Using Percussive Breathing Techniques To Reduce Neck and Back Pain

by | Apr 3, 2013 | Breathing | 1 comment

Learn How To Breathe Deeply & Easily for Better Posture and Better Health

drumThere are many different strategies for better breathing.  Good breathing habits can significantly reduce neck and back pain and improve body alignment and posture.

Percussive breathing is one of my favorite breathing techniques to expand the lungs, mobilize the ribs, and train healthy breathing habits.

In recent articles, I’ve shared tips and techniques to improve your Pilates-style healthy breathing habits, if you’ve been practicing good back-rib breathing for the last few weeks, hopefully you are starting to notice a positive change in your habits.

How often during the day do you think about your breath and tweak your technique?

The more often you practice better breathing habits the easier it is to re-train your body for better health.  Lasting changes will take time and practice, but pretty soon, it will start to come more naturally and you will find that you don’t have to consciously think so much about breathing to breathe better.  Stick with it to maximize your benefits and improve your health!

Today, I want to share a valuable breathing technique to strengthen your diaphragm and increase your lung capacity for deeper breathing to move more air in and out of your system.

Percussive breathing techniques can increase the expansion of the ribcage and the amount of air exchanged through the lungs. The deeper you breathe, the more oxygen you bring into your system.  The more the ribs separate on your inhalation, the more your upper back lengthens which naturally decompresses the spine and improves posture!

Good breathing habits create a chain-reaction for better health!

The development and use of percussive breathing with Pilates is credited to Ron Fletcher. Practicing percussive breathing with exercise is a marvelous way strengthen the body for a deeper, more functional breath.  Normally, the only time we take deep breaths is during vigorous cardiovascular activities, like running…  If you aren’t super-active, or training your lungs and aerobic system with vigorous heart-pumping, heavy-breathing activities, practicing percussive breathing just sitting still or with moderate exercise can be a great way to expand your lungs without over-exerting or over-taxing your cardiovascular system.

Basic Percussive Breathing – Training Cycle

1. Single Breath: Inhale – Exhale

2. Double Breath: Inhale-Inhale-Exhale ( ½ then full)

3. Triple Breath: Inhale-Inhale-Inhale-Exhale (thirds- 1/3, 2/3, full)

4. Triple Breath: Inhale-Inhale-Inhale-Exhale (thirds- 1/3, 2/3, full)

5.  Double Breath: Inhale-Inhale-Exhale ( ½ then full)

6.  Single Breath: Inhale – Exhale

Single-Double-Triple-Triple-Double-Single is 1 “cycle.”  Repeat 3-5 times for 3-5 full cycles of percussive breathing.

You can carry this process out to 8 short inhales, followed by 8 short exhales or one long 8 count exhale.  Work up to 8, then reverse and work back down to a single inhale and exhale.

Pay attention to how it feels to take your first single breath on your first cycle. 

  • How easy is it to transfer air in and out of your body?
  • How much air do you feel like you can take in?
  • Is it easier to breathe at the end of your first cycle.
  • How does it feel after you’ve done 3-5 cycles?

By working through the sequence, (1,2,3,3,2,1) or (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,8,7,6,5,4,3.2,1) you should notice by the time you get back to one that it is easier to breathe and you can easily take in quite a bit more air.

If you were practicing your percussive breathing with Ron Fletcher, you’d find yourself percussively inhaling for 12 short inhales!

If you have the lung capacity to easily get to 12, can you do 15? Or 20?

Training Options:

  1. For the percussive breathing exercise above, I focused the percussion on the inhale with a long forced exhale.  Another option is to be percussive on BOTH the inhale and exhale.  Example for a Triple Breath: inhale, inhale, inhale, exhale, exhale, exhale.
  2. You can practice these percussive breathing exercises with a scarf wrapped around your ribs so you can “feel” the air filling up your back-ribs as you percussively breathe.  Or, you can simply do each of these breathing patterns 3-8 (or more) times in a standing or seated position.  (For more info on scarf breathing click here to read Two Simple Breathing Exercises: Improve Posture and Be Well)
  3. You can also play with your percussive breathing patterns for variety and challenge.  (The challenge might be for both your brain AND your body!)
  • Just do a cycle of 10 double breaths (inhale, inhale, exhale, exhale)
  • Alternate, single / double, or single / triple…
  • Do 4 single, 4 double, 4 triple…
  • Be creative and play with the rhythm of your percussive breathing!


When to Practice Percussive Breathing

Start practicing your percussive breathing techniques when you are standing still or seated.  Then see where in daily life and your current exercise program percussive breathing might help you move better.

Personally, I like to practice when I walk and run.  I find it very helpful for regulating my breathing pattern to swim freestyle and alternate the side I’m breathing on (inhale to stroke right, left, right – exhale, inhale left, right, left – exhale.) I also fid it useful during Pilates, Yoga, weight lifting and sometimes even use it all by itself as a form of meditation and relaxation.

If you’re sitting at your desk, driving in the car, standing in line at the grocery store, or just chilling out watching TV.  You can sneak in a few cycles of percussive breathing to clear your head, lengthen your spine, strengthen your lungs, reduce stress, and help you breathe better and feel better.

Click to read the other articles in this breathing series:
Better Breathing Habits to Improve Posture and Reduce Pain
Two Simple Breathing Exercises: Improve Posture and Be Well
A Simple Exercise To  Develop Better Breathing Habits with Exercise


Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.

1 Comment

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