Learning How to Breathe

Hi, my name is Katie and I’m a professional side-stitch cramper.  Every runner I know has at some point experienced this terrible, awful, no good “Please just go away!” pain. For me, personally, it has gotten to the point where I have finally thrown up my hands and said, “We are going to figure this out if it’s the last thing we do. (add in a little ,”damnit” at the end of that and it really drives home my point 🙂 .)

Let’s first go over what exactly is a side-stitch, and what the general consensus is for the cause of this monster:

  • The sharp cramp/pain develops under the rib-cage of either side of the stomach. For me, it’s always guaranteed to be on the right side. Although it doesn’t help, I usually end up intensely grabbing my side with my hand to try and make it go away. I have been known to grab my side a lot. During last weekend’s side-stitch marathon 1/2 marathon, I held my side so tight, it ended up bleeding during the race. OKAY THAT’S NOT NORMAL. See the picture below for the spot after it healed a couple days later.


Most agree the side stitch is caused by one of the following scenarios:

  • Shallow breathing, causing a lack of blood flow to the diaphragm. 
  • Weak core muscles.
  • Dehydration, or the opposite–too much water

I italicized the first bullet point because that is what my post is about today. When I first began my research on the awful side cramp and it’s predecessors, I began really paying attention to my core exercises, or lack thereof at the time, and making sure I am plenty hydrated. After about 8 months, I can honestly say I have those two under control. Strong core and plenty of water? Check. Still side cramp issues? Check check check.


Core exercise routine. 2x per week.

Instead of giving up or saying, “I’m just going to have the side stitch forever and ever,” I refuse to accept it and I’m doing my research. This is what I have found thus far.

I started my research with an article based on the popular book by Budd Coates, entitled, “Running on Air.”  This article BLEW MY MIND. The author and expert behind this theory is Budd, who at the time, was sick of being plagued by injuries (understandable), and set on a mission to find out why.  What he came up with was a common breathing pattern mistake most runners make. Hang with me. I’ll explain.



Most runners follow an even breathing pattern, meaning they inhale for the same amount of cadences (foot steps) as they exhale. For example, most runners take a breath in, while taking two steps, and then they breathe out, while taking two steps. What is wrong with this? Well, this causes you to exhale while planting the same foot. (For me, it’s always the right side).  Annndddd, what’s wrong with this? Well, when one exhales, physiologically, they relax their core and body in general for a second, which also happens to be putting the greatest amount of stress on the side you are planting with. Are you with me? Exhaling=relaxed body=greater amount of weight placed on the foot doing the step.

I found this SO interesting, because ironically, every one of my injuries (whether minor or season ending) have been on my right side, the same side on which I continuously exhale, and the same side I continue to get this terrible side cramp! MIND BLOWN.

Budd says this can all be avoided by changing our breathing patterns from a 2:2 to a 3:2. This means instead of inhaling for two steps and exhaling for two, essentially one would inhale for three steps, and exhale for two. This switches up the foot you land on each exhale, subsequently creating an equilibrium of stressors. Obviously, this takes a lot of practice. If you are like me, I never think about “How to breathe,” while running. Who does? It’s not that hard, you just breathe, right!? Well, changing from a natural 2:2 pattern to a 3:2 is not as easy as it might seem. In fact, when I started trying this out, I did it on a treadmill, and I also began to realize how SHALLOW I breathe! MIND BLOWN. This is me below on my first treadmill run trying out the new breathing pattern. I used a 3:2 pattern while I was running easy, and then changed to a 2:1 (inhale for 2 steps, exhale for 1 step) when I sped it up to tempo/faster than tempo pace.


So, after some research and trying out this whole breathing thing, what are my thoughts??

  • I think there is definitely some merit to it.
  • Today on my 10 mile run, I started getting a cramp, and consciously focused on deep breathing and making sure I was doing the 3:2 pattern for a good 2 miles, and it went away. MAGIC?!?!
  • I am going to continue working on this, as well as deep breathing (from my belly rather than my chest), and will log how I feel after a few more weeks of practice.



2 thoughts on “Learning How to Breathe

  1. Have you been able to stick with a 3:2 or 2:1 breathing pattern? I’ve seen stories on this lately and it’s super intriguing! Is this book worth reading?


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