Cardio, Breathing, & Shooting

how to breathe when shooting
March 4, 2015  
Categories: Musings

Raven Concealment Systems 2

Today Jared Ross talks about a function of your endocrine system that’s altogether too often neglected. Mad Duo


Cardio, Breathing, & Shooting

by Jared Ross

Believe it or not, controlling your breathing is a very important skill that is often overlooked by new shooters. Your breathing cycle affects everything you do. During times of stress or exertion, when we are huffing and puffing, it’s hard to focus on anything let alone the fine motor skills needed for shooting. Since you can’t ask the bad guy to hold on a moment, you’ll need the control to take that shot. So we’ll quickly review the breathing cycle, then give suggestions on what you can do to improve your control.


As you breathe, the expansion and contraction of the chest and diaphragm cause movement in the rest of the body. This movement will cause movement in your firearm and a change to your sight picture. If you are getting hits in an up-and-down line on your target, it’s because of your uncontrolled breathing. This is why you should hold your breath as you shoot.

There are two natural pauses during the cycle of inhaling and exhaling. The one after we exhale is longest. This is the natural pause in respiration you should use to take the shot.

The average adult has around twelve respiratory cycles in one minute. That’s about five seconds per cycle. Only two seconds of the cycle are actually breathing, the other three seconds are pauses. Again, these pauses are natural. But you can stretch them out for around ten more seconds before your body starts to react to lack of oxygen.

Oxygen depletion will increase your heart rate and cause involuntary movement of your diaphragm. Your vision will begin to get blurry, making it difficult to concentrate on your target and sights. The key is to hold your breath just long enough for the shot, then resume your normal breathing cycle.

It is important for you to build muscle memory and skill when you begin shooting. Of course, in the real world you won’t have time to slow your breathing and wait for that natural pause. In a fight, you take the best shot you can, when you can. So, after your body has learned how to stretch out that natural pause, it’s time for the next level. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to teach Marksmanship or MMS first, so you know what right is. Then move on to Combat Marksmanship or CMMS.


As a five-year old kid, my Grandfather started teaching me to shoot. He told me to breath in, breath out halfway, hold my breath and squeeze the trigger. I’m sure a lot of you have heard similar things.

But what is halfway? How do you explain that or know what it is? What we teach is to work with your body as best as you can, instead of against it. Remember that of the two natural pauses in your breathing cycle, the one after you exhale is the longest. As you practice MMS, that natural pause makes the most sense to use. So, breathe in, breathe out all the way, pause or hold your breath in a way that’s natural for you, and take the shot.


For rapid or multiple shots, or when you are out of breath, you must break from your normal breathing cycle and make pauses. Hold your breath for an instant and take the shot. You can do this anywhere along your cycle. There really is no trick to doing this – just pause and take the shot. You already know what right is, now just shoot anytime during your breathing cycle.

There are things you can do to aid you in mastering your breath control. First, cardio, cardio, cardio. The better shape you are in, the better off you will be.


There are a lot of other tips to aid in controlling your breathing. A book that helped me which I recommend reading is ‘Let Every Breath‘ by Vladimir Vasiliev. He is the chief instructor of Systema, or Russian martial art. His book helped me understand how to control and master my breathing cycle. In it are many different ways to train your body and control your breathing – even under stress. A lot of what he teaches is not exclusive to his school, and he first exposed me to this type of breathing.

Here’s a drill I learned from the book:

Pick an exercise. I’ll use the push-up. First, just breathe in through your nose and out your mouth. Do this in a slow but natural rhythm. Then begin doing slow push-ups. It doesn’t matter how many push-ups you can do, what we are focusing on is breathing. The push-up is just a stress to the body. Your main concentration should be on your breathing – in through your nose, out your mouth. As you are doing push-ups, start a pyramid with your breathing cycle. Breathe in for a 2-count, hold your breath for a 2-count, exhale for a 2-count, hold it for a 2-count. Then move up to a 3-count: in 3-count, hold 3-count, out 3-count, hold 3-count, etc. Just keep going until it gets too hard, then work your way back down.

With this type of drill, your body learns how to control your breath. You can use any type of stress or exercise. Your physical condition really doesn’t matter as you begin this type of breathing drill. You can even do it as you walk. Of course the better shape you’re in, the better your body will be at dealing with stress.

If your gun range will allow it, and if you can do it in a safe manner, stress your body by running or doing push-ups before shooting drills. As an example: use the RTG1 target. Have your buddy or coach call out a random shape or color for you to ID and shoot. They can record your speed and performance. Holster your weapon. Now sprint as fast as you can to a set point and back, or do a series of exercises. Whatever you can do, just get your heart rate up. Now go and do the same drill, but have your buddy call out different discretionary targets for you to ID and shoot. Compare the results. Evaluate your performance and do better next time.


If you spend the time to learn how to control your breathing during training, your body will naturally do it under real-world stress.


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Jared Ross

About the author:Jared Ross has spent about a decade as an 18B Green Beret Weapons Sergeant. A former 82nd ABN 11 Bravo, he has done multiple combat tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and assorted other shitholes. He spent several years with one of the active duty SFGs, is now with one of the reserve SFGs and remains involved in weapon and CQB instruction. Jared is a what we’d consdier both a well-rounded soldier and an inspired, methodical instructor. His company is called Rockwell Tactical Group, a training organization based in Pennsylvania; everything they teach is predicated on a warrior mindset, whether students are responsible armed citizens, military, LEOs or PMSCs. They teach students of every race, age and gender, striving to ensure they prevail not only over the assailant, but over fear and panic as well. You will be seeing more of him on Breach-Bang-Clear. If you’re interested in training with Jared and his crew, check them out at Rockwell Tactical Group.

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1 Comment

  1. Brian Stevenson

    Great article. Enjoyed meeting you at your seminar a couple months ago in Chantilly with Baraka and MASF. I need to get back into cardio in the morning. thanks. Brian

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