Revisiting the Inhale

One of the things I have discovered as my clients’ progress towards an advanced Pilates workout is that what we choose to emphasize through cues, corrections and use of imagery is very often embodied by the client. What we ask them to think of while working out can often become deliberate actions that are evident in their movements.

In many ways, this is exactly the goal we aspire for them to achieve; to take those images and integrate them into their movement. But, by falling into a habit of overusing common cues and corrections we can lose sight of how they are interpreted.

One of the most common places this pops up is in how our clients breathe during a workout. Very often, when I want to emphasize for my client how breath is used during an exercise, I tend to focus on the exhale, simply because it tends to be the most efficient (and easiest) section of a breathing pattern that can help them recruit their abdominals and feel the connection to their core.

With new Pilates clients, we sometimes cue the exhale to move and the inhale to stay still (ie: Hip Rolls). Or we use the exhale on the exertion of the exercise where stability is crucial (ie: Essential Footwork). But as we progress their workouts, we add in exercises that require movement on the inhale and we begin to have expectations that a client will ‘use’ the inhale so that their stability is not lost (ie: Long Stretch, Neck Pull, Back Rowing 2)

In some of the more intermediate and advanced Pilates exercises, the inhale becomes just as important as the exhale, emphasizing the concept that as the physicality of the exercises advance, so does the use of the breath and the awareness need to connect both properly.

But how can we emphasize the importance of the inhale so that clients can appreciate its value in a simple and easy way?

One way is to become aware of how we’re cueing and correcting their breath early on in their training…easier said than done. But, if we go back and review certain exercises that are at an essential level, we might find that by cueing them to inhale in order to “expand the ribcage” or “lengthen the spine and keep the abdominals gently engaged”, instead of “inhale and hold” we’re creating stronger connections that can then be transferred into the more complex movement patterns.

Below are some exercises that I have gone back to for the purpose of cueing the inhale differently. I’ve found that a consistent but different emphasis on the inhale with each one has helped clients better understand the breath principle in Pilates. And it’s made their breathing a more efficient and integral part of the workout.

From the Mat work:

  • Hip Rolls
  • One Leg Circle
  • The Saw
  • Roll Up

From the Barrels:

  • Side Breathing
  • Port de Bras
  • Prone Leg Work

From the Cadillac:

  • Push Thru on Back
  • Punches
  • Port de Bras

From the Chair:

  • Swan Dive (prep and full exercise)
  • Sidebends
  • Forward Press Down

From the Reformer:

  • Essential Footwork (progressing to Intermediate and Advanced)
  • Short Spine Prep
  • Side Splits 1 2
  • Mid Back Series 2 3 (without and with flexion)

As clients move through basic movement patterns that require them to either mobilize or stabilize the spine, think of other ways to cue that will encourage them to engage the inhale so that when they exhale, the ribcage has a place to return… Good luck!

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