Training your weaknesses

One of the most dangerous pits that competitive shooters often find themselves in is that of training their strengths, and not their weaknesses.  It’s human nature to want to do things that we’re good at, and not do things that we’re not so good at, because ultimately we want to 1) enjoy ourselves and 2) feel good about the time we spent doing X.  I’ll use my own shooting experience and training as an example.

When I shoot the IDPA classifier, my scores and times usually land me in the upper band of Sharpshooter classification, which is roughly analogous to a USPSA “C” class shooter.  However, in matches I am competitive with Expert (analogous to “B” class in USPSA) shooters, and am generally in the running to win my division at club level matches.  So why do I do better in matches than I do on the classifier?  The answer is pretty simple, actually – the matches often play to my athletic ability and not my shooting ability.  I can shave time off a stage by running faster, or being quicker than an opponent, and thus better my position in the standings not by my shooting skill, but because of my footspeed/coordination.

Compare the average IDPA match which incorporates lots of movement and a reasonable amount of athletic ability to the IDPA qualifier, which has almost no movement and focuses primarily on “shooting skill”.  There is no place in the qualifier for me to shave seconds by being a good sprinter – the one 5 yard dash isn’t really “enough” movement for foot speed to be a factor.

My training bias is then towards stages where I can move a lot – stages that place emphasis on rapid, close up shots and lots of movement, aka the “shoot ‘n scoot” stages.  The problem is that if I train for the stages that I’m already good at, I don’t improve overall as a shooter.  My weakness isn’t speed, it’s long, tight shots from great than 20 yards.

That’s why when I’m trying to get in shooting shape for a major IDPA match (and I’ve got several coming up), I practice using the qualifier.  Yes, it’s a set COF that doesn’t change, but it allows me to focus on the things that I’m not good at – namely making those long, tight shots that require both speed and precision accuracy.  To make it more challenging, I don’t always use standard IDPA targets.  I’ll often use ICORE or NRA Action Pistol targets, coupled with ICORE penalities.  The ICORE penalty system adds 1 second for B hits, and 2 seconds for C hits – and let me tell you, the 8/B ring on one of those targets is SMALL.  You’ve got a 2 inch wide pad in between the A ring and the charlie zone, so it’s really easy to get in a hurry and start tossing C hits all over the paper.

By training this way, I’m focusing on the parts of my training that need work – yes, it can be demoralizing when I go to score my targets and there are C hits all over the place, but it also provides me with much better feedback on what I’m doing wrong. The IDPA qualifier is a good way to practice long shots, and if that’s your particular weakness, try shooting the entire match from 15-20 yards. To do that, you’d shoot the 7 and 10 yard portions at 15 yards, and the 15 and 20 yard portions from their RX’d distances. Initially, don’t worry about your time – yes, do it on the clock, but your primary goal should be to get A ring hits, so take as long on each shot as you need to get those hits. As you practice, you’ll get faster.


  1. Good point. Reminds me of the Westside Barbell philosphy of “train your weakness’ hardest”. It’s an effective philosophy but not much fun.

  2. “Cry in the gym, laugh on the battlefield…”
    (I dunno who said that…)

    The problem that I have most often is just staying focused – I sometimes ADD-out in the middle of a stage or forget what I’ve got to do. I’ve found that taking the time to actually fill out one of Steve Anderson’s Stage Analysis sheets helps me in staying focused. Especially good is that after a COF, I can write my thoughts down. For shorter COF or standards, I don’t do this – I’ll practice those at the range specifically.

    BTW, I think that is one place where IDPA is easier than IPSC – the stages are usually more concise and direct. IPSC can get all sorts of odd…

    BTW – for making longer shots, something that Robb Allen mentioned in yesterdays comments sticks out. He talked about shooting as fast as you can see the sights (From Enos’ book) and keeping things lined up “perfect” as you work the trigger. I practice that a lot with a .22 shooting groups at practice (25 yards or scaled target at 50′) or in PPC matches with my centerfire guns. Additionally, adding a time constraint for lining up and breaking the shot isn’t that tough to do. This is especially permissible to do at a slow-fire only range too.

  3. Ok, I *like* that stage analysis planning sheet!

    A lot. A real lot. A real, really lot.

    Thank you very much for posting that, Less.

    That looks perfect for solving one of my biggest issues, which is having my brain go out the window and tunnel vision set in the minute the buzzer sounds.

    My other big issue is an intermittent trigger jerk, but more live and dry-fire practice will help with that.

    I hope.

  4. I agree that you must train your weeknesses harder. But do not neglect your strengths either. And in alot of cases, simply knowing your weeknesses and how to adapt to them through your strengths is the way to go.

    Personally when I’m training for anything, I try to live by the montra “Amatures train until they get it right. Professionals train until they can’t get it wrong”. But one of the most important things I’ve learned about training is always finish a session on a good note (successful completion of a goal). And don’t forget that any shooting sport is as much mental as it is physical.

  5. Oh man, I’ve got stories for days about how I’ve really dicked the dog on some occasions…

    For example, this weekend I blew through a 3gun stage and forgot to double-tap two shotgun plates – that’s 2 failure to engage and 2 mikes… I just blanked – and I was on fire up until that too!

    You know why I did that?

    Because I forgot my “binder” at home and while I had visualized the “perfect” run I got really hung-up on seeing the bead of the shotgun. The analytic conscious mind took over and short circuited what was supposed to happen.

    One interesting thing to note, however, is something that Enos mentions in his book about how certain situations mimic drills or stages that you’ve seen before – for example, “Madness”, sorta mimics pin shooting… (if you’re aiming only for the heads…)

    I find that in cases like that, I’ve usually got no trouble at all…

    I’ve yet to read Lanny Bassham’s book, “With Winning in Mind”, but I hear that it helps a lot of folks with problems such as this.

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