Dry Fire Training: Mastering the Handgun

June 30, 2016 3 Comments

Dry Fire Training: Mastering the Handgun

This article was originally written for policeone.com.

Do you want to significantly increase your overall shooting proficiency on a permanent basis? Do you want to increase your speed, accuracy, and mental conditioning for gunfighting? If so, you must learn to incorporate dry fire practice into your lifestyle.

Dry fire is the practice of working with an empty weapon and practicing all routines and subroutines that can be done without live fire. This type of practice is critical for skill development. In fact, most firearm techniques are best learned with an empty weapon in order to maximize awareness and control of critical skills. Additionally, the development of correct muscle memory is achieved by doing mindful repetitions that internalize and ingrain each skill on both a conscious and subconscious level.

Getting Started

Start by identifying a safe place to practice. There should be no live ammunition in or around your dry practice area. To maximize the effectiveness of your training, I highly recommend that you use a shooting timer that allows you to set par times.

Dry Fire Training Guidelines

Read these guidelines carefully, absorb them fully, and apply them precisely.

  • Pick one area to improve (grip, stance, draw, etc.) and set a training goal for the session.
  • Take two or three minutes and visualize the performance you wish to achieve from start to finish. Form an image of what it should look like.
  • Perform the technique in depth. Do not just practice the technique, perfect the technique. For example, practice achieving a perfect two-handed grip while drawing and connecting solidly to the gun prior to full extension. Feel the pressure of the fingers, the wrists stiffening, and your trigger finger relaxed.
  • Start at 25% of your full speed and work up gradually to 50%, then 75%, then 90-95% of what you perceive to be your top speed where you can do the skill really well 10 times in a row. Gradually push the pace, without compromising safety, until the skill starts to break down. You will work into the 100-105% zone or what I term the RED ZONE. This is the zone of improvement.
  • Now, stop slowing down every time you make a mistake unless it is a safety issue. Try to fix the mistake by focusing on where the error is coming from and put your attention into doing that aspect correctly AT THE SAME SPEED YOU MADE THE MISTAKE. If you cannot fix the mistake, then drop back to a slower speed and pay attention to what you are doing when you are doing it correctly and then push back up to the red zone.
  • After you have worked the skill to a maximum of 200 repetitions, take a short break. Put your mind in the competition arena or gunfight. It is important to target a specific emotional state and maintain it during dry fire. Practice the skill at gunfight speed which is 95-98% of your top end speed for 25 to 100 repetitions with the mindset of actually performing in the gunfight, competition or wherever you wish to perform well.
  • Keep each session brief but intense. Mental focus must stay razor sharp as you maintain awareness of what you are doing as you are doing it. Sessions of only 15 to 30 minutes works for most people. I typically work longer, however correct execution is more important than sheer numbers.

Below is an example of dry fire training that I use to help my students improve their firing grip and prepare for a higher level of execution.

TPC Dry Fire Series: Sample Firing Grip Exercises

Exercise #1: Shooting Grip–use timer if available and set a par time of 4 seconds

  • Goal: Increase awareness of friction, leverage and control between the gun and the hand
  • Procedure: Draw the weapon slowly and achieve a perfect two-handed grip as you come onto the target. Do not touch the trigger. Feel both hands solidly connected to the gun. Get the same grip tension each and every time you do the exercise. Repeat this exercise 25 times.

Now move the par time down ½ second at a time until you are starting to make micro mistakes. Keep your attention on correcting the mistakes at that speed until you can do it to the best of your ability.

Exercise #2: Par time of 4 seconds

  • Goal: Manipulate the trigger while maintaining proper grip tension on the gun. Keep constant grip pressure while manipulating the trigger.
  • Procedure: Repeat exercise #1 but press the trigger while feeling your hands staying solidly connected to the gun. Do 25 repetitions. Keep your awareness of maintaining a solid connection to the gun with your shooting grip. Now move the par time down and keep doing it until you feel you are starting to get sloppy. Stay at this speed and correct the errors until you feel you can do it correctly at that speed.

*Important safety note: Be very aware of when you are touching the trigger. Don’t compromise safety for speed.

Exercise #3: Par time of 4 seconds

  • Goal: Variable practice drill to get used to achieving a perfect grip while moving from different hand start positions.
  • Procedure: Same as for exercise #1 but start from a different hand position each time.  You can do hands up in front of you, hands holding an object, hands behind back, hands simulating holding a long gun etc. Do 25 repetitions using a different hand start position each time. Get a perfect grip each time.

Exercise #4: Set par time for 3 seconds. Work down incrementally to two seconds every ten repetitions until you have done 50 reps.

  • Goal: Achieve a higher level of awareness and control of the shooting grip while drawing and firing while gradually increasing your speed from roughly 50% to 75% of top speed.
  • Procedure: Repeat exercises 1 or 3 at the higher level of speed, striving for a perfect grip each time.

Exercise #5: Set the par time for 1 to 1.5 seconds

  • Goal: Move up in speed out of your comfort zone and into the Red Zone. Strive to achieve a perfect grip and connection between the gun and the hand before and while manipulating the trigger.
  • Procedure: Repeat exercise 3 at the higher level of speed for 50 to 100 repetitions.

Exercise #6

Goal: Execute the skill at performance speed while incorporating proper mental focus and conditioning.

Procedure: Set the timer to whatever speed represents 95-98% of your Red Zone speed. Do 25 meaningful repetitions while visualizing yourself in a gunfight or competitive event.

Do this series three times a week on alternate days for a minimum of four weeks. You will notice immediate benefits in your live fire training as a direct result of a higher level of awareness of your shooting grip while you are shooting.

 

Ron Avery, co-founder

Tactical Performance Center




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Gear News: The Protos-M Holster from Black Arch

June 28, 2016

Gear News: The Protos-M Holster from Black Arch

While you may not have heard of Black Arch Holsters before, they have just announced a new line of holsters that looks very promising. The Utah-based company states that its new Protos-M holster can adapt to any style of carry–meaning that you can carry concealed, regardless of the season or the situation, without needing multiple holsters.

Logan, UT – June 28, 2016 – Black Arch, a manufacturer of hybrid holsters, announced today the release of its latest product, the Protos-M. Designed to be completely modular, this holster is intended to meet the needs of those who carry daily, train hard, and compete to win.

The Protos-M is able to adapt to any mode of carry (IWB, OWB, and AIWB) by using one of three interchangeable backers. This means that you can carry your gun in different positions and levels of concealment with a single holster. The Protos-M uses a patent-pending ¾ hybrid system, which means that you will experience the exact same draw no matter which backer you use (note: each backer is custom designed and only compatible with a single model of gun).

You can read the full press release here.

We are excited to try this new design for ourselves and will provide a complete review of the Protos-M after we can get our hands on one and test it out thoroughly.




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Building Your Own Drills

June 28, 2016

Building Your Own Drills

I get many questions every month on what drills will improve various shooting skills.  Common questions include “What drills can I do for better trigger control?” and “What drill will help me get faster on my draw and first shot?” The list goes on and on. 

There are the countless drills online that attempt to answer those questions. Unfortunately these drills are often shot with the end goal of speed and very little attention is given to technique or visual processing. While speed is important, effective training requires attention to more than just speed.

Below are several guidelines you can use to build an effective drill. Keep in mind when designing drills that simple drills work best to create a new level of understanding while complex drills are used to create skill sets, flow patterns, and immediate action patterns.

Guidelines for Effective Drills

  1. It is not the drill that does the teaching–it is what you are paying attention to during the drill. Without changing anything but your attentional focus, you can shoot a variety of drills on the exact same target and learn different kinesthetic or visual skills.
  2. Have one goal in mind when you create the drill and make that your learning objective. The conscious mind can only focus on one thing at a time. As an example, trigger control has several key elements. Pick one element of trigger control and focus your attention on it while you shoot the drill.
  3. Organize and shape the skill. I typically start with the end result in mind and work backwards from there. Whether I am working on a kinesthetic or visual processing skill, I picture what I want as the end result and then make myself pay attention to each step that leads to that result. By doing this, your mind puts things in proper sequence which leads to more consistent performance and higher levels of execution under pressure.
  4. Awareness of what you are doing as you are doing it is a major contributor to permanent improvement and retention of a skill. Dr. James Loehr, a sports psychologist, calls this “Level 1 Awareness.” You can develop this level of awareness by paying attention to everything your body is doing, from the way you grip the gun to how the soles of your feet contact the ground. As you become more aware and can process the finer details of what your body is actually doing, you can use this feedback to boost your shooting performance.
  5. Use variable and block training. Block training is doing the same thing over and over again. This type of training is useful when first learning a skill and to gain mastery over a particular skill. To improve overall learning and performance, use variable training. This type of training means that you subtly change the drill after every two to three repetitions. Variations could be include a different start position, a different target, or a different par time. Use your imagination.
  6. Challenge yourself constantly. Change up the drill as you gain mastery of it: increase the distance, decrease the time, make the target harder, shoot against an opponent, change the target order, or do it on the move. Use pressure as an ally and always look for ways to boost your performance.
  7. Integrate the skill into your overall performance. As soon as you feel rock solid with your skill, apply it as part of an overall sequence. This is where attention comes into play.
  8. Be patient with yourself. You did not get to where you are today overnight. You will not achieve miraculous improvement overnight either. Be patient and growth will happen. It is the consistent, disciplined approach to learning and performance that pays off with high levels of sustainable skill.
  9. Rotate to different skills every few days to build overall performance. Spending too much time on one skill leads to neglect in other skills.
  10. Keep a journal of your performance. If you want to really build skill on a long term basis, keep a written record of your progress. What was the goal? Drill type? Attention focus? These things matter if you are serious about training.

Think Outside the Box

Learn to use your imagination when creating training drills. By creating something that works specifically for what you want to improve, you will build a high definition training solution that works the way you want. It will also fire up your imagination in other areas and lead to higher levels of learning!

Ron Avery, co-founder

Tactical Performance Center




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Accuracy Under Pressure

June 23, 2016 1 Comment

Accuracy Under Pressure

One of the more difficult concepts to keep in tune for the serious practitioner is maintaining a high level of precision under pressure, especially in dynamic situations. In fact, I found myself stumbling a bit this year due to some bad habits that I had developed over time. It wasn’t anything big, mind you, but noticeable over a period of time.

You see, we get out of tune. Like a finely-tuned instrument, we have to recalibrate our bodies and our minds. You really only notice it when you are shooting under pressure. Then, if you pay close attention, you notice a failure to maintain a skill set at a very precise level when operating at the top end of your performance zone. Simply put, you find yourself doing other things besides seeing what you need to see and isolating the trigger properly.

In the past month, while preparing for major competitions, I perceived that I had a definite problem with getting my shooting cycle out of sequence. In my quest for speed, I was neglecting accuracy. There were a few inches of drift, sometimes more, or a misalignment of the gun in the first shot as I trained ever faster. Then came the realization that I was not able to simply hold still and let the shot break. I constantly found myself pulling the gun down too soon and pushing the shot from time to time.

Most would not notice it as I shoot. But I did. And so, in the final phase of training this month, I didn’t speed up. Instead, I went back to some basic programming drills and exercises and created a strong mental image of what I needed to do to bring my skills up to where they needed to be.

Accuracy vs Speed

Accuracy and speed are not friends. In fact, they don’t get along well at all and are constantly fighting with each other for control of the shooting. The only way they co-exist is when there is an intermediary functioning. That intermediary is calmness. Being able to control the mind and hold still while manipulating the trigger at high speed is one of the most difficult things to do under pressure. However, if you wish to reach the higher levels of skill at arms, then it is a necessary mental attribute to develop.

In order to train effectively for accuracy, you will need to train under pressure. Almost anybody can shoot well if they are given time to shoot. When there are strict time limits imposed or the targets become smaller and the shooting platform is less than ideal, then you have an opportunity to see what you are made of.

If you pay attention as you train under pressure, you will find yourself doing all sorts of things you did not intend to do. This is the result of the brain perceiving what is about to happen and developing compensation responses to it. Everyone has these responses. Some have it more than others.

Slowing Down to Speed Up

Once I perceived what I was doing wrong, I did a serious analysis about where the skill was breaking down and I visualized what needed to change. Reprogramming the mind and slowing down while recalibrating is a difficult but necessary step in fixing the problems.

To reprogram my bad habits, I took a variety of our TPC targets and put them up. I started out standing still, with no time limits, just allowing the shot to be fired without rushing it. I repeated this basic set until I was satisfied I was able to control my mental and physical processes on a conscious level and could absolutely guarantee the shot.

Then I added time limits, slowly decreasing the amount of time I gave myself to accomplish a series of shots. Again, I worked through the targets, using imagery to guide the shooting until I was 100% successful. As time went on, I added a lot of variations. It was frustrating at times but necessary in order to reach a level of highly consistent shooting at high speed.

Training for Accuracy

For me, the value of training for accuracy cannot be overstated. Over time, your accuracy under pressure will erode alarmingly. I see it constantly in training and real-world environments where shooters cannot hit on demand. You MUST put yourself under pressure when training for accuracy. You must learn to function under the allowable time and opportunity given to you.

Training for accuracy remains the one skill that must be trained relentlessly. As former world champion Ross Seyfried once said, “You can’t miss fast enough to win.”

Ron Avery, Co-founder

Tactical Performance Center




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Who is that guy?

June 21, 2016 2 Comments

Who is that guy?

I put on my 44-pound weighted X Vest and look upward at the hill in front of me. The 50 to 60 degree incline is a daunting sight. It’s going to be a real challenge today. I start to run, steadily, up the hill. Three-quarters of the way up, my legs are burning; my breath is coming in ragged gasps. Yet, ahead of me, there is another guy moving steadily, legs churning in rhythm with his breathing. He is outpacing me and I struggle to catch up to him today.

I don’t succeed. I do manage to take three seconds off of my best time though. The other guy flashes a grin at me. I can’t hate him. He is the same age as me and has suffered the same injuries that I have. He beat me fair and square. Silently, I make a vow… next time, I will catch you.

I am in the weight room at the gym. Today is leg day and I am going to make this day one to remember. I start off with leg presses: 3 sets of 15 reps, each repetition correct with 90 degree bend, no bouncing the weight at the bottom and full extension at the top. So far so good.

Now I increase the weight with four 45-pound plates on each side for 12 reps, then five on each side for 12, then six for just four reps.

I continue with leg extensions, leg curls, and calf raises. I am spent. I run a half-mile around the track to warm down and then I sit down.

Now the other guy starts his routine, moving effortlessly through the stacks. He does the same weights as I do except he finishes with six plates on each side for 12 correct repetitions. He matches what I have done on the other exercises and then adds 25 more pounds on each one. He is stronger than I am, leaner too by 10 pounds. He runs three miles on the track after finishing up the brutal leg workout. It’s just a warm down for him.

I gaze over at him. “Pretty impressive performance,” I think to myself. “Someday, that will be me.”

I’m on the range, training with my carry handguns. Today I am working on high speed drawing skills, drawing from a variety of positions and conditions. I am working on drawing and firing a good shot in under a second at 15 yards. I work for 30 minutes, managing to get the time down to the .90-95 range. Then I do a few in the .85-.90 range. I feel pretty good about that.

Now this guy is shooting the same drills as I am–except he is doing it at 25 yards. I try to picture and get my mind wrapped around how he is doing it. It looks so effortless and he does it consistently. Puzzled, I wonder how he is doing that and I make a note to really pay attention to what I am doing because I want to shoot like that guy does.

At times, I can match his performance. Those are the times when I am doing my training like I should, giving it my best effort each and every time and not holding back–doing things as well as I can, not just as fast as I can. Overall though, that guy is stronger, leaner, faster, more skilled and a better overall performer than I am.

He is not arrogant or base; he always has an encouraging smile on his face, except when he is performing. Then it is a look of supreme focus, relaxation and awareness of the task at hand.

He gets up each morning at 5:30 a.m. and invites me to go along on a training hike, a run, or a bike ride.

He sits down to each meal and eats simple, plain fare packed with nutrition but not an ounce of wasted calorie or nutrient.

Without a word, he gets his shooting gear together almost every morning and dry fires. He pays attention to his performance, working patiently to improve his skills.

He goes to the range, in most weather conditions, with a smile on his face and a feeling of anticipation of how much better he is going to be shooting today than the time before. He makes sure that I know I am welcome to come with him any time I like.

He trains with a single-minded focus and determination.

In competition and in real life, he is totally committed to mission. He performs at a level few can match, yet he takes time to be a good friend, with kind words for others.

He makes time in his day to be a loving husband and father. He greets each challenge or problem calmly and objectively.

Who is that guy?

That guy is me, or rather, the guy I want to be. He is my alter ego, my mentor, my coach and my inspiration. I want to be able to perform like he does, when it counts, both in competition and when others may depend on my skills in a crisis.

He is a choice I have in my mind; to stay where I am at or to be like him. He is the invisible pull that makes me feel restless because I know that he is out training or doing things that I should be doing.

I have trained for over 30 years now to catch up to his level. I am closer now than I have ever been… but I am not there yet. He is still ahead of me. The only way I can catch him is to be just like him and train like him.

And so I will.

Catch your dreams; they are closer than you think.

Ron Avery

Co-founder, Tactical Performance Center




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