Practice: One Perspective

27-Jul-15 – 19:21 by ToddG

In line with the discussion about the difference between the comfort zone and the danger zone in training, these last few months have given me a lot of time to think about what and how to practice. After almost a year and a half off from serious shooting and a couple of arm surgeries, I’m getting to re-experience building up fundamentals. And in the process I’ve made some mistakes and needed to adjust my methodology accordingly.

2glockcoinbulletsI set up a pretty straightforward experiment.

  • Some practice sessions were dictated by speed. Every time I was successful at a drill I would reduce the amount of time I had. I kept trying to be faster and faster.
  • Other sessions were dictated by technique. While I didn’t purposely go slowly, I didn’t go any faster than I could execute technique properly. Everything was self-paced.

The results were very straightforward and I doubt they’ll be a surprise to most folks. Practicing good reps was more beneficial than practicing fast(er) reps.

Yes, some of my “personal best” runs during the experiment all came from the Go faster! sessions. But so did some of my worst because I was making more mistakes. I was failing to clear my cover garment, getting a bad grip on my gun, not getting an adequate sight picture, etc. Often, I’d walk off the range less prepared for an unfortunate occurrence rather than better prepared… which is obviously the opposite of the goal. In my rush to rush, I began forming bad habits.

The days I made sure I did everything correctly demonstrated measurable improvement from beginning to end and from day to day. My accuracy and consistency improved without losing speed. As I said, this shouldn’t be a big surprise. It falls directly within modern understanding of physical skill building biology (both anatomical and psychological). I was building good habits. I was programming the system to do it right.

ptctargetshotI measured the days’ results by shooting the FAST. On the Go faster! days my runs averaged 8.26 seconds and I missed five head shots and one body shot out of nine runs; I had one Advanced, seven Intermediate, and one Basic. The nine runs from the self-paced days averaged 6.60 seconds and I had no misses; every single run was an Advanced time.

But — and this is important — the Go faster! days also had their place. Before I started this experiment my draw speed had plateaued. It wasn’t until I forced myself to go faster and break through that limit that I got anywhere. The trick was to use that method when it made a difference (breaking through the plateau) but not as my regular full time practice focus. That’s where the old saw “smooth is fast” falls apart. Getting smoother doesn’t make you faster. Getting smooth just makes it possible to push yourself to get faster. And when you’re pushing so hard you’re not able to do things smoothly (correctly), then you focus on that instead of trying to get faster and faster, wronger and wronger.

There was a time when I could put more focus into my speed because I could execute technique with a lot less effort given years (and hundreds of thousands of rounds) of practice. I’m not there anymore, though. My current ability — rather than my wishes and imagination — has to dictate my practice regime.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG


  1. 8 Responses to “Practice: One Perspective”

  2. My amendment to the SiF cliche has always been…

    “Smooth facilitates Fast”.

    By Eli F. on Jul 27, 2015

  3. Eli — That is much better.

    By ToddG on Jul 27, 2015

  4. Two entries the same day. A treat…seriously….thanks!.

    By Matt on Jul 27, 2015

  5. Awesome write up, really useful to my current challenges!

    By Tim C on Jul 28, 2015

  6. I grew up reciting the mantra, “Smooth is fast and fast is smooth” as many shooters (especially those who carry firearms for a living) did. It wasn’t until I gained some distance and time from these training courses that I really stopped to think what “smooth” really meant. What “smooth” was really talking about was efficiency. Pushing your body to move faster is only part of the equation for achieving a balance between speed and accuracy. What will get you over the plateau is striving to make your movements and body mechanics more efficient and then, and only then, pushing your body to move faster. Your article hit the nail on the head. Moving faster will only make you faster to a point. Moving more efficiently combined with pushing your body is what will make you “fast.” Each individual has to discover what will make them more efficient based on their body, gear, and weapon system.

    By Steve on Aug 3, 2015

  7. Well said, Steve. Being smooth doesn’t automatically make you fast, but being fast pretty much requires you to be smooth.

    By ToddG on Aug 3, 2015

  8. ToddG,

    Congratulations on the recovery. Looks like you’re getting back in the groove! Just curious, what was the injury that necessitated the surgery?

    By Mike S on Aug 22, 2015

  9. Mike S: I had my R elbow replaced.

    By ToddG on Aug 22, 2015

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