Breath Challenge: Why Your Breath Needs Training

By Jill Miller

Editor’s note: Jill Miller, celebrity fitness and self-care expert and author of the best-selling book “The Roll Model” (Victory Belt Publishing, 2014), explains why it’s crucial to train the breath. It’s one aspect of our workout that we “set and forget” with one learned pattern, such as exhaling with the effort and inhaling with the return or recovery portion of an exercise. Match her breath challenges below to the appropriate part of your workout to gauge and even improve your performance.

Your breath gives you a view into your biological operating system. It’s the moment-by-moment snapshot of how your body is responding to your metabolic needs. It is a reflection pool that shows you the transient faces of stress, calm and all the emotional stages in between.

Your breath is also a tool that you can update—change—to consciously alter your way of being. Different methods of breathing can concretely influence your immediate present and future. By improving your body’s capacity to take in oxygen and tolerate the waste product of carbon dioxide in your system, you can change your mood, your concentration, your muscular force production and dozens of other factors.

The muscles of respiration suffer from overuse and underuse like any other muscle of the body. And when they are dysfunctional, other muscles are recruited into patterns that can create pain and stress that follow you from sleep into your daily habits and into the workout room.

It’s important to intervene with breath training so you can optimize both the musculoskeletal actions of the respiratory muscles and help the underlying physiology and nervous system. Nose breathing is one of the fastest ways to recognize how efficient or inefficient you are at tolerating the waste products of respiration. All the exercises below create that challenge, as they are designed to be performed while breathing through your nose.

Equipment: One Coregeous Ball


Integrate these breath techniques into any warm-up to optimize the workout to follow.

1. Breath Baseline

Tune into your own internal breath pattern in a relaxed state of quiet breathing as you lie on your back with your eyes closed. Notice your breath moving in and out without trying to control it. Concentrate on the influx and outflow of air through your nostrils, and sense what body parts respond to the movement of air—your abdomen, your chest or other parts.

2. Breath Baseline in Standing

Perform Breath Baseline, standing with your eyes open. Notice where you sense your breath in your body.

3. Functional Fill

Place the Coregeous Ball against your waist and drape your torso over it. Practice Abdominal Thoracic Breath with a pause to tighten your breath “canister” for a three-dimensional sense of your breath.

Sit up and place the ball against your ribs, drape your body over the ball and place your upper hand against your ribs to sense your entire breath “canister.”

4. Functional Fill in Standing With Diaphragm Vacuum

Stand tall, lock your thumbs in front of you and lift your arms overhead. Perform Standing Diaphragm Vacuum.


Create power and awareness in your strength practice through these empowered breath techniques.

5. Bulgarian Split Squat

Place your back foot on a stool and inhale as you lower into a lunge, then exhale as you squeeze your glutes to stand. Try to brace your core and perform Functional Fill breathing without allowing your spine to move.

Repeat eight times on each side. For an added challenge, reverse the breath pattern. Then add weights.

6. Knees-Off-Ground Crawl

Start on your hands and knees, with your toes curled under. Keeping your back flat, lift your hips so that your knees hover off the ground. Then crawl like a jaguar, bringing your knee forward to your hand or hand back to your knee (reverse), keeping your back flat and trying not to rotate or list to one side or the other. Practice Functional Fill breathing throughout the movement, without allowing your spine to move.

Add weight plates to your pelvis and rib cage, if you’d like.


Experience these breath techniques to help you embody your yoga practice fully.

7. Facedown Twisted Triangle

Begin seated on the floor in a 90-90 position, and extend your legs as you lower your torso away from your back leg, threading your top arm under your bottom shoulder. Inhale into Functional Fill, exhale and increase the rotation.

8. Basic Bridge Pose

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted. Isometrically pull your heels toward your bottom and lift your hips to the ceiling while you inhale into your ribs. Resist movement in your lumbar region and abdomen.


Breathe life into your next cardio session with breath techniques that will invigorate your every move.

9. Jump Squat With Full-Range Shoulders

Exhale through your nose as you lower yourself into a squat with your arms extended behind you. Then inhale through your nose as you swing your arms forward and jump straight up. Repeat until you have to breathe through your mouth.

Perform the same movement, but inhale as you squat and exhale as you jump. Continue until you have to breathe through your mouth.

10. Inner Heart-Rate Monitor

Tap into the homeostatic interplay between breath and heart rate by performing this challenge to downregulate your system. Stand and perform Functional Fill breathing (Movement 4).

Place two fingers lightly on your carotid artery in your neck and inhale for six heartbeats and exhale for eight beats. After several breaths, move your fingers to the pulse in your wrist and repeat. Finally, place your fingertips together and breathe, sensing your pulse as it continues to slow with your breath.

11. Running on Your Own Gas Tank

Step outside and sprint as fast and as far as you can, breathing through your nose. Take four steps as you inhale and four steps as you exhale. Continue until you have to breathe through your mouth.

Hero video: Jovo Jovanovic, Stocksy
Hero photo credit: jacoblund, Thinkstock
Video credit: Todd Cribari,
Hair and make-up: Chanel


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Jill Miller

Jill Miller is a pioneer in forging relevant links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, athletics, massage and pain-management, having studied movement and the human body for more than 30 years. She is the author of the best-selling book "The Roll Model" and creator of the fitness formats Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® Method. She has presented case studies at the Fascia Research Congress, International Association of Yoga Therapists, and is a regular presenter at fitness conferences worldwide. Known as the Teacher’s Teacher, Jill has been featured in Shape, Men’s Journal, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Yoga Journal, Self, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. She's trained thousands of movement educators, clinicians and manual therapists to incorporate her paradigm shifting self-care fitness programming into athletic and medical facility programs internationally.