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 goÃ¢â‚¬¦..
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!