Despite what you may think, the majority of your running should be fairly easy. Back in the 60s, the renowned running coach Arthur Lydiard revolutionised training with a method that featured lots of slow, comfortable running with modest amounts of speed work.

Whilst high-intensity exercise does help improve fitness, the quickest way to overtraining, pain and often injury is to do too much of it. As a rule of thumb consider a maximum of 20% of your training at a hard effort level but only of course if you are appropriated skilled and conditioned for this.

So the good news is at least 80% of your training should be at a comfortable effort level. This will not only improve fitness but also your general health and wellbeing. It’s also the smart way to improving your speed since you will be building a solid aerobic base on which to build.

Nasal Breathing

The easiest way to ensure that you stay at an easy effort level is to shut your mouth! Breathing in and also out through the nose only. It may take a little time to get used to and it will most probably slow you down to start but stick with it. You’ll soon reap the benefits.

When you get to the point where you feel you need to take a big breath through the mouth then slow down or walk but make sure you don’t open your mouth.

If you think this is going to be difficult it’s worth noting that a study at UWE Bristol1 found that ‘nasal breathing was possible at 85% of maximum workload suggesting that people are capable of nose breathing at much higher intensities than they would normally choose to do.’

Why? Nasal breathing ensures that you are running aerobically (with oxygen) and will keep your heart-rate in the aerobic training zone. When working aerobically you shouldn’t be out of breath!

Other benefits of nasal breathing include:

  • Filtering of bacteria and germs
  • Harnesses nasal nitric oxide which helps open up airways
  • Reduces the occurrence of exercise-induced asthma as research shows that oral breathing during exercise increases bronchospasm
  • Inspiratory muscle trainer – diaphragm, intercostals, and nasal dilator muscles get activated and strengthened
  • Better oxygen delivery to the cells by encouraging diaphragmatic breathing

Studies also show that after a training session an hours relaxation focusing on diaphragmatic breathing reduces oxidative stress2.

Heart Rate Training

Heart rate is a direct reflection of the body’s oxygen need. Therefore if you check your heart-rate whilst practicing nasal breathing you should see a correlation to the MAF method of heart-rate training since both are focusing on an easy aerobic pace.

Phil Maffetone3 stresses the importance of lower training intensities to avoid overtraining syndrome and offers a simple calculation to find your easy aerobic heart rate:
Subtract your age from 180.

Modify this number by selecting the best fit of the following:

  1. If you are recovering from a major illness, surgery or on any regular medication, subtract 10
  2. If you have not exercised before, or have been injured, regressing in your running, often get colds, or you have allergies, subtract 5
  3. If you have been exercising for up to two years with no real problems and have not had colds or flu more than once or twice a year, subtract 0
  4. If you have been exercising for more than two years without any problems, making progress in competition without injury, add 5

For example, if you are 30 years old and fit into category B: 180 – 30 = 150, and
150 – 5 = 145.

This is the maximum easy-pace aerobic heart rate. For efficient base building, you should train at or just below this level throughout your base-building period.

If you are over 65 or 16 and under further individualisation will be needed.

Check out this google sheets heart rate calculator that I’ve compiled combining MAF, HR zones, ChiRunning gears, and nasal breathing.


  • 80/20 training – minimum 80% of training at an easy effort level
  • Avoid the ‘grey zone’ where every training session is at a ‘somewhat hard’ effort level
  • Take time to focus on total nasal breathing in everyday life and well as when you are training
  • Use heart rate as biofeedback and focus first on body sending


1 ‘The Effects of Nasal Breathing on Exercise Tolerance – Research Repository’. Accessed 22 February 2019.

Martarelli, Daniele, Mario Cocchioni, Stefania Scuri, and Pierluigi Pompei. ‘Diaphragmatic Breathing Reduces Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress’. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: ECAM 2011 (2011): 932430.

3 Maffetone, Philip B., and Paul B. Laursen. ‘Athletes: Fit but Unhealthy?’ Sports Medicine – Open 2, no. 1 (26 May 2016): 24.

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