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New Breathing for 'The 100'


April 15, 2015 by Bob Hannum

Changing 'The 100' To Reflect New Research

Let’s take a new look at one of the classic breathing patterns in the mat exercises. Why? Because new research suggests that we should! And, curiously, 'The 100' gets the most complaints, and often these complaints involve uncomfortable breathing. Here's a solution!

This article borrows from one I first wrote for 'The Method Pilates' over a year ago. And it's causing quite a stir! You can view the original article here.

We all teach ‘The 100’ and it’s one of Joe Pilates' original 34 exercises. We have always taught this exercise by pumping our arms 5 times on an inhale and 5 times on an exhale, just as Joe taught and even demonstrated in his famous 1945 book, Return to Life Through Contrology. Since his time, scientific research has revealed new information about human breathing patterns, and if we heed this research we can improve the effectiveness of this exercise.
We have taught the 5/5 pattern for decades without question. At the same time, 'The 100' has become the most controversial of all the mat exercises judging from comments on forums and social media where Pilates students and teachers alike complain about the breathing pattern. One instructor is so troubled by 'The 100' that he calls for elliminating it altogether!


Joe Pilates Demonstrating The 100
Joseph Pilates Demonstrating 'The 100'

Several research studies point to a solution. One study of marathon runners discovered that the body at rest breathes in a particular pattern – a 1:2 inhale:exhale ratio. When the body is doing long distance running, breathing changes to a 3:2 ratio. Another study indicates that ‘lateral breathing’ – the special breathing we all do naturally in Pilates when our core is strong and belly breathing is restricted – causes us to receive slightly less oxygen.

Another study found that when we inhale through the nose and mouth together rather than one or the other, there's more oxygen intake. And yet another study explored the not-yet-fully-understood action of our breathing and found that contrary to common sense shortness of breath is not caused by the lack of a full inhale but rather just the opposite, an incomplete exhale.

So how can we apply these findings to 'The 100?' First, our natural breathing patterns are never 5:5 regardless of what we do, whether it's resting or exercising. So let's change our instruction. Instead of a 5:5 breathing pattern let’s encourage one that reflects our natural breathing. Mine is 4 pumps on an inhale and 6 on an exhale. I have seen some students do 3 pumps on an inhale and 7 on their exhale. What’s yours?

MethodPilates teachers have recently stopped using the 5:5 pattern and instead teach students a more comfortable 4:6 inhale:exhale pattern. Other teachers are beginning to instruct their students to explore and discover their own natural breathing patterns within the 10 arm pumps. Some even encourage variations in the pattern as the intensity of the workout changes. These minor alterations are proving effective in the relief of breathing discomfort during 'The 100.' I hope this article encourages you to try this more natural and comfortable - and research-supported - pattern as well."

There's a rule in science that the simplest solution is often the right one. I think that's the case here - such a minor change in the way we breath in this exercise has made all the difference for me. Try it for yourself.


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