3 Hot Tips on How to Breathe When Running in the Cold

Sportsman running over the bridge during his cardio routine on a winter day. He is wearing green jacket and blue cap.

As soon as the temperatures drop below zero, many runners wonder if running in the cold is bad for their health. Set your mind at ease. If you’re healthy and don’t have any lung issues, you shouldn’t have problems with outdoor activities in temperatures down to -10ºC (14ºF).

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How to breathe properly in the cold

Basically, the proper breathing technique is the same in summer and winter: You should focus on deep belly breathing and breathe through both your mouth and nose, but mainly your mouth. If you have trouble breathing in cold temperatures, or you want to run outside in extreme conditions, then you should follow these three tips.

1. Use a bandana or a scarf

Cold air tends to irritate your bronchial tubes, lungs and mucous membranes. This can lead to coughing, bronchitis and, in some cases, to symptoms of asthma. To counter this, place a bandana or a scarf over your mouth and nose to warm up the air you breathe in.

2. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth

You can warm up the air you breathe in by inhaling through your nose. The advantage of this method is that the air has to travel a greater distance to reach your lungs. Along the way, your nasal passages and trachea warm, filter and moisten the cold air. The big drawback, however, is that you can’t take in as much oxygen through your nose as you can through your mouth. As the intensity of your workouts increases, you will quickly notice that it isn’t possible to supply your body with enough oxygen by simply breathing through your nose. This can lead to shortness of breath or side stitches.

3. Avoid high intensities

In general, you should avoid intense workouts like interval and tempo runs in very cold temperatures. The increased effort can further irritate your airways, making it difficult to breathe. In this case, it’s better to stick with long, easy runs for building your base mileage.

With the right running gear, you can protect your body from the cold in extreme temperatures down to -20ºC (-4ºF). However, these kinds of Siberian conditions put a lot of stress on your airways. Therefore, on days like these, it’s probably better to work out indoors (for instance, on the treadmill).


Herwig Natmessnig As a former professional athlete (whitewater slalom), Herwig lives for fitness. Whether in competition or just for fun, he can never turn down a challenge. View all posts by Herwig Natmessnig