How to Breathe Better During Cold-Weather Running

Lauren Bedosky
by Lauren Bedosky
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How to Breathe Better During Cold-Weather Running

Any runner who braves the cold can attest to one thing: Breathing during winter runs is a struggle. And the more the temps drop, the harder — and more uncomfortable — it is.

You can let the struggle keep you on the treadmill all winter. Or, you can figure out a way to work through it. After all, spending time outside can stave off dreaded cabin fever and keep your routine feeling fresh.

Ready to head out? Here’s the scoop on how to breathe a little easier on your cold-weather runs.

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT BREATHING DURING COLD-WEATHER RUNS

Your breathing may change a little until you get used to running in colder temps. “However, you should try to breathe as normal as possible during your run to oxygenate your muscles,” says Nicole Gainacopulos, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and running coach in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She trains her clients to breathe in through the nose for two counts, and out through the mouth for three counts.

So, how about that burning sensation runners often feel when cold air travels down their throat?

If you get hit with a burn in your throat, it’s tempting to buy into the idea that breathing cold air is bad for your lungs. But fortunately, this is just a myth.

“Breathing in cold air does not hurt your lungs,” says Kelly Mortenson, a USA track and field-certified running coach in Minnesota. Once you breathe in cold, dry air, it gets warmed and humidified through your nose and mouth, so it’s good to go by the time it gets to your lungs, he explains.

Of course, the downside of breathing cold air is your nose may get runny and your throat may feel scratchy. Using a breathable face mask or neck gaiter may help with the burning and scratching sensations by adding moisture to the air you’re inhaling. Plus, adding a barrier tames the initial shock of cold air.

But rest assured: The more you run in the cold, the more natural it feels, Gainacopulos says.

One caveat: If you experience chest tightness after warming up post-run, consider taking your runs indoors or seeking medical attention.

OTHER WAYS TO MAKE YOUR COLD-WEATHER RUNS SAFE AND FUN

“The main thing is to have any exposed skin covered,” Mortenson says. Think: Face masks, neck gaiters, balaclavas, gloves and hats. If your nose gets runny, get in the habit of bringing a handkerchief, tissue or piece of cloth when you go out. Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to your skin to protect it from getting dry and chapped.

You can also make your cold-weather runs more enjoyable by investing in a great running jacket and a moisture-wicking base layer.

Gainacopulos recommends not worrying too much about your pace when you run in the cold. Pay attention to your effort, as opposed to trying to hit a certain time or distance. Instead, just try to enjoy your time in the fresh air — and the fact that you’re staying consistent with your running routine.

Plus, focusing on your surroundings instead of checking the time allows you to watch your step, helping you avoid a nasty tumble on black ice and slush.

Finally, be sure to stay on top of your water intake, because you can get dehydrated easily in the winter. “I carry water with me in the cold just as I would during the summer months,” Gainacopulos says.

Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals. 

About the Author

Lauren Bedosky
Lauren Bedosky

Lauren is a freelance fitness writer who specializes in covering running and strength training topics. She writes for a variety of national publications, including Men’s HealthRunner’s WorldSHAPE and Women’s Running. She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, with her husband and their three dogs.

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