I got a great email with the following question that will be the subject of today’s post:
I was wondering if you had any thoughts about breath control and how breathing (best) figures into the shot cycle? In the book you recommended, Professional Archery Technique, by Kirk Ethridge, Mr. Ethridge recommends to “[i]nhale deeply as you raise the bow, and exhale as you draw. When you are at full draw, your lungs should be empty.” (p. 36) The rationale seems to be one of relaxation and stillness.
On the other hand, both Byron Ferguson (Become the Arrow, p. 18) and Anthony Camera (Shooting the Stickbow, 2nd ed., p. 275) advocate inhaling on the draw, allowing the chest to expand at anchor — though for different reasons. (Ferguson’s seems to be about using the inhalation to expand the chest and further bring the drawing elbow/arm into alignment; Camera’s seems to be that the act of drawing itself creates a natural expansion and therefore inhalation, though “while there is little if any chest expansion [at full draw], the logical progression is to continue inhaling, albeit at a slower rate.”)
What are archery coaches recommending? Is there one best (or better) answer, or is this simply a matter of “what works for you”? (For myself, the logic of breathing in makes sense, but I find the inhalation difficult on the draw, and it feels like I am having to hold my breath while at aim. I tried Ethridge’s suggestion and found, if nothing else, that I felt more relaxed/still while at aim. That seemed to be a plus. But is this physiologically “wrong”?
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As far as I am concerned, you can do nothing wrong in this regard as long as you are open to what is happening to your body. The goal, is to be still and strong at the moment of release.
The only scientific study I have been made aware of reports that we are steadier/more still if we have slightly less than a whole lungful of air at that moment. If you want to try that, end with that (full breath, partial exhale) and work your way back to the beginning of the shot. I am unaware of any other serious studies, but they may exist. That, of course, is in archery. There is a great deal of study on breathing in weightlifting. In lifting very great weights, the common wisdom is to exhale upon exertion. This technique lowers internal pressures in the body and prevents injuries such as hernias. But in archery, the weights involved are not so great, so I think we are free to do almost anything.
So, I recommend you experiment as you have been doing. Try a number of breathing patterns. (Rick McKinney’s book, The Simple Art of Winning, lists several more.) The goal is stillness and control at the moment of release.
I have a couple of caveats.
- Note whether the source is referring to Recurve/Traditional form or Compound form. I think the requirements for these forms are different enough to require different approaches (Rec/Trad has max draw weight and min time at full draw, while Compound has reduced DW and greater time at FD).
- Take into account your personal situation. I tried all kinds of breathing patterns and couldn’t settle on one, so I just breathed as close to tidally as I could (look it up). Then I was diagnosed as having asthma which cleared a few things up. If I held a little long I ended up out of breath, so I included an extra breath into my pattern and it really helped.
So, don’t feel confined by what other people recommend and use your sense of how still and comfortable you are up to the moment of release, coupled with how you feel thereafter (you do not want to be panting and out of breath) as your guide to a consistent breathing pattern. There is no physiologically right or wrong that I can perceive in this topic.
Note For serious archers, this gets worked out one way or another, either through investigation (as you are doing) or through feedback training (doing something over and over until you find what works). Archery is a repetition sport and one based upon feel. Breathing irregularities lead to different feelings that have nothing to do with archery, so breathing needs to be consistent, whichever pattern you choose or learn.