When it comes to honing your firearm-shooting skills, you’ll often hear experts talk about proper grip, stance, sight alignment, as well as hold and trigger control. However, an important yet overlooked part of a shooter’s skill is mastering one’s breathing control. While this may sound insignificant, the fact is your breathing pattern can make a huge difference between an accurate shot versus missing the target, especially at intermediate and distance range. Excellent marksmanship depends on the shooter’s ability to remain as steady as possible when taking a shot, and to do that, proper breathing techniques play a big role.
How Breathing Affects Shooting Accuracy
You may be wondering how breathing can affect accuracy when shooting a firearm. Well, taking breaths can indeed compromise accuracy since thinats causes body movements. When you inhale, your diaphragm tightens and moves downward causing the chest cavity to expand outward and rise along with your shoulders. Upon exhaling, the diaphragm relaxes and pushes up to force air out of the lungs, thus causing your chest area and shoulders to fall slightly.
If you’re lying down face first when using long range rifle, each breath taken raises the body off the ground a little bit. In the same way, a shooter holding a pistol while standing or sitting will experience some lateral horizontal and front-to-back variance movement caused by the diaphragm during various breathing cycles. All of these breathing reflexes are transferred to the rifle, which then disrupts your sight alignment.
The motion generated as the lungs expand and contract between breaths during a shot could easily throw your aim off. Since the pointing direction of a barrel largely determines shot placement as indicated by aligned sights upon pressing the trigger, it’s vital to minimize or cancel any movement that compromises your natural aim of point. So, how do you achieve this goal through breathing control? The answer lies in taking a natural respiratory pause.
What is the Natural Respiratory Pause?
The natural respiratory pause (NRP) is the brief moment when breathing ceases in between inhalation and exhalation. This pause typically lasts between two to five seconds for a healthy person with no respiratory health conditions. By training the body to stop breathing slightly longer during the natural pause, you can eliminate breathing motions that could otherwise distort your line of sight. In other words, your chances of hitting a target are much better when the body is motionless.
However, there’s more to this technique than simply holding your breathe in a bid to eliminate breathing movements or keep them at a minimum. In order to make the most of that short natural respiratory pause, here are a few tips you will find helpful:
- Always clear your thoughts, focus on the target, and take a few deep breaths before taking a shot. Remember that more breathing equals more oxygen in your blood, and this could very well prolong your respiratory pause.
- As you approach taking the shot, exhale slowly then pause, settle into the final aiming point, and then apply trigger pressure at the end of that breath. In order to master this technique, you can picture your breath like a weight that’s being lowered gradually on the trigger. The lower it gets, the more pressure to apply on the trigger using your finger. Once you exhale, that’s where you stop breathing and finish the squeeze.
Although this means you could also choose to fire shots when your lungs are full of air, most people find it easier to control movements by following a respiratory pause after exhaling. This is due to the fact that your lungs and diaphragm are in a relaxed state after exhaling.
Some people may have difficulty when trying to expand their natural respiratory pause. In such cases, one may find the decreased breathing control technique to be a better alternative. With this approach, you would decrease the breathing rate slowly to a pause, achieve your final aiming point, then apply continual pressure on the trigger until the shot breaks. In this case, shallow breathing allows you to maintain a better sight picture because movement is minimized.
How Long Should a Natural Respiratory Pause Last?
To continue shooting accurately, especially when firing multiple rounds, one must be able to resume breathing normally even after taking a brief respiratory pause. So, if you find yourself struggling to catch your breath after shooting, then you’re holding your respiratory pause for too long. This is a common mistake that novice shooters make.
If a breath is held longer than it’s comfortable for you to do so, this triggers a chain of physiological effects.
- Your mind starts to think about the breath being held and this distracts you from focusing on the important tasks at hand such as aiming and keeping an eye on the sights.
- Lack of oxygen starts to build up at the cell level, signaling your body to inhale. Without enough oxygen, your vision starts to deteriorate which further compromises the ability to focus on the target.
- As soon as you begin to breathe, the body’s shifts its focus to drawing in as much air as possible into the lungs while quickly expelling all that pent up CO2 into the blood. In the process, involuntary diaphragm movements occur to interfere with your line of sight and level of concentration.
As mentioned earlier, a natural respiratory pause for any healthy individual naturally lasts a maximum of 5 seconds before your brain signals “it’s time to breathe”. However, this pause can be extended to 15 seconds with practice. Aspects such as one’s physical condition, lung capacity, medical limitations, physiological factors, and situational scenario all affect the duration of the NRP.
That said though, this brief pause or holding of the breath should not cause undue strain. Instead, it should last for as long as you feel comfortable. Therefore, how long a natural respiratory pause spans is a very personal factor that should not be dictated by anyone but you. Most expert shooters recommend a pause of 10 to 15 seconds as being ample time to take a good shot.
Many shooters fail to realize that when their accuracy is wanting, they very well could be failing at controlling their breathing. Hence, it’s important to point out the importance of regular breathing while taking shots with a firearm. Keeping your breathing steady and regular after every shot will go a long way in maintaining sharp focus.
In conclusion, breathing control is a fundamental aspect of improving marksmanship. All breath control does is pause your respiration briefly while delivering a shot, thus enabling you to reduce movements that spoils aim.
Remember also that over holding your breath for too long until you’re blue in the face doesn’t help either. It only starves your brain from the much needed oxygen that enhances your vision, reflexes, reaction time, muscle control, and ultimately accuracy. Training yourself to become accustomed to holding your breath for ten to fifteen seconds will help you resume breathing after the brief natural respiratory pause.
Lastly, remember to breathe naturally and rehearse this technique regularly when spot shooting because practice makes perfect.
You can check this video to get additional info about breath control when shooting.