A Little Change for ‘The 100’ With Big Results! – by Bob Hannum

As a Pilates instructor for 40 years, specializing in the mat routine, I’ve taught the 100 to many people of all ages and fitness levels. I’ve noticed that more students complain about the 100 than any other mat exercise, and I’m not the only one who notices this. It’s such a problem that at least one instructor has suggested that we stop teaching it!

Here’s a simple solution with surprising results!

Change the breathing pattern.

Instead of the classic 5 arm pumps for an inhale and 5 for an exhale, try 4 pumps on the inhale and 6 pumps on the exhale. It’s a small and easy modification with remarkable results.

Joseph Pilates Demonstrating ‘The 100’


The 100 is one of Joseph Pilates’ original 34 exercises, and in my opinion, a perfect warm up which was his original intent. Indeed, this is one of the reasons I consider Joe Pilates the Einstein of fitness, because it turns out that our lymph system is boosted by the movement of our arms. (Interestingly, a major insurance company once did a study to determine which profession has the greatest longevity, and they discovered it was musical conductors. Many believe their longevity is linked to more arm movement!)  Pilates instructors have always taught the 5:5 inhale:exhale pattern, just as Joe taught and demonstrated in his 1945 book, Return to Life Through Contrology.

Since Joe’s death, research has shown that our breathing patterns, whether resting or during exercise, are never an equal ratio such as the 5:5 that we teach.

Two years ago, I began experimenting with different breathing patterns in my personal practice. I settled upon 4:6 because a longer exhale felt more comfortable, and because experts suggest that most breathing discomfort arises from too short an exhale. Though there is research that also suggests that during certain vigorous physical activity, a longer inhale with a shorter, more forceful exhale may be best.


Exploring a 4:6 pattern resulted in several changes, some quite surprising. I noticed that I could breathe more deeply and my breathing was no longer uncomfortable. But something else occurred that remains mysterious. I experienced other changes that were seemingly unrelated such as an end to subtle but persistent tension in my neck and shoulders. I never paid much attention to this tension, but when it was suddenly not there anymore, it was like a persistent noise that abruptly ended – the silence was deafening!

I have no training in physiology, so I have no idea how a change in breathing affects the neck and shoulders, and hope a reader will enlighten me. But I’m not surprised by this, since Pilates has taught me the amazing interconnection of everything in the body. What’s clear is a dramatic reduction of complaints about the 100 in my classes. That’s not to say the 100 is complaint-free, but it no longer holds the top spot among most of my students as the Pilates exercise they dislike the most! In other words, this small change in the way I teach the 100 works wonders!

To those ‘classical’ Pilates instructors who seek to preserve it just the way Joe and Clara taught, I appreciate what you’re doing. After all, my teacher and mentor is the Pilates Elder Mary Bowen, and I have made a special point of getting back to basics by teaching the way Joseph Pilates originally taught. Any change, especially to one of the original 34 mat exercises, had better be for a very good reason! This is one such change – small but significant and based upon research. Let’s not close our minds to such changes.

Most importantly, I would like to suggest that all of our Pilates schools and instructors adopt this change. Simply stated, the human breathing pattern is never 5:5 – whether resting or exercising – so we should not teach it that way.

Many instructors have already adopted this new breathing pattern. Several reported that they dropped the 5:5 pattern long ago and simply encourage students to breathe as their bodies dictate. Indeed, one of my students reported that a 3:7 pattern worked better for her. One thing is clear, those who drop the 5:5 pattern have a better experience with the 100.

I would also like to credit Joan Breibart, founder and director of one of the premier Pilates schools, the PhysicalMind Institute, for being the first to institute this change across her teacher training curriculum. I hope the rest of our schools follow her lead.


teaser1Robert Hannum, M. Ed., is an advanced certified teacher of Pilates mat exercise. He has taught people of all ages and fitness levels including people with physical and psychiatric challenges. He lives with his wife and cat in Northeast Harbor, ME. Visit his website at http://www.PilatesLessons.org for free online lessons. For daily Pilates tips and news go to his popular Facebook Page at PilatesBuzz. He welcomes comments here or by contacting him directly at Bob@PilatesLessons.org.