How to Get Better Results in Pilates (hint: BREATHE!)

I’ve noticed lately that some of my students are confused about the correct way to breathe while moving in general.


Correct and efficient breathing is crucial in order to see results with Pilates


This helps as well safely perform other movements during activities and exercises that require using core muscles for stability.

So, here we go…..


At rest, breathing is super easy and should not require much effort.


The belly should expand on the inhale and release passively on the exhale. You can feel this if you lay down on your back with your hands on your abdomen, or watch your dog or a child sleep. If you are doing this on yourself, simply breathe normally without focusing so much on it. See if you feel your ribcage and abdomen expand when you breathe in, and relax and deflate when you breathe out.

This expansion of the abdomen happens because the diaphragm drops down to allow the air into the lungs, and the contents of your abdomen have to go somewhere, so the belly expands. On the exhale, the diaphragm rises as the air exits the lungs. As the diaphragm rises, the contents of the abdomen flatten out, so it appears the belly “deflates”.


But it’s different when you are doing exercise, in Pilates especially


Since we often need to stabilize and protect the lower spine during certain movements. We are supposed to “pull the abdominals in” while doing the exercises.

With Pilates exercises, the ideal contraction of the abdominal muscles happens on the EXHALE. Like you are squeezing the air out of your lungs with your muscles. (Or, if you think about it, when you need to cough, sneeze, scream, yell, etc.)*

The cue “navel to spine” is meant to activate the Transverse Abdominis muscle (TA) which wraps around the whole waist area all the way around to the back. Another way of saying this is to imagine wearing a corset around the waist, so that as you exhale the abdominal muscles pull into your body, and the waist feels smaller.


There are certain points in the Pilates system where you might still need the stability of the contraction of the TA but need to inhale.


During the hundreds, for instance.
So, in this case you then need keep the deep contraction of the TA to maintain the stability in the abdomen and lower back, but then put the air from the inhale into the SIDES of your ribcage.
I often ask my students to visualize little fish gills in their side and back body so as to get them to expand and even stretch those muscles in between the ribs.
This is called thoracic breathing.
Note this needs to happen WHILE contracting the abdominals, so that the spine is stabilized while you are breathing.


But here’s where the confusion sets in: Sometimes people confuse “pulling in” and “sucking in” the abdominals.


If you inhale (or “suck in”) and puff up the ribs, it can appear that the abdomen pulls IN as the air enters the lungs. (When you do this you are NOT necessarily working the TA muscle which is important for stabilizing the lower spine.)
Then the belly sort of pushes out on the exhale. This is not ideal.

If you see this sort of thing, your client is confused about the breathing and it needs to be corrected asap.

You can help guide them to feel the natural movement of the breath, and teach them to exhale as they deepen the abs to do a movement.

In certain exercises, like spine stretch forward for instance, the breathing is exaggerated so as to “clean out” the lungs. We are taught to inhale fully and to “squeeze” every drop of air out from the bottom of the lungs, like “squeezing out a wet washcloth” by contracting and deepening the navel to the spine.

I have found that teaching this breathing early on with new students really helps them to figure out how to engage the abs much more and progress more easily.


Next time, let’s talk about how breathing is related to the PELVIC FLOOR. Stay tuned!


Be Well,



The Basic Intro to Pilates and ELDOA

A quick and easy to access video bundle of 3 short workouts that includes the fundamental basics of Pilates and ELDOA.


  1. maribel

    hi danielle , i am actually teaching pilates and i find very helpful all you posts . as i live in spain , it would be very eay for me to follow your blog if i get an email with the new posts. do you think that could be possible .
    thank you very much for every thing.
    have a nice day .

  2. danielle

    Hi Maribel,
    Thanks for your comment. Yes I will make the change so you can opt in to get the emails!

  3. pve

    Hello Danille,
    I really find all your posts so inspiring and useful. I am a relatively new Pilates Teacher since March 2018. I love inspiring others to practice pilates and breathe properly. Breathing is the key!

  4. danielle

    Patricia, Thank you for the kind words. Congratulations on beginning your Pilates teaching journey!

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Hi, I’m Danielle O’Connell

Pilates Teacher, ELDOA Trainer and Health Coach.

I’m here to help integrate body, mind and soul through Pilates practice while helping instructors & students get better results in their daily practice. 

I truly believe that healthy movement is an important part of both physical and mental wellness, and that Pilates and ELDOA work amazingly well to help you achieve freedom in your body and a sense of wellbeing.

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