Trying to figure out how to breathe while running with asthma? Good news – you can do it! And you can do it well. In fact, in the 2012 London Olympics, nearly 700 athletes competing had confirmed asthma.
Having said that, asthma, like any medical condition, requires diligence. Whether you have exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB) (commonly referred to as exercise-induced asthma) or just struggle to breathe while running—we have tips to help.
Air pollution, allergens, and poor air quality can cause shortness of breath for even the most elite athletes, but that doesn’t make you weak or unable to run—you just have to be more strategic. You can still become a long-distance or short-distance runner. That’ll involve working with a doctor and possibly learning how to use an inhaler.
Ready to learn how to run better with asthma? Try out these 4 tips.
Be proactive about implementing them, and you’ll be able to knock out those running goals and #EarnYourMiles.
4 Tips for Running With Asthma
1. Talk to Your Doctor and Make An Action Plan
Can you run with asthma? You bet, but you should talk with your healthcare provider first. Talking to your doctor should be your first step in running with asthma. First of all, you want to make sure it’s asthma you’re dealing with.
It might be vocal-cord dysfunction, or you may just need to work on your endurance and breathing technique while running.
If and when you’ve determined that it’s asthma, you and your doctor can make an action plan together.
An asthma action plan will cover what medicines to take and what asthma triggers might affect you.
In addition, your particular action plan will cover what early symptoms of a spasm look like and what to do if they occur.
And while we hope it doesn’t come to this point, the treatment plan will also cover indications of full flare-ups, how to manage those, and when to seek emergency medical care. Your doctor might give you a daily inhaler to improve quality of life and help you with chest tightness or when things get out of control.
But just understanding the different levels of severity in your asthma attacks is a helpful tool in being able to treat the flare-ups yourself without the help of a professional.
Stick to Your Plan
Remember: the plan only works if you stick to it. If you need to take regular medication, take it with no exceptions.
If you sense a flare-up, don’t ignore it. Follow the steps your doctor has given you to treat it. As most asthmatic runners know – the symptoms do not go away magically.
Adhering to your plan is the first step to successfully running with asthma.
Your action plan is your base. Now, let’s take a look at what your runs might look like on top of that.
2. Incorporate A Dynamic Warm-Up
Warming up before your run is critically important for running with asthma.
It is a common misconception that neglecting to warm up before your run will somehow save your lung capacity, so that it can be used during the run itself.
Why does this physical activity work? It turns out that asthma attacks produce a “refractory period.” During this period, your airways are immune from further attacks.
So, while it may seem counterintuitive, you want to warm up just hard enough to trigger a small spasm before distance running.
This way, you can send those airways into the refractory period, which will quell your symptoms for a bit once you really get going on your run.
And don’t worry – a dynamic warm-up will not subtract energy from your run.
In fact, a dynamic warm-up allows you to maintain proper run form from the beginning, which will preserve energy in the long term.
This means that static stretching isn’t going to cut it. For some runners, this may require a total shift in your warm-up mentality.
The good news is that this change would probably be necessary even without asthma.
A dynamic warm-up is one of the most effective ways to prevent running injuries and to get the most out of your runs.
As a good place to start, consider the 7-minute warm-up in the video below, which is also written at the end of this article.
3. Run Indoors When You Can
Running indoors is kinder to your asthma than running outside. This holds especially true when the pollen count is high, and it’s even true for dry air, cold air, and cold weather.
If you can swing it, try to work some indoor workouts into your running training plan. And this doesn’t just have to mean running on the treadmill.
Check to see if there is an indoor track near you. Tracks are a great place to practice speed workouts, mile repeats, or any other distance-specific running workout.
Treadmills are another great tool for running with asthma. And your workouts don’t even have to be long. Treadmills are an efficient way to practice speed work and hill running.
For some ideas to get started, try this treadmill workout for beginners.
Working even just one or two indoor sessions into your training schedule will help keep your asthma symptoms at bay.
If running indoors isn’t in the cards for you, consider wearing a pollen mask while you run outdoors. These small things will help you learn how to breathe better with asthma, especially when you’re just getting started with a running plan.
4. Learn How to Breathe
Is running good for asthma? Well, not necessarily. While you can increase your lung capacity for running with asthma, it doesn’t make your asthma go away.
Asthma or not: understanding how to breathe properly while running is crucial. And we don’t want our asthma fixes to be for nothing because we’re not breathing properly when we run.
It’s easy to forget that breathing is a technique that requires practice.
Aim to make your breathing a deliberate decision while running.
The more aware you are of your breathing technique and your breathing habits, the quicker you’ll be able to identify an asthma flare-up.
And breathing without a technique while you’re running may exacerbate your asthma symptoms.
Like anything, practice will form a habit here. Learn how to breathe properly, pay attention to it consistently when you run, and eventually it will become a habit. You won’t need to think about it anymore.
To learn, try some breathing exercises to get a better sense of your running breath. In-place breathing drills are a great place to start.
From there, you can incorporate the ideas from the drills into your runs having practiced them a bit.
Conclusion: running with asthma is totally possible. Asthma is a set-back that can be overcome with proper treatment and attention.
And asthma just underscores the importance of proper run form and breathing technique. Talk to your doctor, and always warm-up in an active, get-the-blood-pumping sort of way.
Be smart about where and when you run, and be a student of your running breath.
And who knows? Soon, you too may be off to The Olympics!
To get you started, here’s that warm-up:
Warm-Up for Running With Asthma
We’ll work from top to bottom here.
Arm Circles and Arm Swings
First, take some small arm circles with your arms out to the side, palms facing forward.
Circling your arms backwards, gradually start to make the circle bigger. Keep your core engaged the whole time.
Take about 20 circles backward, and then switch direction and repeat going forward.
Next, hinge over at your hips and start to swing your arms across your body and then out wide. Take about 15-20 swings here. Alternate which arm crosses on top each time.
Moving down to the legs, we’re now going to take some leg swings. Standing on one leg, start taking small leg swings with the other leg.
Keep both feet facing forward the entire time. You’ll be taking roughly 20 swings on each leg, each kick to the front counting as one
Again, the core stays engaged, and your arms can swing opposite your leg to increase stability.
If you need added stability, feel free to hold onto something on your standing side.
After the last kick, swing your leg back and down into a runner’s lunge. From there, make circles with your hips, 10 in each direction.
Dynamic Pigeon Stretch
From there, move into a dynamic pigeon stretch. All this means is that you’ll drop your front knee out to the side, and then bring it back into lunge position. Take 10 of these, and repeat the leg swings and the lunge exercises on the other side.
Moving on to the hamstrings, take a deep squat to start this exercise. Keeping your hands on your feet or your calves, hinge over at the hips and start to straighten your legs as much as possible.
Your feet can be as wide as you need them to be here. Take this exercise 10 times to open up the hamstrings.
Now that we’ve got our muscles moving, let’s get the blood flowing with some burpees. Take 10 burpees to get your body moving and spike your heart rate.
Jump up in the air, squat down and jump or step your feet out to a plank, take one push up, jump your feet back in, and stand up. That’s one rep.
Air Squats and Squat Walks
Next, simply take 10 air squats.
Lastly, we’ll take some squat walks. To do these, get down in a squat with your toes facing forward.
Staying low, take two steps forward, two back, two to the right, and two to the left. Repeat all of that 3 times, staying low the whole time if you can.
And there you go, you’re ready to run after that dynamic warm-up!
Does Running Help Asthma?
Running helps improve your aerobic system and the power and efficiency of your lungs. When you’re training correctly (and not overtraining), your training will help improve asthma.
However, it might not feel like that in the short-term—especially if you push yourself too hard, too fast, too soon. Give your body time to adapt, and recognize that you have a condition you need to overcome.
That doesn’t mean you should stop running because you have asthma—not at all. It just means you need to be more intentional and understanding with your training and symptoms of asthma.
Learn How to Run With Asthma
With your doctor’s advice, an action plan, and a bit of intention and know-how, you can get back to running—asthma or not. Don’t let asthma keep you from doing what you love.