What Type Of Breathing Should Be Done During Pilates?

As you move through your Pilates session, your instructor will tell you when to inhale and exhale. If you’re new to Pilates, the breathing instructions, combined with the learning curve for each movement, can be overwhelming. To make the transition into Pilates easier, you might decide to learn the breathing cues outside of class.

So, what type of breathing should you do during Pilates? Well, it depends on what you’re doing, as there are a couple of types of breathing. Here’s what you need to know.

Which Type of Breathing Is Taught In Pilates?

Although lateral breathing is a common technique in Pilates, it’s not the only type. Your Pilates instructor may guide you through various types of breathing, each of which has its place in Pilates. So, before we dive into which kind of breathing you should do in Pilates, let’s look at the options.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

This type of breathing is natural to most individuals, as it’s a natural form of breathwork. As most of us breathe throughout the day, our bodies naturally function using diaphragmatic breathing.

With this type of breathing, our bellies rise and fall slightly through each breath. The core muscles remain relaxed, allowing the abdomen to rise and lower as we breathe. While this form of breathing isn’t the most common in Pilates, as it enables the core to remain lax, it has its place in more relaxed sessions.

Lateral Breathing

As one of the most popular types of breathing in Pilates, learning lateral breathing is a must. This type of breathing, also known as intercostal breathing, focuses on the rib cage’s lateral expansion during a constant inward contraction of deep abdominal muscles throughout each breath.

Unlike diaphragmatic breathing, where abdominal muscles are relaxed and move outward during the breath, lateral breathing requires constant tension in the abdominal muscles. This particular type of breathwork helps keep the abdominals engaged during each exercise.

Since core control is a cornerstone of Pilates and stability, lateral breathing is often a go-to breathing technique. By keeping the core tight as you breathe through the pose, you protect your body from potential injuries that could occur, such as placing excessive strain on the lower back. Although some extra work is involved with lateral breathing, the benefits outweigh the added core burn.

Active Breathing

This type of breathing can drastically influence the dynamic of an exercise, as it involves more forceful and intentional breathing. For example, in the Hundred exercise, participants exhale forcefully, which places emphasis on abdominal contractions. On the next inhale, the breath is drawn in intentionally, emphasizing the external intercostals. Generally, this particular exercise lasts five beats for each breath – five beats for the inhalation and five beats for the exhalation.

Since active breathing is more forceful, individuals who experience excessive tension may opt to use a different type of breathing. In many cases, instructors encourage these participants to target a more relaxed approach to breathwork.

While active breathing helps activate target muscles and pump up the energy in a Pilates session, it isn’t suitable for every session. Because of this, it’s not quite as common as lateral breathing.

Breath Patterns

In many Pilates exercises, participants follow a set breath pattern. The pattern varies based on the exercise, but generally, you inhale during part of the movement and exhale in the following phase.

The primary reason behind set breath patterns is to encourage breathing, even through tough poses. Many of us hold our breaths when pushing our bodies through difficult moves, which can detrimentally affect our performance. In some cases, it can even cause a dangerous increase in blood pressure.

So, you make breathing a conscious effort by utilizing set breath patterns. It helps establish a pattern or rhythm through the movement. Many participants will tie their breath to the movement, creating a consistent correlation between each breath and movement from one phase of the pose to the next.

Not only does it help establish a consistent pace or rhythm through the movement, but it also can help engage the muscles being recruited. For example, an exhale can help activate deep abdominal muscles (called the transverse abdominis), which aids in various poses.

How Should You Breathe During Pilates?

Women Doing Pilates

The correct type of breathing you should do during Pilates depends on what exercise you’re doing. If you’re participating in a class, your instructor will likely guide you through what type of breathing you should be doing. However, if you’re moving through a Pilates session on your own, there are a few types of breathing you might do.

Generally, most folks use lateral breathing during Pilates, especially during more challenging poses. Lateral breathing helps maintain core control, which, in turn, helps stabilize your body and ward off injury.

When you relax your core during complex or challenging moves, you leave certain portions of your body susceptible to injury. For example, releasing your core in certain standing poses could place stress on your lower back, causing strain and leading to soreness or injury.

In more relaxed poses, where core engagement isn’t critical, diaphragmatic breathing is comfortable for many people. If you’re unsure which type of breathing you should be doing, consult your Pilates instructor.

Why Do You Need To Breathe A Certain Way In Pilates?

Like most types of training, most Pilates sessions outline a specific type of breathwork. The type of breathing you do plays a critical role in the session, as it outlines the tone for the session. For example, deep, mindful diaphragmatic breathing creates a more relaxed tone. It can help participants relax and recover.

On the flip side, more forceful breathing patterns, like active breathing or set breath patterns, help up the intensity of a session. Since these types of breathing further engage the core muscles, participants may notice an extra burn from the additional activation.

It’s essential to breathe in the way that best supports your session. So, if you’re moving through an intense, balance-heavy session, it’s crucial to use breathwork that keeps your core engaged for optimized stability (no thanks, injuries!). Or, if you’re prioritizing rest and recovery through your session, use a more relaxed form of breathwork to reflect your desired tone for the session.

How Do You Practice Lateral Breathing?

Stretching and Lateral Breathing

As mentioned, lateral breathing is a common type of breathwork in Pilates, as it encourages core activation throughout the entire breath. If you’re unfamiliar with lateral breathing, automatically switching to this type of breathwork can feel foreign.

So, to help yourself easily slip into lateral breathing during your Pilates sessions, try practicing this type of breathing for a few minutes outside of your session. As you become more comfortable with lateral breathing, you will likely find it easier to focus on breathwork as you move through each session.

To start, lay on your back on the floor (use a yoga mat or padded surface for comfort). Alternatively, sit in a comfortable chair with your back straight. Keep your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears as you breathe – no shrugging! Maintain a neutral position in your spine – keep good posture, but don’t try to force the spine’s natural curve to straighten.

Place your hands on your ribs as you breathe, allowing you to feel the lateral movement through each breath. Since this is lateral breathing, your ribcage will expand instead of your belly. When you’re ready, breathe in slowly through your nose. As you inhale, let the air flow into your chest, causing your ribs to expand as your lungs fill with air.

As you exhale, feel your ribs move inward as your lungs release the air. Your core will remain engaged, as your belly shouldn’t rise and fall throughout the breath.

Common Mistakes

Lateral breathing can feel funny at first, especially when you’re not used to breathing this way. Since it can feel foreign, many folks make a few common mistakes in their learning stages. So, as you practice, try to avoid making these common mistakes:

  • Constantly utilizing lateral breathing: Lateral breathing has its place, but it isn’t ideal for daily breathing. It forces you to keep your abdominal muscles contracted, and since they need a break, avoid using lateral breathing constantly outside Pilates. Instead, opt for a more relaxed, natural form of breathing.
  • Forceful inhalations: When you initially practice lateral breathwork, you might find yourself forcing each breath. While this type of breathing may feel strange at first, try to breathe comfortably and deeply. Don’t force it – breath in naturally but deeply.
  • Movement in the belly: Your belly shouldn’t rise and fall as you breathe through lateral breathwork. Some movement is normal, but the majority of movement should come from your ribcage as it expands and contracts with your lungs.
  • Movement in the upper body: Your shoulders shouldn’t move throughout your breath. Instead, they should remain in the same position. Although minor movements are normal, they shouldn’t move much. Keep them relaxed throughout each breath.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Should I Use Lateral Breathing In Daily Life?

Avoid using lateral breathing when you’re not training your abs or doing Pilates (or other applicable scenarios). Since lateral breathing forces your abdominal muscles to remain activated, it can be tiring to breathe like this constantly. So, unless you need to practice lateral breathing, use a more natural and relaxed form of breathing throughout your everyday life.

Most people unconsciously use diaphragmatic breathing throughout everyday life. This is the type of breathing where your belly naturally rises and falls on each breath, and it remains the healthiest way to breathe regularly.