few sources (besides the Runner's World article linked above) that I found helpful when wrapping my head around runner breathing cycles.

Human Kinetics: Can synchronizing stride rhythm and breathing help performance? 
This is an excerpt from The Athlete’s Clock by Thomas W. Rowland, MD that includes a laboratory exercise runners can try on their own to determine their breath to stride ratio and compare with elite runners.

What Breathing Tells You About Your Running Intensity
This article champions the dual use of nose and mouth breathing while running and outlines how breath to stride ratio relates to endurance runs, short races, sprints and even warmup runs.

Take a Deep Breath
Huffington Post's David Willey delivers a rather promising perspective on Budd Coates' method and book.