Goal based training

“I want to get better at shooting,” said the student to the teacher. That’s awesome, because everyone who carries a gun should want to get better at shooting. But it’s also really broad, and is the sort of thing that can lead to frustration on the part of the shooter when they don’t feel like they’re progressing towards their goal.

Caleb Area 3

This is why I believe it’s incredibly important to set clear, defined goals. I’ve talked about goal setting and training a lot, and I’m going to continue to beat this drum as long as my fingers still work the keyboard. It’s the only way to make true progress, and the best way to measure progress as well. Let’s take that goal of “I want to get better at shooting” and break down into an actual achievable training program.

Right now, I’m an A-class USPSA shooter. I want to get better at shooting. Okay, what’s better? Being a Master class shooter is better. Immediately I change my goal from “I want to get better” to “I want to be a Master class USPSA shooter.” Now that I know where I’m going with this goal, I can look at what performance I need to enhance in order to get there. Because my goal is focused around classification, the best thing I can do is focus on the skills that are tested by classifiers – fundamental marksmanship and gun handling skills, primarily. Draws, transitions, and reloads. Most classifiers don’t have a lot of movement, so I can omit positional drills from my practice for the time being.

Next I want to break that larger goal down into smaller goals. If I want to make Master, I can identify critical performance areas that I can improve in order to meet that goal. For example, something like this:

  • I want to be able to draw and fire two shots to an A-zone in less than a second from my USPSA holster.
  • I want to be able to do a shot-to-shot speed reload to an A-zone hit in less than 1.5 seconds from my USPSA magazine pouches.
  • I want to be able to transition on close targets in less than 0.30 seconds shot-to-shot

Those are all goals that will help achieve my overarching goal of making Master in USPSA. Now that they’re established, I can then look at what training I should implement in order to get there. For all of these goals, the training would be a mix of dry fire and live fire. Working on draws I’d want to practice dry fire draws both with no par time and with a par time. The idea is to use dry fire to eliminate wasted movement on the draw and build a solid, consistent index where the gun arrives in my eyeline on target. Then I’d take that skill to the range and test it in live fire, again off the clock and using a par time.

The same is true for transitions and reloads. Dry fire is used to eliminate wasted movement and build the speed necessary to accomplish my goal; then live fire is used to refine those dry fire skills in a training environment. Performance tracking is key here, because if I’m not keeping track of what I’m doing on each drill, I won’t be able to measure my improvement and progress towards the goal. I can’t just go to the range, whip out my timer and go on the clock hoping for the best, I need to have a progressive, sustainable training plan.

When I eventually reach those training goals, I need to be able to pressure test my skills, which is where matches come into play. Shooting classifiers and matches allow me to see if the training is producing the expected and desired increases in performance on match day. If it’s not, I need to evaluate both my training plan and mental state to see where I’m going wrong. It could be that my plan itself is good, but I’m struggling with mental focus; or my training plan could be totally wrong for the goal I’m trying to accomplish.

The bottom line is that without goals and performance tracking, training is little more than self-gratification. Pick your goals intelligently, and plan your training accordingly.

2016 training goals

Yesterday, CJ had a post up about setting realistic training goals; which is an excellent thing for people to do. One of the issues I’ve encountered in the past is I’ve set goals which appeared realistic when I set them in January or February, but then life happened and by the end of the year they weren’t so realistic any more. For example, I’ve set the goal of making USPSA GM a couple of times, and it hasn’t happened. So this year I wanted to take a realistic look at my training goals and try to do something that I can accomplish, then if I’m successful, move forward and set new goals from there.

Shooting Goals

Again, the goal here is to keep things realistic. I don’t want to set a goal of getting my GM card and shooting 15 major matches like I did back in 2011 where my primary job was “be a sponsored shooter.” That’s not my primary job any more, and basing performance expectations of what I could do when I had unlimited range time and ammo isn’t smart. So, let’s keep it simple for 2016.

  1. Make Master in a division: It looks like the best bet for that will be Single Stack, since I’m spending a huge part of the year working on creating an extensive catalog of 1911 reviews. I’m currently B-class in SS, so I’ve got a lot of work to do there.
  2. Shoot at least 3 majors: The two most likely matches I’ll shoot are the Great Plains Sectional and Area 3, and the third is open for guesses. I’m dialing back match travel and participation a lot this year and trying to focus on skill building instead of shooting matches for matches sake.
  3. Attend at least two advanced shooting classes: I really, really, really want to take a class from Ernest Landgon, because everyone I know who has taken one said it’s awesome. And ENPS is bringing Manny Bragg in this year for a class, which would be high on my to do list as well.

Now, shooting goals are great. But you guys know me, and you know I’m about more than just shooting here on Gun Nuts. One of my big focuses is fitness, and we have goals for that as well. I will sacrifice dry fire for gym time any day of the week, because uh duh, lifting is awesome.

basement gym

Fitness Goals

Again, we want to keep these goals realistic and based of past performance abilities. I can’t just go out and say “I want to deadlift 400 pounds” if I’ve never lifted a day in my life. So, realistic goals are important.

  1. Maintain sub-15% bodyfat: I’ll be honest, my diet has gotten worse since I came back from training over the summer. As it turns out, living a spartan life of training, exercise and not drinking is pretty good, since coming back I’ve gone up about 10 pounds to 155, and most of the weight hasn’t been good weight. I don’t mind my weight fluctuating, what’s a lot more important is the % body fat.
  2. 100 consecutive pushups: my current PR on uninterrupted pushups is 62. I figure I can tack on another 38 somewhere.
  3. 20 consecutive pullups: I struggle with pullups, I always have. PR here is 10, and that was when I was at 145.
  4. Bench 225: I have never ever benched more than 185 for reps. I suck at it, it’s my worst exercise, and it has constantly flummoxed me.
  5. OHP 135: Current PR on OHP is 125, which I feel I should be able to get back to pretty easily. OHP is my favorite lift, and unlike bench I’ve always been pretty good at it.
  6. Squat 315: Squat PR before I started trying to cut weight to attend training was 250.
  7. Deadlift 405: This one would be huge. My max deadlift was in 2012 where I hit 350. This is by far the most difficult goal I have on this list, shooting or fitness. 400+ DL is no joke.

Yes, those goals are all in increments of 90 pounds, which seems like a fairly reasonable progression to me. Of the training goals I have, the weights are where I’m most willing to make adjustments, as I know I’ll have to go through a plateau and de-load cycle on each exercise at least once or twice. I also need to bear in mind staying in shape for my AF PT tests, which means I’ll have to mix running in there as well; which is rough for the Gain Train. One of the reasons I’m trying to cut back travel this year is because traveling really interferes with training. It’s hard to dry fire or hit the gym when you’re on the road for 100 days out of the year.

But there it is; simple, achievable goals for the 2016 season. I’m going to bookmark this post and see what I can come up with during the year. Which reminds me, I need to check the dates for the GP Sectional and Area 3 and make sure they don’t conflict with work.

Steve Fisher discusses MRDS on handguns

If you have a few minutes to kill, I strongly recommend watching this video with Steve Fisher of Sentinel Concepts discussion red dot sights on handguns. Steve has been using MRDS for some time now on his guns and has real insight into using them on defensive pistols.

Training doesn’t always equal skill

Here at Gun Nuts we’re big advocates of getting professional training. One of the big reasons I push that people get training is because it’s difficult for self-taught practitioners of anything to identify places where they’re making mistakes. Video taping yourself practicing can help, but it’s always useful to have a second set of eyes watching what you do and making corrections or offering tips.

However, just taking a class doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get any better at what you do. This can be for a number of reasons: the instructor isn’t very talented, the class is way below your current skill level, etc. However, assume for the sake of argument that the class is appropriate for your level of skill and that the instructor is talented enough to actually provide useful feedback to you as a shooter. It still doesn’t guarantee you’ll get better.

2015Hornady3Gun054440229May1054

The reason it doesn’t guarantee improvement is because improvement is self-motivated. You can take 5-10 training classes and if you don’t take any of that learning and practice it in your own time, you’ll never improve. The cycle of improvement looks like this:

  1. Learn new skills (class)
  2. Practice skills on your own (range, dry fire, etc)
  3. Pressure test skills (match, other venues)
  4. Identify weak spots, and refine

You can repeat steps 2-4 as many times as necessary to continue to refine your skills; but at least for me I’ll eventually run into a point where I then need to go back to step one as well. Classes are incredibly useful for breaking through plateaus, because again of that value of the second set of eyes that are on you. But just taking classes won’t make you better, because it’s way too easy to brain dump everything you learned in the class and not bring it into your training regimen.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you took 6 classes last year you’re better as a shooter. I’d rather see someone take 2 classes and spend that extra time and money on refining their skills on the range, shoot a few matches, and continue to work. My ideal class/training schedule would look like this:

  • Season start: take a class to knock any rust off/tune up. For me, this should be a relatively high intensity class, for example the Automatic Accuracy class I took a few years back.
  • Early-Mid-season (March-May): Dry fire, range work, refine skills. Shoot club matches, maybe some state level stuff to start getting back in to match rhythm.
  • Main season: (May-Sep) focus on major matches, keep shooting club matches and keep doing range work, but focus is on main matches. Somewhere in here, work in another class to tighten up any weak spots identified with pressure testing.
  • End of season (Oct-Jan): Do season review, identify success/failures, and do a final skill assessment to identify any weaknesses that can be addressed during the off season. Off-season is he best time to work on holes, since (at least on Hoth) matches basically stop after October. So get in the indoor range and get in your house and dry fire.

Bottom line? As it turns out, the shooting sports are like any other sport. You won’t reach your maximum potential just practicing in your basement or going to the batting cage, but you also won’t reach it if you don’t practice at all. Today’s post has been brought to you by Captain Obvious needs content.

Mitigating A Training Scar With A Deliberate Pause

Anyone that has dry fired any appreciable amount of time has likely run into the scenario were you are in a hurry between reps (or timer beeps) to the point you are quickly releasing mags and/or re-holstering to reset for the next rep. This can be a bad habit, and as much as I hate to say it, it can lead to training scars. If you do enough dry fire you might find yourself doing such actions without even thinking. Lest you think it is not a training scar you should read this article by Mike Seeklander. In the article Mike goes into great detail of experimenting during his classes and being able to trigger this training scar time after time. This is not a good thing, especially if you ever strap on a concealed handgun.

Here is a very telling excerpt from the article:

Again the next several groups go through the drill and you can probably guess by now what happens…multiple students finish the drill, and UNLOAD their gun!   How can this be?  Are they unruly and disregarding my instructions?   No, they are not.   They are going through a stress induced anomaly that comes out when the brain is reaching for something to do.   At this point in the class I stop the group and point it out, as well as some other observations and mistakes they are making during the drill that NEVER happened during the previous training drills.    The teaching point is clear, stress causes things to happen that you might not predict.  Most of which are caused by the brain searching for something to do.   This is one of the reasons it is so critical to make sure during training to follow a set of logical and effective processes during each repetition of your training drills.   The processes should be designed and to increase your chances of survival in the event of a defensive shooting.   Training these processes must be done consistently during your training drills.  

In the article Mike discusses requirement that we should be able to “observe and realize the next logical step” in a situation. So it is with that thought I offer one way that you can work to break the habit.

A Pause – a simple 1 second break following a drill done in dry fire, or even live fire, can allow you to determine your next move; but there is so much more you can do. Let’s look at a scenario:

You are ready to dry fire. You have the gear you will be using (CCW or competition), a shot timer with par time and you have your smart phone open to the countdown timer. You are ready to do some drills, maybe it is Four Aces, either way you are going to perform that drill for 4 minutes. After a couple of reps you are dropping the mag from the gun back into your hand and holstering the instant your par time beeps and the drill is finished. What if you take 2 seconds to pause and reflect, instead of racing to re-holster and reset?

Dry Fire Array

There can be some serious benefits in the pause. In addition to determining the “next logical step” you could delve deeper and reflect on your own performance. Was your draw good? Did you see the sights or were you cheating yourself? How was your grip?  When did you place your finger on the trigger? In short, you can identify areas for improvement?  If you are honest with yourself there is quite a bit of improvement to be identified during that 2 second pause.

Of course there is no free lunch and the pause will lead to fewer reps in your allotted practice time. It is also worth mentioning that personally, I have to consciously think about the pause each time, otherwise I go back to my own accelerated Unload and Show Clear procedure.

In the end, a brief pause after you finish a rep will cost virtually nothing and offers quite a few positives, including breaking a training scar that Mike Seeklander has proven to be real. The next time you are practicing, either dry or live fire, give the pause a chance. You might be surprised what you learn.

 

Why Is It Always The AK Guys?

“I’m like father for my students: I love you all, but do not mistake my generosity for weakness…
Bottom line, you will learn!
@Safety Nazis – just STFU. This was 100% controlled environment and at no time students were at any risk.”

This video has been making the rounds and it’s emblematic of the kind of stupid, dangerous antics that make some firearms training unnecessarily hazardous and unserious. Somehow it’s always the AK guys doing this crap.

Continue reading “Why Is It Always The AK Guys?”

What’s the equivalent of dry fire in other sports training?

First off, I’m genuinely surprised I spelled “equivalent” correctly in the title of this post on the first try. But anyway, on to the point. I’m not going to do a post on whether or not dry fire is useful, because duh and or hello it is. Whether you believe that dry fire is a place to practice getting faster at draws and reloads, or a place to perfect the motions at a slow pace, dry fire works. It has its limitations of course, you can’t get better at Bill Drills doing dry fire. I think a lot of people who dismiss the utility of dry fire aren’t really involved in other sports training, because every sport has its own version of dry fire.

basement gym

Weight training
We’ll start here, because it’s what I’m spending a lot of my training time on right now. When you’re lifting, one of the most important things that people frequently get wrong is form. There are thousands of videos of people lifting with poor form on the internet, all of which will eventually result in injury if not corrected. So we train for good form by lifting with a broomstick or just lifting the empty bar. If you can’t do a proper form deadlift with a 45 pound bar, you’ll never do it with 200 pounds.

Combat sports
Here’s another easy one: no, it’s not sparring. Sparring is like shooting a club match, a better comparison to dry fire would be either shadowboxing or bag work. I personally like bag work as a comparison, because like in dry fire you can either go full speed and work on improving power, or you can go partial speed and work on improving form. This could be either a heavy bag or a speed bag, when you really think about it.

Baseball
Uh, batting practice? Yeah. Batting practice.

The point that I’m driving at here is don’t let people pooh-pooh dry fire to you as a waste of your time and energy. It’s a useful tool that when employed correctly will help you get better at manipulating your gun. Take my current situation as an example: my local range doesn’t allow holster draws during public use hours, so the only place I can practice my draw is in dry fire. When I’m at the range, I’ll start “holster” drills from the #2 position (or whatever you want to call it) and work it from there. Dry fire: it works, and it works best when you understand its limitations. You’ll never get stronger just lifting the bar, and you won’t get better at shooting El Pres just from dry fire either. At some point you’ve got to make a loud noise with your gun.

Of Swords, Monkeys, and the Conscious Mind

As a competitor and CHL holder I appreciate skills and training that will transfer between the two.  With that in mind I am going to start with a short fable.  To be honest, I don’t remember where I read or heard it, and I will likely butcher it, but the lesson holds true.

 

Let’s begin…

A Japanese Zen Master spends years to train a monkey to fight with a sword. In time, the monkey becomes known, both near and far, as a master with the weapon and is well respected. A swordsman from a distant village hears tale of the monkey and his formidable skill; he decides he must know who is better, he are the monkey. The swordsman travels a great distance and challenges the monkey in a battle to the death.  He must know who is best. The battle begins.  As they spar, with every attack the swordsman tries, the monkey blocks; with every trick the monkey tries, the swordsman counters. As the struggle rages on he swordsman tires. The swordsman comes to the disheartening conclusion that the monkey, with greater endurance, will win and the swordsman will ultimately lose his life to this monkey.  A simple animal he so quickly dismissed. As he comes to terms with his fate a calming peace comes over the swordsman.  In that moment, at peace, he slays the monkey.

Now you are asking yourself (maybe aloud, to the chagrin of strangers around you) “What in the hell does this have to do with shooting?”

Simply put, in training and in action, we often get in our own way.

The swordsman knew he must beat the monkey or die. His conscious was actively working scenarios and evolving his plan. On the flip side, the monkey was just going through the motions. He did not know the stakes of the battle or the possibility of death. He was responding as he had been trained using sub-conscious actions. As soon as the swordsman came to terms with his fate and “let go”, his training allowed him to beat the monkey. He was the better swordsman, but his conscious over-thinking held him back.  As humans we do this every day and while your everyday actions are out of the realm of this blog, it is easy to relate the lesson to shooting. This concept applies to both self-defense and competition.

In competition, you often see people running around blasting every target. You can almost hear them thinking, “hit, hit, miss, move here, stop, hit, hit, ops, gun is empty, reload, etc.” they are behind the curve.  What if?

Self-defense scenarios are similar. Stress leads the body to react as trained. The more sub-conscience a skill is, the more likely a person can perform it repetitively under stress. What if?

What if you train and dry fire to the point where you can see the sights lift and come back down in recoil? Yes, this is possible; imagine what you could do.

What if you practice shooting on the move?

What if your draw stroke is fluid and almost super natural to observers?

What if you practice odd shooting angles and positions until they are no longer odd, but just a different normal?

In both self-defense and competition goal is to develop shooting, moving and reloading into a skills that are retained when stressed.

How do you get there? Repetition and practice. What can you gain? Everything. Imagine going to a match or a self-defense class and knowing you can perform any drill or obstacle they throw at you? Imagine the confidence you would have.

What if indeed.

Are you doing it wrong?

I am much more of a competition guy than a tactical guy. So I thought I would put forth some tips and tricks I have used to shave time off my stages. These are geared more toward the beginner; the person that wants to get better and is willing to train.

Shelley Rae Glock

• For stage plans, watch the faster guys and mimic their plan; at least for now. When you get really good and you can estimate time better, you can work on options. Personally, I am not there yet, so why would I presume my plan is better than a GM’s? Find the smoothest way to get the most targets.

• Try to limit transitions to 20 degrees or less. This was a huge weakness of mine and it costs time, lots of it! This is amplified if you are running into a position, stopping and then having to transition 60 degrees.

• When you have a start at the center of a stage, don’t start on a target just because it is easy if you are going to come back by it again. I have played around with this in practice and have found starting on the “right” target vs the “easily accessible” target had roughly a 3 second difference in my time on a 22 round stage. The vast majority was spent on an extra reload.

• Remember: points per second. If you’re not shooting you’re losing points, in Production, if you’re not shooting you should probably be reloading.

• When moving short distances get low and take deliberate steps. I had a habit of hopping on short moves. Ben Stoeger calls it “tactical bunny hopping”. It kills stability and sight picture. Don’t do it in competition. Don’t do it in CCW training. Unless you are the Easter Bunny, don’t do it!

• When coming to a stop, after a sprint, I would stand upright and momentum would carry me onto toes. As I am neither svelte, nor a ballerina, there is zero stability in that maneuver. Instead, when entering a position, glide in horizontally; let the momentum plant your feet. This also helped with gains in accuracy and transitions.

• If you are moving less than 5 steps, KEEP THE GUN UP! It feels weird to move like that but is noticeably quicker and smoother on the timer.

• Similarly, if running past a barricade to a shooting position just on the other side of said barricade, get the gun on target before it disappears behind the barricade. When you clear the barricade, the gun is close to the target, you can quickly cleanup the sight picture and make noise.

• The old axiom, “Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast” is wrong! Smooth can be fast, slow is just slow.

Try these and you’ll realize some improvements in your game. I did.

Buy a Shot Timer!

Recently I mentioned a concealed carry holder might try competition because the stress of a timer is real. Along those same lines, you can induce stress in your own training if you are willing to forego some Pumpkin Spice Latte’s this fall and instead buy a decent shot timer.

Buy a Shot Timer

You might be thinking, “I’ll just download an app” and for dry fire that is a serviceable solution. But for live fire, you really need a real deal, dedicated shot timer. Your phone’s speaker is not really suitable and it can result in, well, spotty results. Even for use in dry fire, I now recommend purchasing a real shot timer over an iPhone app.

Why for dry fire? To be honest, I did not understand the difference, between real vs an iPhone app. I used what I felt was a decent iPhone app for dry fire and went about my practice willfully ignorant. Then I sold some crap and bought a Competition Electronics Pocket Pro II.

The first time I used the Pocket Pro II, was a wow moment!

In addition to being easier to use and quicker to reset, it was glaringly obvious the iPhone app I was using had a long drawn out beep (measured in hundredths of a second) while the Pocket Pro II has a loud, sharp and abrupt beep. Using my USPSA Production Gear and the iPhone app it appeared I was cutting 0.70 draws. Once I started using the Pocket Pro II, it became obvious that was not true. With the Pocket Pro II the best I have got is a 0.80 with most being a 0.90.

But what about stress and such for practice, you know, the thing I mentioned at the start of the article?
One word: DRILLS. Borrow or buy a timer, go to the range when you can be by yourself and work some drills against the timer using your CCW setup. Run some popular drills and us the PAR time feature. See how good you really are compared to common standards. It won’t take long before you find yourself getting “amped” up and trying to improve your times. That is good, just remember the goal is speed AND accuracy. Speed and Accuracy… a subject for different post.

So what’s the takeaway?

  • If you’re using an phone app you might be surprised to find you are slower than you thought, at least in dry fire.
  • If you haven’t ever shot your CCW rig under a timer, you might discover you fall apart under the pressure. I promise you, it is better to identify those weaknesses now versus standing in line at the fast food joint.

Don’t take my word for it.  Prove it too yourself. I deal in truths that are proven by my own experimentation and study; so should you.