I only address breathing if I can tell the client is doing something that needs to be corrected. Natural breathing can be slightly different for everyone, but it is usually adequate for most exercise programming. You should intervene if a client holds their breath, takes shallow/ineffective breaths, breaths too quickly for the intensity, etc.
There are a lot of theories on breathing technique and I don’t know that I am qualified to debunk them all. But I have known a lot of elite athletes who never had a single bit of coaching on breathing and can do amazing feats of athleticism. A few who were given breathing advice that proved to be detrimental to their performance. And a few that swear by this technique or that technique.
I have spent a bit of time looking into breathing and decided that it wasn’t an area on which I wanted to spend too much effort. The most frequent advice that I find myself giving on breathing is for clients not to hold their breath and to just breath in and out as naturally as they can. If they have trouble with that, I go with ‘breath out on the greatest effort phase of an exercise and during the least effort phase’. But that can be different for each exercise and each client, especially in the beginning of exercise programming. It almost always improves as time goes on without too much time spent focusing on it.
I’ve just finished reading a lovely book called “The Breathing Book,” by Donna Farhi. Although I’ve done many breathing techniques in yoga classes I’ve attended, I like Donna’s thesis that before adding any techniques on top of the breath, it’s first helpful to find the normal breath and to remove any tension, holding, or locking that’s preventing a deeply relaxed diaphragmatic breath from happening in the first place.
So, lately, in my yoga classes, we’ve been working on just locating the basic breath and noticing any places where it is limited.
One thing that I like to focus on is helping my clients relax. At the end of our workouts, I have my clients lay flat on their backs on a mat, close their eyes and perform deep “belly” breathing (deep breath in through their noses, release slowly out the mouth). While performing this, I talk to them in a relaxed tone and ask them to visualize certain things (depending on what some of their goals or other things important in their lives are). I use this a lot with my athletes, but also very successfully with regular fitness clients. It always amazes me to see how relaxed this short breathing session will help the client become.
My clients love the emphasis on breathing, both throughout the workout and at the end! It seems odd that such a thing would bring about so much satisfaction, but I think it stems from the fact that most people nowadays breathe very shallowly (is that even a word??). I encourage deep breaths (deep, slow inhales and exhales) and belly breaths, where appropriate during the workout, and incorporate stretching, torso rotations, and head tilts (front, back, side to side, and over shoulders) at the end of the session. Funny, I’ve had so many people remark that it’s the only time during their day where they actually stop, breathe, and relax; and they LOVE it!!