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Future Fit Traning

L is for Lateral Thoracic Breathing

Breathing is also a big part of Pilates exercises and the type of breathing used is called ‘lateral thoracic breathing’, ‘intercostal breathing’ or just ‘lateral breathing’. It emphasises the lateral expansion of the rib cage while maintaining navel to spine abdominal contraction during different phases of a Pilates exercise. The ribs move outward and upward like a bucket handle. This is different to other forms of breathing. For example in some types of yoga, ‘diaphragmatic breathing’ is used where the diaphragm lowers during inhalation and the abdominal muscles are relaxed, which is the opposite to Pilates. However, some Pilates teachers use diaphragmatic breathing during the relaxation phase of the class.

The reason that lateral breathing is used in Pilates is to help maintain the abdominal contraction while the exercises are performed, as a stable and strong core is important to ensure the exercise is performed effectively and safely.

Have a go…

  • Place the palms of your hands on your lower ribs along the sides of the body.


  • Breathe in to the sides and back of the rib cage while maintaining navel to spine contraction.


  • Feel the rib cage expanding into the palms of the hands.


There are other ways that Pilates teachers can help clients and participants to breathe laterally. For example you can place a resistance band flat around the back and sides, covering the lower part of the shoulder blades and the lower ribs. Inhale and feel the back of the ribs push into the band, exhale and feel the release.

Inhalation and exhalation during a Pilates exercise is just as important. Inhaling helps us to prepare for an exercise or the strenuous phase of an exercise. Exhaling assists with the navel to spine action, resulting in the increase of intra-abdominal pressure. This pressure protects the spine during the strenuous phase. Cueing inhaling and exhaling at certain phases also ensures that clients do not hold their breath. This can result in increased muscle tension during exercises or a phase of a Pilates exercise.

Another benefit of lateral breathing is that the movement mobilises the rib cage. All the little joints within the rib cage are designed to move, so deep thoracic breathing gets the rib cage to its full potential and a rib cage that is stiff could impede breathing.

Some good visuals to use when cueing deep lateral breathing in a Pilates class are as follows:

  • Imagine your lungs are an accordion. As you inhale imagine the accordion expanding laterally. As you exhale imagine the accordion getting smaller as the air is blown out.


  • Imagine your rib cage is a fan. As you inhale the fan will slowly open and as you exhale the fan will close.


  • As well as the resistance band technique explained earlier, ask participants to place their hands on their lower ribs at the front with fingertips touching. As they breathe in laterally, the fingertips will come apart and as they breathe out the fingertips will re-touch.


You can learn more about breathing techniques when you start your Pilates journey with us

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