Proper breathing techniques keep you in control when shooting a gun. Don’t let excitement be the cause of poor marksmanship the next time you join a “Run N’ Gun” competition.
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Breathing Techniques | How to Get a Better Shot
Breathing Affects Aiming
Despite being in the best physical position, your aim may not be at its best. Have you checked your breathing? Sometimes, your breathing is getting in the way of aiming at your target in more ways than one. Fast breathing can make the arms and hands feel anxious and improper breathing can also affect your mindset. Check out these tips on proper breathing techniques to ensure you get the best possible shot every time.
Breathing is one of the seven fundamentals of marksmanship. You’re doing it anyway, so use it to your advantage! Holding your breath in a moment of tension, as well as excited, rapid breathing that causes a pronounced motion in the chest, are both detrimental to good shooting. At Stage 2 of my run n’ gun, I was doing the latter.
Many new shooters I see aren’t even aware they’re holding their breath as they press the trigger. This nearly always contributes to “flinching,” sending the bullet to a lower-than-desired point of impact.
Failing to breathe properly directly affects shooting in a couple of ways. An early reaction is the surface of your eyes tends to go dry, making targets appear unclear and possibly causing even more anxiety.
Then there’s the response of your sympathetic nervous system, making your heart beat faster and shunting blood, and therefore function away from fingertips. Pressing the trigger, reloading, and clearing malfunctions feel like you’re doing them with mittens on when breath has been allowed to run wild along with excitement or anxiety—as it will if you don’t control it.
The good news is, you can control your breath and get the ball back in your court. The methods described here are for short and mid-range shooting. Long range and precision shooting should also employ respiratory pause, a concept I’ll cover if someone requests it in the comments.
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Breathing Techniques to Try
1. Relax Your Jaw
For close-range pistol and rifle shooting, timing your breath with the shot isn’t as important as simply remembering to breathe! An insider tip: I often “trick” tense pistol shooters into breathing by saying “relax your jaw.” This usually begins at least one natural breath cycle. It’s really hard to flinch if you’re not holding your breath!
But what if I’m nervous and/or have just done some physical exertion that ramped up my heart rate? Gun Carrier Editor Joshua Gillem recently wrote a great piece on the advantages of adding physical training (PT) to your range time. A little deliberately added stress is like an inoculation against real stress if you train to manage it. And hey, it’s free exercise.
Regardless of why your heart rate’s up, you can bring it down into a range that’ll allow you to function at your best. There are two techniques to do this and both works. Pick the one that you like the best.
2. Belly Breathing | Breath Control Technique 1
Take a breath through your nose as slowly as your body will allow. Breathe in so you can feel your belly press against your belt. It may help to put your hand on your belly at first as a reminder. Some folks get so nervous about shooting they literally can’t feel their body parts. Just a few breaths done this way will lower your heart rate and clear your head.
3. Tactical Breathing | Breath Control Technique 2
Tactical breathing. This is a more formal technique often taught to police officers and military operators. Inhale through your nose to a methodical four-count: One—two—three—four. Hold that breath for the same four-count. Release it slowly through the mouth, one—two—three—four. Then rest on empty lungs to the count of four. Repeat.
There’s a free app called Tactical Breather to help with Technique 2 if you like that sort of aid. It’s simple to use and has the option of a male or female voice.
Personally, I use Technique 1. Folks who like more guidance or structure may find Technique 2 preferable.
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Advantages of Breath Control
A little cardio excitement is actually better than being completely calm in terms of performance if harnessed correctly. Elite athletes receive training and practice putting themselves in “the zone” where their heart rate is slightly elevated, yet kept from going sky-high via breath control.
Along with that physiological state comes a combination of sensory advantages that everyone perceives a bit differently. These are improved vision, better agility, a keener sense of awareness, and a shorter time experienced between action and reaction when the athlete is “in the zone.”
Allow the excitement to go to your head, and soon the heart is thumping in your eardrums, breaths are short and labored, and attention that was once on the environment begins to be focused on the fact that you feel like you’re drowning or may be paralyzed. Hunters who’ve experienced buck fever often have regret-filled memories of that feeling.
Rated Red shows us a video on 3 breathing techniques for more accurate shooting:
Breath control is necessary for good marksmanship and critical for navigating tense moments in hunting, competition, or self-defense. But its value doesn’t end when the gun goes back into storage. Breath control is your friend for that dreaded meeting with the boss, driving to meet your teen who’s just called to say they had a fender bender or any of life’s anxiety-ridden moments. Practice breath control when things are just a little stressful, and it’ll be there for you when stakes are high.
Do you have more shooting breathing techniques you want to share? Please let us know in the comments section below!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 10, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.