One of the most common questions I hear from new runners is, “How can I prevent those annoying side stitches?” Side stitches, or cramping right under the rib cage, are sometimes a result of breathing too shallow. Runners often get side stitches in the first few minutes of a run when they begin running too fast before warming-up and start taking short, shallow breaths.
Deep Belly Breathing is Key
One way to help avoid them is to breathe deeply from your belly, as opposed to shallow breathing from your chest. The idea is to draw in the most amount of air into your lungs with each breath, so you’ll maximize your oxygen intake (which will also boost your performance).
How to Do Deep Belly Breathing
If you’ve ever done yoga, you may already be familiar with belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing. To do it while running, first check your posture and make sure you’re not slouching. Keep your shoulders relaxed and shake out your arms if you’re feeling any tension in your neck or shoulders area.
As you breathe in through your mouth, push your abdomen 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.
Then exhale slowly and evenly through your mouth. You can check to see if you’re doing it correctly by placing your hand flat against your abdomen, with your thumb near your belly button. You should feel your hand being pushed away from as your abdomen rises.
If you’re having a tough time doing the technique while running, try practicing it while lying on your back. Watch your abdomen as you’re breathing — you should see it rise and fall with each breath. If you only see your chest moving up, you’re not breathing deeply enough.