Simple exercises to improve your shooting
There are things you can do to improve your shooting on a regular basis that cost you nothing more than time
We all know that hours of dry fire and days at the range are the best way to make leaps and bounds in your shooting prowess, but here are a few simple exercises that may also help. These are things you can do on a regular basis that cost you nothing more than time. Time is the best training investment you can make, and offers the best "bang for your buck" so to speak.
Because trigger control seems to be the most common shooting obstacle, I will begin there. To properly and consistently manipulate the trigger straight to the rear without disrupting the sight picture one must be able to isolate that trigger finger from the rest of the hand. Much like a pianist and typist, a good shooter must be able to control the muscles of the hand and fingers.
Your hands and each finger have a separate and specific job to do — the most important of these is the trigger finger. We know that relaxed muscles are easier to control and move more smoothly, so being able to relax the shooting hand and isolate that trigger finger is the key to good trigger control. Here are a couple of simple exercises to help train your brain to do just that.
With your hand lying on a solid surface, such as a table or desk, just tap that trigger finger. Concentrate on that finger. Relax the rest of the hand. Once that becomes natural with no movement of the other fingers, then cease the concentration. Begin to mindlessly tap that finger while your mind is busy with another task. From time to time glance down and make sure those other fingers are not moving, and then go back to mindlessly tapping. Once you are comfortable doing this on a solid surface try isolating and tapping that trigger finger on your leg as your arm hangs loosely at your side.
After a few days or weeks of this, using the same parameters, begin to move that finger in more of a scratching motion. Now that you have isolated the trigger finger the scratching motion will get that finger moving more in a "straight to the rear" motion.
Don’t forget the off-side hand too!
While I consider stance to be the least important aspect of marksmanship, it is very important to have a stable shooting platform. Unfortunately, we have become a physically lazy society. Look around at the posture of the masses. Slouching is rampant. When I was a kid, my mother would constantly be sticking her knee or elbow in my back when she caught me slouching. If she caught me standing off balance, she would give me a nudge to knock me over, forcing me to catch myself and stand balanced on both feet.
While this annoyed me to no end when I was a kid, I am eternally grateful now. It has brought posture into my consciousness. When I catch myself standing with my hips out of alignment, or my feet too close together, I naturally readjust so that I am stable and balanced with my core engaged. This has not only aided in my skeletal health, it has given me a natural and stable shooting platform. So, when you catch yourself standing in an unbalanced or unstable stance, simply readjust. Bringing posture back into your consciousness may do the same for you. Having a naturally stable shooting platform will be just one less thing you will need to concentrate on while shooting.
The other aspect of the shooting platform is grip. While the perfect grip may not be important for that first shot, if you wish to hit your intended target more than once, then grip comes into play. To mitigate recoil while keeping the shooting hand relaxed, the support hand needs to exert the majority of the force on the handgun. This pressure is done in a clenching type motion; much like squeezing those little stress balls.
Conveniently, this makes those little stress balls the perfect way to simulate that grip while exercising and strengthening that support hand. A lot of misplaced shots can be attributed to a lazy support hand. So clench that stress ball. It is as simple as that.
If the thumbs-forward grip is new to you, repetition is key once you have been instructed on the proper way to establish this grip. If you wish to get a little grip repetition without actually holding the handgun, here is something you can do anytime. Whenever you think about it, at a time when you would normally sit with your fingers interlaced, simply simulate that grip by grasping the shooting hand fingers with the support hand. The heel of the support hand should fall into and fill the palm of the shooting hand. Keep the shooting hand relaxed while squeezing those fingers with the support hand in that gripping motion.
The remaining ingredients are sight alignment and sight placement. Sight alignment is something best left to the subconscious once the concept is understood. The brain seeks symmetry and left to its own devices it will automatically rectify anything it perceives as asymmetrical. Therefore, once the shooter understands that the goal is to center that front sight between the rear sight with “equal height and equal light,” and they stop worrying about it, the brain will just make it so.
Sight placement is a little more complicated. Many shooters, particularly new shooters, have a difficult time focusing on the front sight instead of the intended target in the distance. Since the threat in a dangerous situation would certainly draw focus, it is imperative that we train our focus on that front sight. By training that front-sight focus, we are conditioning our brain to rely on past experiences in order to survive in a life or death event. Training the eye to pick up that front sight in the foreground instead of the target in the background will take some time and practice.
One simple way to practice this away from the range is to use your index fingernail as a substitute front sight. With an outstretched arm and finger pointed upward the index fingernail is approximately at the same distance from the eye as the front sight would be. Select a prominent spot in the distance as your simulated target. Then starting with the hand at the armpit slowly extend the arm, finger pointed upward.
Once the fingernail interrupts the eye line, shift your focal point from the "target" to the "front sight." The fingernail should settle superimposed over the preselected target. At that point the target will appear blurry or completely disappear behind the fingernail. If you are practicing with both eyes open, a second "target" may appear beside the fingernail. This is the image being perceived by the subordinate eye. This is a phenomenon that the brain will have to reconcile when shooting with both eyes open. With enough repetition the brain will pick up and focus on that closer point more quickly and consistently.
Give these simple and free exercises a try. You may be surprised what a big difference such small things can make. Nothing can take the place of quality professional training and well-spent trigger time, but when that is not an option these exercises will bring shooting into your consciousness and, if nothing else, refresh your enthusiasm.