• Leona Mirtschin

5 Best Exercises for Lung Health - Level 2

Breathing well has powerful effects on the body, and as one of my clients put it this week most people underestimate the value and the importance of breathing well. This I can understand as it is not until you experience first hand the powerful benefits of breathing fully and deeply that you realise what breathing can do to boost your health and wellbeing.


Joseph Pilates recognised a long time ago the importance of breathing well.


“Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it…Above all, learn how to breathe correctly.” 

—Joseph Pilates


Incorporating Pilates breathing exercises into your weekly routine not only improves the health and function of your respiratory system but has huge benefits for your mind and body.


  • More efficient and greater oxygenation of the blood means more oxygen-rich blood is transported to each and every cell in your body

  • Hand-in-hand with better oxygenation, the lungs are better equipped at the removal of toxins from the body such as carbon dioxide

  • Improved circulation revitalises the health of your cells and organs especially your skin - more oxygen and removal of cellular waste and less inflammation

  • Deep slow breaths stimulate the vagus nerve, switching off the stress response and mitigating anxiety, providing calm for the mind and body

  • Refreshes your mind and provides you with better focus and energy

  • Enhances the brain-muscle connection, called neuromuscular control, which is so important in the rehabilitation of weak and dysfunctional muscles

  • Decreases tension in your body which helps to lower pain levels

  • In Pilates, the breath is used both to inspire movement and also to anchor movement or provide stability at a joint


If you missed my recent posts on What Everybody Ought to Know About Breathing (Part 1) and (Part 2). You can read more about your lung function and Pilates breathing in (Part 1) and the Best Exercises for Lung Health: Level 1 in (Part 2)


A number of specific things can fast track the health of your respiratory system to get your lungs working more efficiently - improving the gas exchange of life-giving oxygen into your body while removing toxic carbon dioxide out of your body - including:


  1. Breathing exercises performed in prone lying

  2. Performing the Fletcher Pilates Percussive Breath TM Technique

  3. Slow breathing at a rate of 6-10 breaths per minute


The following Pilates Lung Health Exercise Sequence: Level 2 can be done to boost your lung health & fitness for prevention and recovery of respiratory illness or disease. If you are a beginner, then start with Lung Health Exercise Sequence: Level 1.


Exercise caution: If you have spondylolisthesis, stenosis, tight quads/hip flexors or you are experiencing low back pain, place a pillow under your pelvis to support your back and avoid extending into your lumbar spine.


Lung Health Exercise Sequence: Level 2

Perform this sequence once daily to improve your lung health and boost your lung capacity.


1. Prone Breathing using the Fletcher Pilates Percussive Breath TM Technique

  • To perform the Fletcher Pilates Percussive Breath TM Technique inhale through your nose and exhale through thin lips like you are blowing up a balloon or cooling a hot cup of coffee or tea.

  • Slow breathing is key. Aim to breathe in for 4-5 counts and breathe out for 4-5 counts.

  • Focus on the exhale breath, engaging your lower ribcage to squeeze the air out of your lower lungs, then notice how the inhale automatically flows into the back and the sides of your ribcage.

  • You can't breathe incorrectly when lying on your tummy, that's the beauty of it!


  • Centre: Rest your forehead on your hands. Perform 10 slow breaths in and out

  • Right: Turn your head to your right. Focus directing your breath into your right lung. Perform 10 slow breaths in and out. Imagine a balloon inflating and deflating inside your right ribcage.

  • Left: Turn your head to your left. Focus directing your breath into your left lung. Perform 10 slow breaths in and out. Imagine a balloon inflating and deflating inside your left ribcage.

  • Centre: Return your forehead back to centre. Direct your breath into both lungs. Perform 10 slow breaths in and out. Imagine your ribcage opening like an umbrella on the inhale and closing like an umbrella on the exhale.


Did you notice more expansion into the back and sides of your ribcage during the last set of 10 breaths?


2. Back Extension T-Arms

  • Place a rolled-up towel under your forehead.

  • Use slow, deep percussive breaths as described above.

  • Keep your pubic bone pressed into the mat and your tailbone lengthening towards your heels to avoid low back pain.

  • Keep your legs together


Inhale. Lift your arms, shoulder blades squeeze in towards your spine. Simultaneously lift the top of your breastbone. Your head will lift - eyes down. Keep your lower ribcage on the mat.

Exhale. Reach your little finger to your hips. Palms facing down, but lifted off the mat.

Lengthen the crown of your head to the wall in front of you, eyes look down.

Inhale. Reach your arms out to the T-position.

Exhale. Lower your forehead, chest and arms.


Do 10 repetitions


3. Single Leg Kick

  • In this exercise, the percussive breaths are performed as a 4-count sniff breath - two half breaths in plus two half breaths out. In. In. Out. Out. The two half breaths make one full breath.

  • Keep your pubic bone pressed into the mat and your tailbone lengthening towards your heels to avoid low back pain.

  • Keep your legs together and lengthening with your knees slightly lifted off the mat.


Inhale. Inhale. Bend your right knee and pulse your heel towards your bottom twice. Extend your leg.

Exhale. Exhale. Bend your left knee and pulse your heel towards your bottom twice. Extend your leg.


Do 10-20 repetitions alternating legs


Single Leg Kick Breathing Progression:

To build on your lung capacity, the breathing can be progressed to a 8-count sniff breath of four inhales plus four exhales as follows. This time they are quarter breaths - four quarter breaths equal one full breath.


Inhale. Inhale. Bend your right knee and pulse your heel towards your bottom twice. Extend your leg.

Inhale. Inhale. Bend your left knee and pulse your heel towards your bottom twice. Extend your leg.

Exhale. Exhale. Bend your right knee and pulse your heel towards your bottom twice. Extend your leg.

Exhale. Exhale. Bend your left knee and pulse your heel towards your bottom twice. Extend your leg.


4. Double Leg Kick


  • In this exercise, the percussive breaths are performed as a 4-count sniff breath - three third breaths out plus one long breath in. Out. Out. Out. In.

  • Keep your pubic bone pressed into the mat and your tailbone lengthening towards your heels to avoid low back pain.

  • Keep your legs together and lengthening with your knees slightly lifted off the mat.

  • Start with your head turned to your right.


Exhale. Exhale Exhale. Bend your knees and pulse your heels towards your bottom three times.

Inhale. Extend your legs. Extend your upper back. Look directly down. Reach your hands to your feet. Then lower your chest and turn your head to the opposite side.


Do 10 repetitions alternating your head position


5. Rest Position

Finish with the rest position and focus on the breath. The rest position will release any tightness that you may be experiencing in your low back and spine.


  • Slow deep percussive breathing is the key. Aim to breathe in for 4-5 counts and breathe out for 4-5 counts.

  • Rest your forehead on the mat. Direct your breath into the back of your ribcage.

  • Focus on the exhale breath, engaging your oblique abdominal muscles to squeeze your lower ribcage to push the air out of your lower lungs. Then notice how your inhale breath automatically flows deeply into the back and the sides of your ribcage.


Inhale. Exhale.

Perform 10 slow breaths in and out - 5 sec inhale and 5 sec exhale. Imagine your ribcage opening like an umbrella on the inhale and closing like an umbrella on the exhale.


  • Are your lungs inflating more than when you started?

  • Is your ribcage expanding more?

  • Are you taking longer and deeper breaths?

  • Do you feel more energised?

  • Do you feel mentally refreshed?


I hope you noticed an improvement from when you started and with regular practise you will feel the benefits of breathing deeply and fully.


Leona Mirtschin is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and a 3rd generation Pilates practitioner certified in the Pilates Method (BASI) & Licenced Fletcher Pilates Provider

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