Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
We don’t even have to think about it. In fact, most of us don’t ever think about breathing until we can’t breathe. Then, it becomes a priority.
This topic came to mind yesterday as I completed the qualification shoot allowing me to stay employed with our local police department. All that shooting I heard a couple weeks ago indicated that my qualification was coming up, but I was not worried because I think I train enough to maintain my level of proficiency.
So, when I rolled up to the range Wednesday morning and offered to lend a hand setting up the targets and cover barriers, I wasn’t even thinking about breathing. Then, we started shooting the timed events. After each of the longer strings of fire, I noticed that I was breathing a bit heavier than I expected. That is when I noticed I was holding my breath while shooting. What a rookie mistake.
Breathing is important. I know this. I have trained people to do this. Yet, when the shot timer sounded and I moved to cover, issued a verbal warning and started shooting, I stopped breathing. It became most noticeable during the string of fire that required me to shoot eight rounds from behind cover. I was required to fire two rounds kneeling and two while standing from each side of a barrier. I remember making a mental checklist: firm grip, focus on the front sight, smooth trigger press, re-establish the sight picture, smooth trigger press, move, repeat.
With all of that thinking, I had forgotten to breathe. That is a big mistake.
Of course, you will not end up holding your breath until you pass out, but failure to breathe leads to premature muscle fatigue. This can be really important during a fight. Think about this: The intensity of the situation causes your heart rate to increase. At the same time, you are taking in less air and are starving your muscles of oxygen. You can expect your hands to shake. You can expect to have a more difficult time holding the sights on target. You might even end up having an even more difficult time manipulating the firearm or the magazine.
You’ve got to remember to breathe.
As soon as I noticed that I was holding my breath, I heard inside my head the voice of an instructor I had at the police academy. He was saying, “You can calm yourself through autogenic breathing. Exhale in a long breath as you count to four. Then, inhale in a long, deep breath as you count to four. You will feel your heart rate slow down. You will notice a physical change.”
He was right way back then, and the rules still apply. Breathe. I know there is a lot to think about when trying to shoot straight under pressure, and we often believe our breathing is automatic. But trust me, if you don’t actively think about controlling your breathing when shooting, you will end up holding your breath and then gasping for air. It is a sequence that could take your sights off the target when you need to be the most accurate you can be.
You’ve got this. Just remember to breathe.