If you class yourself a remotely “serious” shooter, we’d recommend a good look at NRA Freestyle's “I Am Forever,” sponsored by FNH USA. It’s a fascinating mix of versatile shooting, training and determination, with fitness expert Isaiah Truyman and veteran Green Beret John Wayne Walding teaming up to turn high school senior (and already superb athlete) Reagan Tyler into a truly athletic shooter. By way of encouragement, we’ll give you the short version of our perspective: It took us about 20 seconds to learn something useful.
In the vein of learning something useful, Exercise Your Freedom asked Isaiah Truyman to give us some thoughts about training, and specifically about grip strength development. Over a quarter of a century of instruction, this is where we’ve seen some of the most persistent, consistent problems when it comes to shooting a handgun accurately, and particularly at speed. While sight alignment and trigger press remain sine qua nons, they are repeatedly sabotaged by poor grip mechanics. Those mechanics, in turn, often seem to be a function of strength.
Exercise Your Freedom: When problems appear in handgun shooting, it strikes us as disproportionate how often they relate to a shooter’s inability to “quiet” the firearm initially, and shot-to-shot. It’s hardly rocket science to see how this damages both sight alignment and trigger actuation. Any general thoughts here?
Isaiah Truyman: It’s a highly complex set of movements that involves hundreds of small muscles, and that’s just in the hands. Actual control of what happens in recoil includes energy traveling through the obvious places—hands, arms and shoulders—but also to the core and all the way down to the feet. That’s just physics.
But in terms of grip, proper pressure is a surprisingly delicate balance: If you hold the pistol too tightly, a different set of things go wrong than if you grip it too loosely. Both are a problem.But in terms of grip, proper pressure is a surprisingly delicate balance: If you hold the pistol too tightly, a different set of things go wrong than if you grip it too loosely.
EYF: So you see multiple components to this? Hand strength and arm strength matter?
IT: Yes. Any weight held out at arm’s length is rapidly fatiguing; when you add recoil (energy transfer and absorption), the rate at which you’ll tire goes up. But think about what’s supporting the hands and arms, too; if your core is weak, that’s a problem as well.
EYF: Can you make some recommendations about increasing grip/hand strength?
IT: It sounds mundane, but hanging from a pull-up bar is one of the best ways to strengthen grip. It’s better than any of the dedicated hand-strength “tools.” Time yourself, and increase time as your strength improves.
Alternate this with “finger flicks.” Hold your hands out in front of you, and bring the tips of your fingers to your thumb. Flick your hand open as rapidly as you can, and repeat. Hold your arms as still as possible as you do this. Twenty is a good number of repetitions to start with, and the burn is surprising!
EYF: Pure grip strength can be a little problematic. First, a too-powerful grip in the strong/master hand compromises precise trigger actuation; it’s hard to grip tightly with the last three fingers of the hand, and be precise with the index/trigger finger. Second, the weak hand is just “along for the ride” for many shooters, yet ideally should provide as much 60 percent of grip power, as it doesn’t interfere with trigger press.
IT: This is true, but a lot of the issues are addressed by the previous suggestion: Finger flicks especially will speed up the neuro-motor connections between the brain and the hand, and this results in better control of what the individual components of the hand are doing. Also, the muscles we’re strengthening with the hang and finger-flick exercises are being strengthened in balance, in better proportion to their dimensions and the muscles available to drive them. This makes over-pressure and under-pressure less likely in the grip/shoot/recover cycle.
EYF: Because it feels very steady, and particularly on the first shot, many shooters push the pistol out too far. Any thoughts on breaking this habit so those palms can be pressed together more effectively?
IT: This may not be as much a question of fitness and strength as shooting maturity. The right distance is arrived at by trial and error, but then instilled by practice; the sweet-spot metaphor is a good one. Just walking up and executing is a difficult-to-acquire kind of mastery, but it depends on knowing what that sweet-spot feels like and being able to reproduce it over and over again on command.
EYF: How does this relate to strengthening the forearms?
IT: Knowing your own body is a bigger factor than strength. And it is every bit as much an endurance challenge as it is a strength challenge: Holding the gun out farther is more punishing, more tiring. If you conserve energy with the firearm held even a little closer, you can go longer. This is especially true for a competitive shooter who may need to repeat the motion with precision several hundred times in a day.Any recoil management technique—or failure—that lengthens or complicates or expends more energy than necessary is a mistake for the same reason.
EYF: What else should we consider in terms of locking as much of that recoil movement forward of the elbows?
IT: From the athletic trainer standpoint, it’s still a whole-body movement. Done poorly enough, almost anything will knock you over. Think of it as a foundation under the house. By definition, your whole body is absorbing the recoil, so core strength is crucial (sit-ups specifically will help here, but anything that improves general conditioning can be added).
Odd as it might sound, billiards is a good metaphor: A brilliant bank shot with a rotten leave isn’t a good shot to take after all. Any recoil management technique—or failure—that lengthens or complicates or expends more energy than necessary is a mistake for the same reason.
EYF: Thanks, Isaiah. Have to say, the finger-flick thing is pure gold. Our fingers are too tired to key the rest of this.