How to Do Deep Belly Breathing and Avoid Side Stitches

A young man taking a rest from running, leaning against a tree
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One of the most common problems that runners, especially beginners, experience is side stitches, or cramping right under the rib cage. Deep belly breathing can help prevent side stitches, which means you can continue running and not worry about slowing down to get rid of the cramp.

The goal of deep belly breathing is to draw in the most amount of air into your lungs with each breath. Taking in more air means your muscles get more oxygen, which can lead to improved running performance.

You'll also feel a lot more comfortable and relaxed when you're running.

Here's how you do deep belly breathing:

  1. First, you need to make sure that you have good running upper body form. Keep your shoulders relaxed, but make sure you're not slouching. Don't keep your head sticking out because that will also cause you to lean over. Running hunched over will make it difficult to breathe deeply from your belly and get the maximum amount of air in your lungs.  If you're feeling tense, drop your arms, and shake them out to release the tension. If you typically carry a lot of tension in your arms, shoulders, and neck, follow these tips to avoid.
  2. As you breathe in through your mouth, push your stomach out and, at the same time, push down and out with your diaphragm. This gives your lungs the most amount of room to expand and draw in oxygen. You should feel your abdomen expanding, rather than your upper chest. If your upper chest is expanding, you're breathing too shallow.
  1. Breathe out slowly and evenly through your mouth. As you're getting used to deep belly breathing, you can forcibly exhale, so you get used to the technique.
  2. You can check to see if you're doing it correctly by lying on your back and watching your stomach as you breathe. You should see your stomach rising and falling with each breath. If you only see your chest move up, you're not breathing deeply enough. Practice it while lying down, and then try to remember and mimic that technique when you're running. Yoga instructors are good at teaching the deep breathing technique, so take a yoga class or watch some yoga instruction online for more practice. Try some of these yoga poses that are very beneficial for runners.

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    Source: Darren Morton, et al. "Influence of posture and body type on the experience of exercise-related transient abdominal pain." Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports, 2010 13(5).

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