“How do you incorporate breathing strategies into clients’ workouts?”

Aug 23, 2017

Tricks of the Trade

Breathing strategies help keep clients focused on the movement and minimize distractions. When your clients take a deep breath just before a set, they can turn their thoughts inward and focus on proper body alignment, rather than moving the weight. This improves body awareness and posture and creates better engagement of the muscles needed for the lift.

Breathing during the set creates a natural rhythm for each rep. This helps in two ways: First, they don’t forget to breathe. Second, having them breathe fully slows down the pace, since the breath guides the movement. This way, they won’t be tempted to rush through a lift and then miss the benefits of both concentric and eccentric phases, and it increases the muscle’s time under tension, which maximizes strength gains.
       Julie Zuniga
       Julie Zuniga Fitness
       La Mesa, California


The respiratory system needs to be trained properly—just like other parts of the body.

I tell clients that breathing should come from the diaphragm and expand the rib cage in all exercises. The key is not to hold your breath and to make breathing smooth and rhythmic.

Here are a few different breathing techniques I use when training my clients:

  • running—2:2 rhythmic-breathing strategy. Take in 1 breath for every 2 foot strikes.
  • HIIT training—inhale on load or impact; then exhale.
  • strength training—exhale through the mouth on the exertion movement or lift, and inhale through the nose as gravity moves the body to rest or at the top of the lift.
  • yoga—ujjayi, a technique that features equal breathing in and out of the nose.
     Beth Jordan
     ACE-Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Specialist & Orthopedic Exercise Specialist
     Fullest Living
     Jacksonville Beach, Florida


I help students pay attention to the breath in all exercise modalities. Awareness is the first step to change. If students become aware of breathing in a nonjudgmental way, they can learn to cooperate with their breathing. Sometimes I start with breath awareness, asking them to feel the breath, to notice its depth—where it is felt and not felt—and to allow it to move through them easily.

Use cues and your hands to help clients feel the breath and understand its purpose. For example, when students are laterally stretching their spines, place your hands on the side ribs and ask them to breathe into your hands, feel the stretch and surrender.

Reverse the breathing to make them concentrate more on the aspect of breathing and its role. Can they feel how the inhalation facilitates stabilization of the spine and creates space? Can they feel how the exhalation returns them back to center? Can they feel the true wave of the breath and flow with it, rather than against it?

When I teach yoga, pranayama is part of the practice, and students are often more open to focusing on breathing. Once they are familiar with the gross movement patterns of surya namaskar A and B, it’s easy to let them focus on the breathing and let the other cues go. Telling students that the breath is the spirit and asking them to feel it and connect it to their movements is a way of looking at breathing more holistically.

When I worked with Pilates Elder Mary Bowen I was introduced to the 10-count breath, and it’s a great start to a Pilates workout. Breathing in for a full 10 counts and then out for a full 10 is hard work; you must open and sustain the inhalation smoothly and then work to fully empty the lungs in 10 counts. In grad school, we were introduced to research that showed that inhaling for 4 and exhaling for 6 was helpful in reducing blood pressure. This can be easily added into exercises for stress reduction. In traditional Pilates, the emphasis is on the exhalation, and that creates a very different experience than cuing “inhale,” which can lead to students gulping in their breath and stiffening their bodies.

Students can get hung up on the breath. “Is that an inhalation or an exhalation?” beginners often ask. “Just breathe,” I encourage them, knowing that the dance of the breath, the connection it brings holistically, is a journey that will unfold over time.
       Zoey Trap, MS
       Peak Pilates® Program Director, Jivamukti-Certified Yoga Instructor
       Owner, Pilates Solutions
       Haymarket, Virginia


I recommend incorporating breathing work into all types of experiences and sessions with clients. I don’t start with making breath hard work. Too many clients have come to me saying they left this or that discipline because they just couldn’t get the complicated breathing.That disheartens me. Let’s make breathwork inviting instead of alienating. After all, we’re already breathing!

I like to fine-tune breathing after someone starts a movement and is ready to get deeper into how different breathing techniques—when appropriate—prove more engaging and empowering for a movement series. For example, I teach how pursed lip breathing can enhance strength during muscular strength and endurance work and deepen clients’ body awareness and strength capabilities; how nose breathing can enhance muscular flexibility stretches and increase the ability to focus on the purpose of static stretching; and how mouth breathing can deepen the sense of anaerobic work (e.g., during a challenging climb in studio cycling), sharpen focus and, ultimately, boost their results. Finally, I teach how combination breathing—inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth or vice-versa—can empower one’s sense of relaxation or energy, respectively.

Other quick tips I give clients:

  • Use an app to remind you to breathe consciously for 60 seconds per day.
  • Before getting out of bed, take some empowering breaths with an intention for the day’s tasks.
  • Practice your conscious, voiced exhalation when completing tasks like pressing “send” after a text or having a meal. Such a formal breathing practice brings closure to that task, relaxes the body and helps it body prepare for what’s next.
     Lawrence Biscontini, MA
     Mindful Movement Specialist and Owner, FG2000
     New York City and Mykonos, Greece


Exercise-induced asthma is extremely common. One of the keys to successful management of clients with this condition is guiding them through deep, slow inhalation and exhalation.

A technique I use is the “5–7–8 method.” During this exercise, I instruct clients to breathe slowly through the nose for 5 seconds, hold their breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale forcefully through pursed lips (as if they are blowing up a balloon) for 8 seconds. This technique is great for slowing the breathing rate, as well as lowering blood pressure and relieving stress!

I always reiterate the fact that holding your breath during exercise is the worst thing you can do! I tell clients to be mindful of inhaling as they move the weight with gravity, and to exhale as they move against gravity.
       Dr. Fredrick Peters
       Founder, The Fitness Doctor
       Cleveland and Independence, Ohio


Teaching clients to breathe correctly is one of the quickest and easiest ways to improve your clients’ physical and mental health. We believe that coaching clients how to breathe correctly is imperative to decreasing pain and ensuring optimal function of the entire body. We use the following strengthening techniques to develop two of the most important muscles involved in breathing (the diaphragm and intercostals). Try them for yourself!

Diaphragm strengthening. Lie on your back with your knees bent and head/neck supported. Place your hands on your diaphragm (at the bottom of your rib cage). Breathe in through your nose, allowing your diaphragm to contract and push your hands upward. Do not contract your abdominals to push your hands upward; simply use the air entering your lungs and your diaphragm contracting to do the work. Make sure you are not breathing by expanding your chest or shrugging your shoulders during this movement. Breathe in for 2 seconds, hold for 2 seconds and breathe out for 2 seconds, allowing your diaphragm to relax. Try to perform 10 reps correctly. When you can do this effectively and consistently, try breathing in, holding and expelling air for longer periods of time.

Intercostal strengthening. Sit in a chair and place a foam roller or firm pillow on your knees. Collapse your torso forward over the roller/pillow so that it pushes into your abdominals and restricts movement of your diaphragm. Breathe in through your nose, allowing your rib cage to expand outward (rather than letting your diaphragm contract or push into the roller). As you breathe in, you should feel your rib cage expanding to your sides and in your back. Breathe in for 2 seconds, hold for 2 seconds and breathe out for 2 seconds. Try to perform 10 reps correctly. When you can do this effectively and consistently, try breathing in, holding and expelling air for longer periods of time.

Once you have mastered the above two techniques, coordinate both movements as one. This will enable you to use your diaphragm and intercostals to facilitate optimal breathing patterns whenever you need to improve your mood or enhance your body’s metabolic functions.
       Justin Price, MA
       The Biomechanics Method®
       San Diego


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