Why Do I Cramp While I Run? 3 Breathing Tips to Keep Your Pain Away

Running is hard enough, kick those cramps to the curb.

Why Do I Cramp When I Run?
By May 27, 2021

If you’ve ever been running, you know there’s always a possibility that those dreaded stomach pains might pop up unexpectedly. These “side cramps” as many of us call them can quickly become distracting and painful, keeping you from your workout and overwhelming your breathing. This can ruin your runner’s high and tempt you to walk the rest of your route. While you’ve probably just learned to deal with these side cramps, have you ever stopped and thought about why? “WHY do I cramp while I run?” And what’s the solution?

Running cramps aren’t one-size-fits-all; there are many possibilities as to why you’re experiencing these annoying little pains. Research has shown that side cramps, called Exercise-Related Transient Abdominal Pain (ETAP) could be caused by a food you ate before your workout, an imbalance of electrolytes, or shallow breathing techniques. All of these have practical solutions — learn which foods to avoid and how to balance your electrolytes and you’re almost there! But the breathing aspect might seem like a bit of a challenge. Yes, that’s right, there is a right (and a wrong!) way to breathe while you run. But don’t worry, you can easily make some corrections that will provide comfort during the entirety of your run. Here are three things you need to know.

1. Try Breathing Through Your Mouth

Middle school P.E. class may have taught you to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth when exercising. But according to research, this actually isn’t as beneficial as people think. Breathing in and out through your mouth, on the other hand, can help increase oxygen flow, which will help you avoid cramping. This simple action can make a big difference.

2. Practice Belly Breathing

According to Runner’s World, breathing from your diaphragm, instead of your chest, (known as “belly breathing”) creates a deeper breath, helping you run for longer. Belly breathing won’t come as naturally as breathing from your chest, so you’ll have to train yourself to do it — but it will save you a lot of energy, and aid in preventing side cramps too.

Runner’s World suggests practicing belly breathing at home before you go out on your run. Here are some practice tips:

  • Lie on your back, and focus on raising your stomach as you take a breath in.
  • When you exhale, lower your belly and watch it contract.
  • While practicing this, try to use both your nose and your mouth while breathing for maximum airflow.

The more air you inhale with each breath, the more air is available to circulate throughout your body and transfer to the muscles that help you on your run. This, in turn, helps prevent those annoying side stitches. So the next time you’re out on the trail or hitting the treadmill, practice this breathing technique and notice how it helps keep those cramps at bay.

3. Stretch It Out

Research shows that if you already have cramps, stretching them out while continuing a steady breathing pattern might bring relief and help you finish your run. According to the experts, stretching the side of your body that is in pain while maintaining consistent oxygen flow can help the pain subside within a few minutes. Putting pressure on the affected area by pressing two fingers gently, while still keeping that consistent breathing pattern, can also help press any cramps out.

If you try all these tips and side cramps still persist, it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor to make sure there aren’t any underlying health conditions. But never underestimate the power of breathing deeply (and correctly)! These tips should help you achieve that runner’s high you’ve been hoping to get — because let’s be honest, nothing beats those pain-free, good endorphins.

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