The science of the "second wind"
March 11, 2004 8:27 PM   Subscribe

About a week ago, I started jogging a mile a day and already I've noticed I've been getting kind of a second wind maybe 2/3 of the way in and my time has been going down quite a bit. Does anyone know the reason or the science behind the body getting used to being pushed? Also, does anyone know the proper breathing techniques for runners? I have some unreliable information saying it should all be through the nose. Need a second opinion.
posted by Slimemonster to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total)
I don't know the science behind it, but I think it's that you're getting your muscles used to the same movements, and building up their endurance and tolerance for being used. It's pretty typical to ramp up quickly if you're doing it every day. Be sure to give your body a day off once every few days though.

Every winter I go from sitting on the couch for weeks on end to running and it takes about 3 weeks of running every other day to get up to the 5-6 mile range comfortably. Typically, I go for time though. Start off the first week running for about 15 minutes, then go up to 20, then 30 minutes. 30-40 minutes is a good workout and at that point (doing 3-5 miles) you can start working on lowering your speed/mile.

I've been told by running coaches that the best way to start out a run is inhale from your nose, blow out through your mouth, so you can dump CO2 quickly. Personally I just breathe through my mouth usually from the time I start running. I've found that altering my breathing messes up my whole run and I end up with cramps or I get prematurely tired if I don't just naturally breathe as much as I want.
posted by mathowie at 8:55 PM on March 11, 2004

I second what Matt says about alternating your breathing patterns. I ran cross country and track in HS, and NOTHING gave me cramps from hell like changing how I breathed, whether it be from run-to-run, or something abnormal while running such as holding my breath for a few seconds. I've also been told to breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth, but when I've PUSHED myself, I can't breath in fast enough through my nose. In my experience, I'de say find a breathing pattern that feels best to you and keep to it. Also, I dunno how much prior experience you have in running, but two other big keys in avoiding the cramps: 1) good abs and 2) keep a constant pace. It may be very enticing to run slowly uphill and make up for it by flying downhill, but thats a recipe for cramps.
As far as the getting used to being pushed thing, I also don't know the actual science behind it, but I would guess that it has to do with your muscles and cardiovascular system getting in shape, whether it be by better O2/CO2 diffusion or just getting stronger muscles. Speaking of muscles, the best thing I've found for getting good running legs are running hills...Run up a good, fairly steep hill at a fairly good clip, and then jog (do NOT walk) down the hill (also, ignore want I said about cramps earlier if you do this routine).
Lastly, its good that you're pushing yourself. Stopping when you start to feel pushed will not produce the best results...Going until you would rather die up to a certain distance or time (3-6 miles or roughly 40-60 minutes is a good starting point) is a good starting point as after a certain time/distance you actually need a proper training regimen to get better results.
posted by jmd82 at 9:13 PM on March 11, 2004

Google "Selye" and "adaptation".
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:43 PM on March 11, 2004

I think it's that you're getting your muscles used to the same movements, and building up their endurance and tolerance for being used.

Lung capacity/efficiency's going up, circulation improving, etc., too. Breathe comfortably, like they said.

I wish I were still a good runner. Wonder if I'll ever do a 5K on rough terrain in under 18 again. Screwed up my lungs working jobs with fumes, worsened my asthma, etc. Um, got old?

Thanks for Selye, 'spleen.
posted by Shane at 11:09 PM on March 11, 2004

I use the nose in, mouth out approach until I get very tired and find myself breathing through my mouth without realizing it. I don't get cramps by doing that, though.
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:53 PM on March 11, 2004

Google "endorphins."

Essentially your body releases chemicals to help you use your body safely. Similar things happen in other situations (i.e. fight/flight, as well as even sex.)
posted by gen at 12:57 AM on March 12, 2004

I was told by one of my exercise instructors that you don't get all the oxygen you need when you breathe thru your mouth. She always insists we breathe in thru our nose in spin class if at all possible. We use heart rate monitors in that class so it is easy to see that there is a correlation. One should be able to carry on a conversation when exercising-but not sing. Or so I have been told. Sometimes she has us count out loud in order to make sure we are where we are supposed to be exertion-wise. (I cheat, and I haven't fallen down dead or anything.)
posted by konolia at 3:57 AM on March 12, 2004

there's no difference between breathing through nose and mouth, physiologically, except that the nose cleans, warms and dampens things a bit, but also restricts the flow.

when you're fit, and running long distances at training pace, you can breath through your nose easily. when you're less fit, or pushing hard, you need to use your mouth because you need all the air you can get :o)

my theory is that this urban myth about nose breathing being (significantly) better comes from coaches using it to make sure people don't run too fast (which sounds silly but is a serious problem when training). these days, though, you can just use a heart rate monitor to do the same thing.

as far as stitches go, some people claim that if you breath out when your right foot hits the ground you're less likely to have a stitch. personally, i breath out every second time my right foot hits the ground (and hardly ever have a stitch). if i need to breath more quickly (eg breathing in every third or second foot-fall) then i know i'm pushing things and/or about to collapse :o) but, again, other people find that thinking about regular breathing really puts them off.

note that when i was at your stage - running just a few miles - i breathed out every third footfall. i just wasn't that fit. so don't worry if you're breathing more quickly too.

for down-to-earth advice about running, bob glover's competitive runner's handbook is great.

in your case, i would worry more about staying relaxed, not getting carried away by your success (it's easy to push too hard because you are getting better so quickly, and then injure yourself - the rule of thumb is to not increase the distance and/or time you run by more than 10% a week) and enjoying running. have fun.

(ps as far as i can tell i breath through both my mouth and my nose when running)
posted by andrew cooke at 4:41 AM on March 12, 2004

Andrew Cooke, by restricting airflow, the nose makes it harder to breathe in a bit but also increases partial pressure in the lungs while exhaling.
This pushes more oxygen through the lungs into the blood.
posted by Fupped Duck at 5:32 AM on March 12, 2004

For myself, and bear in mind that I'm a smoker as well as a jogger, I find it easiest to begin my run (at a moderate pace) breathing through the nose, but when I really get going, it's kind of both a mouth and nose thing. Just do what's natural, your body will react accordingly.

And I definitely prefer the running for time thing vs. the running for distance thing. It makes for a whole different mindset.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:28 AM on March 12, 2004

do you really believe that, fupped duck? if it really helped you'd have people trying to breath out with their mouths shut to increase pressure in the lungs. so you'd breath in, push without breathing out, and then breath out. i've never heard of such a technique. have you?

(incidentally, even if true, this would only apply to breathing out. you could still breath in with your mouth open).
posted by andrew cooke at 8:01 AM on March 12, 2004

The nose/mouth thing has always bothered me because I have allergies and my sinuses tend to block. It's even worse for Tai Chi, in which breathing is specifically supposed to be through the nose.

If your nose is stuffed, you CAN'T breathe thru' it without lessening the amount of oxygen you take in, right?

OT somewhat, but haven't there been studies about breathing thru' the sinuses providing oxygen to the brain in a different, better way? Most meditation techniques suggest nose-breathing too.

Or should this be a new askme q?
posted by Shane at 9:41 AM on March 12, 2004

I'm currently taking Anatomy & Physiology I, and they taught us that one reason aerobic exercise gets easier is that your muscle cells increase the amount of myoglobin they have when you do lots of it.

Myoglobin hangs on to oxygen within the muscle cells and releases it for use in contraction and so forth. It's like hemoglobin in red blood cells, but different.
posted by beth at 3:59 PM on March 12, 2004

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