Breathing Techniques for Personal Training

woman resting in grass

There are many breathing techniques to utilize when exercising aside from inhaling concentrically and exhaling eccentrically. It can also prove beneficial to work on breathing techniques when not exercising any other muscles, so to train the system without as much distraction.

Before teaching a breathing technique to a client, explore and assess breathing.

Then, choose the goal of coaching breathing.

Do you want to:

  • Promote relaxation?
  • Increase energy and oxygen consumption?
  • Stretch rib cage muscles?
  • Enhance body awareness or mind-body connection?
  • Strengthen inhalation muscles?
  • Strengthen exhalation muscles?

Perhaps your client needs a little bit of everything?

Relaxation Breathing

If you have a client coming in to see you after a hectic day it can be beneficial to start by calming the nervous system. Reserving 1-2 minutes to allow your client to re-center their focus will help them transition into workout mode, connect to the body, and reduce stress load before placing demands on the body.

During this “warm-up” the client and you can identify what intensity of exercise will be most beneficial for that given day.

Have the client close her eyes, place her hands on her ribs or abdomen and notice her natural breath.

  • Guide her to deeper breaths that fill the entire torso.
  • Guide her to breathe in for 4 counts and out for 4 counts.
  • Experiment with longer inhales and/or exhales to find a sweet spot.
  • Deeper inhales might stretch the rib cage depending on flexibility.

Ask her how it feels to do this activity. Sometimes focused breathing can stress someone out, other times it’s very beneficial. If it was helpful and enjoyable, offer to do more breathing before the workout begins or to do it again after the session.

Leave a few minutes at the end of the session to repeat this activity. Some clients might benefit from relaxation breathing before and after the session and others might need it at just the start or finish. This could change from one workout to the next.

Guided Visualization Breathing

Oftentimes fitness clients hire a personal trainer for the positive energy that is transmitted. You can talk your client through visualizations or affirmations while he breathes to elevate energy. Guided imagery is a powerful performance tool.

Ask the client to choose a positive word or emotion he wants to bring into his body like strength, health, joy, etc. Part of increasing positivity is letting go of stagnant energy. Ask your client to choose a word or emotion to let go of like anger, tension, etc.

If he’s unsure you can pick one for him to experiment with the first time. The client can be seated or lying down with eyes open or closed.

Try some of these phrases:

  1. Inhale fresh clean oxygen and exhale all your stress
  2. Inhale and rejuvenated and exhale stagnant energy
  3. Inhale <positive word> and exhale <word to let go of>
  4. Inhale and feel energized and exhale while visualizing stress melting down into the floor

Beyond these two methods, there are many techniques to be discovered in both Pilates and Yoga practices. Expanding your knowledge about breathing methods literally expands your toolbox as a trainer (and your client’s lungs!).

Breathing training is a valuable component to multidimensional fitness – especially in the zones of physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. Maximizing a clients potential to breath benefits their entire being, vitalizing and rejuvenating both the mind and body.


Beverly Hosford, MA teaches anatomy and body awareness using a skeleton named Andy, balloons, play-doh, ribbons, guided visualizations, and corrective exercises. She is an instructor, author, and a business coach for fitness professionals. Learn how to help your clients sleep better with in Bev's NFPT Sleep Coach Program and dive deeper into anatomy in her NFPT Fundamentals of Anatomy Course.