How to Breathe when Shooting for Optimal Accuracy
Breathing is an involuntary action. We all do it, all the time, without giving it a second thought. When it comes to shooting, though, that involuntary action requires voluntary thought in order to optimize it for your shooting performance.
At first, it might seem like this is just one more thing you have to practice. You’ve got to have the proper stance, proper grip, proper sight picture … and now proper breathing, too!?
Don’t worry; of all the things you can learn about shooting, this is one of the easiest and most beneficial. Here’s what we’ll cover, so feel free to skip around if you want.
Table of Contents
Why Pay Attention to Your Breathing?
Breathing doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? Most of the time, it isn’t. You probably notice it most when you’re physically active. You can feel your breath changing and see your chest rising and falling in a more dramatic fashion than when you’re calm. When you’re in a relaxed state, your breaths have very little impact on your body’s overall motion.
Notice that we said, “very little impact” and not “no impact” on your body’s overall motion. That’s because even if it’s so slight that you don’t notice, it’s still happening – and it’s still enough to impact your shooting performance.
You probably already know that the minute adjustments in the placement of your finger on the trigger can cause shots to pull left or right, or track up or down. The same goes for your breathing. Those slight breath-related movements can be just enough to move the gun off target.
You may now be saying, “well, I can’t stop breathing!” That’s very true, and you don’t have to! There are plenty of ways to control your breathing to help you make the best shots possible. Let’s go over a few of them now.
Breathing Techniques for Better Accuracy
How about some alliteration: Better Breathing Begets Better Ballistic Bullseyes.
You might not be convinced that your breathing really has that much of an impact on your shooting performance. If you’re not a believer just yet, that’s fine. We’re still going to try and convert you, though. To do so, we’ve outlined three shooting tips that you should try out.
Practice each one below and see if you notice a difference. (Spoiler alert: you will.)
Tip 1: Shoot During the Respiratory Pause
That small window of time between an exhale and an inhale actually has a name. It’s called the “respiratory pause” and it’s an involuntary part of breathing. Your body takes a very quick break to rest before restarting the breathing process.
Since your body is without breathing-influenced movement during the respiratory pause, this is a great time to take your shot. You don’t have to modify the way you’re breathing to do this. Instead, you just have to be aware of how you’re breathing.
To shoot during the respiratory pause, start by taking a few slow, deep breaths. Pay attention to your breathing cycle and make note of the brief pause between your inhale and exhale motions. Once you’ve identified the rhythm of this brief window, try to squeeze the trigger during your respiratory pause.
Tip 2: Shoot During a Half-Hold Breath
It might seem a little odd to shoot during the respiratory pause mentioned above. Some people find that it feels funny to actively stop in between breaths, especially when that stop occurs when your lungs are empty from exhaling. If that sounds like you, too, don’t worry about it. Instead, try shooting during a breath that you hold halfway.
To do this, take a few slow, deep breaths. Then when you’re ready, exhale about half of the breath, hold it, and then take your shot. Once you’ve followed through on the shot, finish your exhale and continue breathing normally.
Tip 3: Breathe With Your Stomach
No, that’s not a typo; yes, we know you breathe with your lungs, but how you breathe can change. You can breathe with your chest or your stomach. Breathing with your chest causes your rib cage to expand. Because of its natural placement in relation to your shoulders and arms, the movement of your rib cage during a chest breath can also cause your shoulders and arms to move, thereby impacting your shot.
To combat this, breathe with your stomach. Instead of allowing your diaphragm to move with your chest, move your diaphragm toward your stomach. This redirects your breathing motion away from your chest and shoulders.
It’s perfectly normal if this doesn’t come naturally to you. Just practice breathing and being aware of where your body is reacting to your breaths. If your rib cage is moving a lot, then make a conscious effort to move your diaphragm down toward your stomach. It sounds weirder and more difficult than it actually is. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll notice that your breathing is impacting your upper body much less when you breathe with your stomach instead of your chest.
Breathing while Shooting a Pistol, Rifle, or Shotgun – Is There a Difference?
There are a lot of differences between shooting a pistol, rifle, or a shotgun. You need to be mindful of different grips, stances, etc. On top of all that, do you need to breathe differently with each new kind of firearm? Thankfully, no. You do not have to breathe differently depending on whether you’re shooting a pistol, rifle, or shotgun.
Some things, such as sight alignment and trigger squeeze, carry over from one type of gun to another. The same goes for breathing methods. No matter what kind of gun you’re shooting, you should always try to breathe the same way. This keeps you consistent, and consistency is one of the keys to great shooting.
How to Practice Breathing at Your Next Range Session
Practice makes perfect in every aspect of shooting. You practice your draw, your sight alignment, your grip, your stance, etc. As a result, adding breathing practice to your range sessions should be easy to do. Plus, you can also incorporate it into your dry fire practice sessions.
Try each one of the shooting breathing tips mentioned above. In addition to making a note about which one feels more natural to you, it’s also a good idea to take a physical note about which one performs better for you.
To do this, use a new target for each breathing technique. You might see results on paper that indicate you’re getting a better shot placement with Tip #1 despite having Tip #2 feel more natural. Then it will be up to you to decide if you want to get more comfortable with a method that’s already providing better shots, or take what feels better and practice it until your shots improve.
Give it a Try
The methods and tips mentioned above are not an exhaustive list. Ask ten shooters about their breathing regimen and you’ll probably get ten different answers. That’s perfectly OK because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which method you go with. They’re all proven to work, just in different ways for different people. Find what works best for you and stick with it. If you do, you’re guaranteed to see an improvement in your shooting performance. What have you got to lose, except for some bad shots?
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