A theory of recoil

Everyone talks about recoil, absorbing recoil, how to compensate for recoil, etc.  The best practical pistol shooters in the world seem to not even feel the effects of recoil as they hose bullets downrange.  At various points in my life, I’ve been told that the best to compensate for recoil is my stance, or how I’m holding the gun, or that one arm is locked, or that one arm shouldn’t be locked, etc etc.

After much thought and consideration, I have a new theory.  It’s all in the grip.  As Tam talks about here, reference Mas Ayoob’s “crush grip”, and as Todd Jarret demonstrated with the “champion’s grip” how you hold the gun is the most important aspect in absorbing recoil.  That’s what allows guys like Jerry Miculek and Robbie Leatham to fire accurate, fast shots while off-balance or not in the best recoil absorbing stance.

My theory is further borne out by the gigantic Popeye-forearms these guys have.  If you’ve never shaken hands with Jerry Miculek, I’d advise you not to if you don’t want your hand unintentionally crushed into paste. The forearm theory of recoil works like this – when the gun is fired, the first action it wants to take is to use your wrists as a pivot point and rotate the muzzle upward. This is compensated for by a variety of mechanisms, which do include a proper stance, the muscles in the shoulders and lower back, etc; however the first muscle group that recoil encounters resistance from would be…the muscles in the forearms.

If you’re gripping the gun “20 percent tighter”, your forearm muscles are going to be properly engaged so that when recoil forces act on the gun, they will encounter resistance from your muscular tension. Of course, unless you’re like Jerry Miculek or Todd Jarret, your forearms (mine included) probably aren’t strong enough to soak up all that recoil, which is where the importance of arm extension and proper stance come into play.

However, if you’d like to have some serious “recoil-soaking-grip-crushing-goddamn-popeye-arms”, here are a few exercises you can do around the house to strengthen your grip and improve your recoil absorption.

Wrist curls

If you have some dumbbells or light weights around the house (you won’t need more than 10 or 15 pounds unless you’re already a forearm freakazoid), sit down in a chair with your forearm resting on your leg, with your wrist able to move freely up and down.  With the weight in your hand, proceed to curl the dumbbell moving your wrist only until failure point; transfer the weight to your other hand and repeat that number of reps.  Hit this link for an excellent example of wrist curl form.


Push-ups are the ultimate upper body exercise.  While not ideal for targeting the forearms, those muscle groups are used during a proper push-up to maintain your form and positioning.  When you’re doing push-ups, you’ll get better results if you maintain proper form and do fewer reps than if you blast out as many reps as possible with lousy form.  This link has essentially perfect form.

Newspaper Crumple

Hold a piece of newspaper out at arm’s length, and using one hand only crumple it up as fast as possible.  Don’t believe me?  Just try it!

Dry fire a DA Revolver

Ref: Exhibit A) Jerry Miculek.

There are a lot of other ways you can strengthen your forearms, including some gimmicky work out items designed just for it.  While you’re increasing your grip strength and helping your ability to soak up recoil, it’s important to keep in mind that superhuman popeye arms are no substitute for proper fundamentals.  Grip strength is only one part of absorbing recoil and shooting fast, and while I’ve come to believe that it’s an extremely important part, it’s only one aspect of the total package.

And as a final side note, chicks dig good forearms; or at the very least my wife likes mine.


  1. A couple of observations, because I think you’re dead right about forearm strength. I’ve been doing the program at http://hundredpushups.com/ and can tell a big difference in my shooting (as well as posture, time to fatigue, and beer gut).

    The guy who works at my local gun shop also got me started with some pistol exercises like seeing how long I can hold it on target, making circles with the pistol by starting large and refining to a small area, and tracing the alphabet in the air with the muzzle in proper stance.

    For grip training, Iron Mind has some super grippers called “Captains of Crush” (http://www.ironmind.com/ironmind/opencms/ironmind/Main/captainsofcrush.html, note that the site is for serious body-builders, not slobs like me). I can occasionally close their 1.5 strength gripper and have managed to close the number 2 a few times. Also, they have a two-finger gripper that’s good for trigger finger exercises.

  2. Sure! If you add a part of your body to the recoiling mass, it lowers acceleration. Wrist taught and elbow bending; elbow locked, only allowing the shoulder to move; or wrists taught and the weak hand adding mass underneath the weapon.

    Plus, we all know what happens with a wobbly wrist and an auto-loader.

  3. Ok, in all seriousness – I’m into boxing and keeping our hands safe/in the fight is a huge part of the game.

    Ross Enamiat of Ross Training fame has a great article on forearm/wrist development: http://www.rosstraining.com/articles/trainingthehands.html

    Most of these ideas are very very simple – along the lines the newspaper tear – but targeted at the ability to do more reps/maximize impact. For example, instead of tearing newspapers, the rice grab allows for more repetitions in a shorter span of time. Ditto the weight roller…

    I’ll also add that most big stores (target, Walmart, etc) sell soft medicine balls in the workout section that squeezing/throwing/crushing these is a great grip builder…

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