“Faulty breathing is almost universal. Most of us breathe 'backward.”

The healthy human body works in silence, and we are unaware of its marvelous workings when things go well. The respiratory tract is no exception. We arise in the morning not even thinking about breathing 16 times a minute for the rest of the day. However, abnormal function or illness of the respiratory tract can be annoying and even disabling to the runner. And as is usual in most of our overuse syndromes, a predisposition to these disorders and errors in out techniques cause them. Allergies and faulty breathing are the main culprits here. The allergies are usually indicated by past history of food allergy, hay fever, frequent sneezing, hives, etc. having a constantly runny nose or being addicted to an over-the-counter nasal spray is also evidence of an allergic problem. Allergies promote a chronic broncho-sinusitis condition as well as exercise induced asthma and asthma itself. The ubiquitous "stitch"-a sharp pain in the side-also may well have an allergic component. The role of pollutants in chronic allergic responses and allergic diseases is less clear. It could be that most pollutants are clinically significant only in the runner with a respiratory condition. Of course, in every allergic condition the homeostatis of the body is of great importance. Therefore, stress, exhaustion and overtraining can precipitate or prolong any allergic disease. Faulty breathing is almost universal. Most of us breathe "backward." Instead of pulling in air with our belly, we pull it out with our chest. When we breathe in, our bellies should go out. If, however, I had you stand up and take a deep breath, your belly would probably go in. Correct breathing is "belly breathing." With belly breathing, the diaphragm moves up and down like a piston, the way it should. With chest breathing, it goes sideways, is ineffective and can go into spasm like a charley horse of the thigh, thus the stitch. In addition to belly breathing, attention must be given to breathing out against pressure. This keeps the tiny bronchial tubes open and prevents "air trapping." Otherwise, it is possible to have a liter of air contributing to distention of the chest and production of the stitch. The best way to prevent air trapping is by groaning or grunting on exhalation. Bill Bowerman, the 1972 Olympic coach, had his runners breathe out against pursed lips. Belly breathing is done naturally only when we are on all fours. While standing, it is a willed act. First, it must be learned. Lie on your back on the floor. Put a book on your belly. Then breathe in and out, making the belly rise with inhalation, fall with exhalation. Then, translate this to running. Fill your belly with air first, then the chest. Push the air out with your belly, and groan to your heart's content. Whether the runner has a respiratory problem or not, belly breathing is the best way to get oxygen into the body and carbon dioxide out. Excerpt: Medical Advice for Runners (1978)