Revisiting the Inhale

One of the things I have discovered as more clients’ progress towards an advance Pilates workoutis that as instructors, what we choose to emphasize through cues, corrections and use of imagery is very often embodied by the client. What we ask them to imagine or 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; as we cue a client to engage their abdominals and keep their hip bones pointed directly ahead when standing, we want them to take those images and integrate it into their everyday activities. But, by falling into a habit of overusing common cues and corrections we can lose sight of how they are interpreted and might limit their progress.

For example, when working with clients at Studio³, I often cue a client’s breathing pattern as they do an exercise –and like breathing itself –it is often done without thinking about it. When I do want to draw their attention to how a breath is used, I usually focus on the exhale, because this tends to be the most efficient (and easiest) section of a breathing pattern that can assist clients in recruiting their abdominals and in feeling the sensation of connecting to their core.

When a client begins their Pilates workout, we cue the exhale to move and the inhale to remain still (ie: Hip Rolls). Or we use the exhale on the exertive part of the exercise where stability is crucial (ie: Essential Footwork). And yet, as we progress their workouts, we switch over to exercises that require movement on the inhale (ie: Long Stretch, Neck Pull) and we begin to have expectations that a client will ‘use’ the inhale so that their stability is not lost (ie: Back Rowing 2, Flying Eagle with Leg Springs, Handstand 1 on the Chair).Indeed, as a client incorporates more of the advanced Pilates exercises into their workout, the inhale becomes as part of the movement as the exhale. It represents the idea that as the physicality of the exercises advance, so does the use of the breathing patterns and the awareness it takes to properly integrate both.

But how can we emphasize the inhale as much as the exhale so that clients can appreciate that the value of the inhale lies well beyond the generic cues of “inhale to stay” or “inhale to lengthen”?

One way is to become aware of how you’re cueing and correcting their breath…easier said than done. But, if you go back and review certain exercises that are at a basic level, you may find that by cueing them to inhale in order to “expand the ribcage” or “lengthen the spine and keep the abdominals gently engaged”, creates a better opportunity for them to transfer such cues into the more advanced exercises.

Below are some of the exercises that I have gone back to in order to revisit the purpose of the inhale. As they progress in difficulty, I have found that a consistent and yet different emphasis on the inhale has helped clients with their breathing. This has resulted in an inhale that expands the ribcage rather than one that is held. In turn, it has made their overall breathing pattern more efficient and part of the entire workout.

From the Matwork:

  • Hip Rolls
  • Cat Stretch
  • The Saw
  • Roll Up

From the Barrels:

  • Side Breathing
  • Port de Bras (prep and full exercise)
  • 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
  • Hip Lift
  • Side Splits 1 2
  • Mid Back Series 2 3 (without and with flexion)

The idea is that as clients move through basic movement patterns that require them to either mobilize or stabilize the spine they are being cued not to ‘stay’ which can invariably result in holding the breath. Instead, these exercises encourage them to engage in the inhale so that they return to the basic principle of inhaling to expand the ribcage so that when they exhale, their ribcage has a place to return.

Good luck!