Slow Is Fast?

9-Mar-10 – 10:38 by ToddG

“Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”

Sorry, but I hate that line. Slow is not fast. At a certain point, speed comes from working at speed, not working to be smoother. Smooth is not fast. Smooth is smooth.

It’s true that if you’re not smooth you are probably not fast. But that doesn’t mean getting smooth will make you fast. Plenty of people can operate an automobile smoothly. Make them do it at 120mph and suddenly things get dicey. Why? Because they’ve practiced to operate at a certain speed and not beyond it.

To get fast, you have to practice faster. Again, this does you no good if you’re not smooth but once you’ve got the smooth part down pat, it’s time to work on speed for speed’s sake.

It always amazes me that shooters have no trouble accepting that we overemphasize accuracy in some of our training (shooting slow, deliberate groups at a pace that is completely impractical from a fighting standpoint, or a game standpoint, or whatever)… but ask them to overemphasize speed and their brains melt.

The best advice I ever heard on this subject came from Erik Lund (IPSC GM, LEO, and instructor at U.S. Shooting Academy). Erik told me long ago that sometimes, you have to go so fast that you miss. That doesn’t mean mindlessly spraying the backstop with lead. It means that if you really want to push yourself to be faster, you need to go beyond your current comfort level and accept that some of your shots won’t be in the x-ring.

The trick is finding the right balance for your skill level. Most people really do need to work on the x-rings and the smoothness. But once you reach a plateau, once you can do things great when you’re slow & calm but the wheels fall off when you’re under pressure or trying to go fast, it’s time to reassess your approach and recognize that speed comes from practicing speed, not from practicing slowness.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 15 Responses to “Slow Is Fast?”

  2. Amen to that … when I first started IDPA all I heard was “Smooth is fast.” To me Smooth is smooth and Fast is fast.

    Steady, planned practice will get you both smooth and fast.

    By Brian E on Mar 9, 2010

  3. “Another tool in the toolbox.”

    “It’s not the way, it’s a way.”

    “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”

    Some people like to fantasize that they have achieved a zen-like state when they spout the above.

    By The_Katar on Mar 9, 2010

  4. I see this quite a bit in racing as well. I have been guilty of the slow-smooth-fast phrase while coaching, and won’t be anymore!

    Many hobbiest racers get to the slow & smooth level, and never push to the fast & sloppy or further to the fast & smooth level. Most could make it if they worked hard enough.

    Good on you for pushing us…

    By Andy on Mar 9, 2010

  5. I agree with you. The old axiom IS good advice, but only for new shooters. When beginning, you need to learn to focus on grip, sight alignment, and trigger control. However, once you have mastered the basic mechanics of shooting, you have to push yourself, as you said. If you never push to be better, you will stagnate.

    By Phil on Mar 9, 2010

  6. “Most people really do need to work on the x-rings and the smoothness. But once you reach a plateau, once you can do things great when you’re slow & calm but the wheels fall off when you’re under pressure or trying to go fast, it’s time to reassess your approach and recognize that speed comes from practicing speed, not from practicing slowness.”
    Completely agree. It is important for someone just starting to work enough repetitions slow, to make sure that “bad habits” don’t sneak in, and to build confidence that he can make the shots. Once that’s in, practice has to be at speed. The only reasons I can think of for going back to slow are re-examining himself “in slow motion” to check for bad habits, or he starts missing so much that he loses confidence and needs to check that yes, he still can do it slow. And back to work on speed.

    By Starik Igolkin on Mar 9, 2010

  7. This statement is not inherently wrong, it’s just used out of context far too often.

    When you are in the fight, and your body reacts involuntarily (adrenaline rush, blood constriction to the body cavity to protect vital organs, loss of fine motor skills), but need to exercise some fine motor skills (reloading a bolt action rifle for instance, or changing a magazine), smooth is just as good as fast, but not necessarily the same.

    Let’s say I go “slow” in loading an empty bolt action rifle, and it takes me 5 seconds to get five rounds seated, cycle the action, and get on target.

    Now usually I can go “fast” and do all that in 3 seconds, but this time I fumble the load (going too fast to be smooth), and so this time it takes me 6 seconds. This is the essence of the “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” statement.

    I think the key is to make sure that people understand the context in which “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” is correct.

    By JoeG on Mar 9, 2010

  8. The times that I have practice beyond my comfort level, at that point that I “feel” I’m out of control!! After that I have seen good improvement in my capability. If normal was one round from concealment at 3 yards in 1.5 if I tried to go as fast as I could and got to 1.0 flat but my hit was bad, I could “slow” down to 1.2 and get a good hit but .3 faster than I was before. This drags your comfort level to a level above!

    By Prdator on Mar 9, 2010

  9. I think JoeG has a very good point, and I have seen that concept at work with our nations finest warriors. Todd’s point though, is that you can be happy with the level of smoothness and speed you have now, or you can increase it. You may not reload a gun at the same speed under stress that you can on the range right now or ever, but you can probably increase how fast you can do it in either place if you work on it.

    By SLG on Mar 9, 2010

  10. I agree that you need to push the speed in practice, but you have to be very careful about the opposite. “I’ll slow down and get good hits” is a bad thing to say. When you do that, you focus on speed, which is a trap. Instead you should focus on seeing the sights lift and calling your shot so you know you get the hits. Once you get to a certain level, ‘balancing speed and accuracy’ is a plateau trap. Instead you want to get good hits faster.

    By Jeff on Mar 10, 2010

  11. JoeG —
    Now usually I can go “fast” and do all that in 3 seconds, but this time I fumble the load (going too fast to be smooth), and so this time it takes me 6 seconds. This is the essence of the “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” statement.

    I tell students all the time, there’s a difference between rushing and being fast.

    Rushing leads to errors. Rushing is bad.

    However, when we start to talk specific times, we need to get mathematical. What is the disaster factor on a given skill?

    If I fumble a reload, my reload is going to take an extra half second or so. I’ve timed enough fumbled reloads to know that! If I do a reload at a speed that I know I can’t possibly fumble it, not only is it slower than a deliberate fast reload, but it’s slower than a fumbled fast reload. So the disaster factor is more than worth it.

    But let’s suppose that wasn’t the case. Let’s suppose:
    * fast reload: 1.5 seconds
    * slow smooth reload: 2.0 seconds
    * fumbled fast reload: 3.0 seconds

    Is it better to be fast or slow? We can’t answer that yet. Because we also need to factor in the odds of the fumble. If I fumble half my reloads under stress, then I’m better off going slow. If I fumble one reload out of a hundred, though, it’s silly to take a third longer on every single reload just to avoid that possible 1-in-100 chance of a problem.

    SLG’s comment was exactly right. It’s not about whether your “real world” speed is identical to your personal record best on the range. To get faster, you need to work on being faster. And simply trying to be smoother and smoother isn’t going to get you there. The smoothest draw in the world doesn’t get the gun from your holster to extension faster.

    By ToddG on Mar 10, 2010

  12. This is the problem with substituting aphorisms for thinking.

    The aphorism in question is a much shorter way of saying “An easy way to build speed in performing a multistep task is by removing unnecessary steps from an action, because fluidity is quicker than jerkiness,” but is instead used by some as an excuse for not pushing their comfort envelope.

    By Tam on Mar 10, 2010

  13. Context is everything!

    This is from your press-out article:

    “Remember, like most new skills dedicated to improving speed, it’s critical that you go slowly until you are performing the drill smoothly and consistently. It’s counter-intuitive, perhaps, but going slow is necessary to going fast.”

    You’re absolutely right in that smooth alone won’t make you fast, but you can’t be fast without being smooth. It’s necessary but not sufficient.

    By Peter on Mar 12, 2010

  14. “Slow is just f**cking slow, speed comes from economy of motion.”. – Paul Howe in class

    By KellyH on Mar 15, 2010

  15. Brian E has it right on the money.

    I tell my students to have a training plan before you even pack your bag for the range.

    Fundamentals first, slow attentive reinforcement.

    Speed next, push ability until you start to miss.

    Fundamentals next, correcting the inevitable mistakes that come from working speed.

    There must be balance to your training regime. One of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen, was a major league baseball player sweating through a workout on ESPN.

    What was he doing?

    Hitting baseballs off a T. I’m sure he swings at plenty of fastballs too.

    By Chris on Mar 22, 2010

  16. If you’re not smooth, you’re not fast. But slow is never fast. In fact slow is just what it is, slow.

    By thecrusher on Mar 29, 2010

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