Slow In Practice = Fast In Combat

 

Sometimes the most effective way to shoot faster and more accurately is to is to take one step back, slow down, and change your approach.

Personally, I don’t like slowing down.

It’s not in my nature.

I want to shoot faster without compromising accuracy by simply moving faster.

Put another way, I want the results, but I don’t want to put in the effort needed to get those results.

I just want to do more of what I’m already doing and get better results.

As Dexter Rutecki said in “Aspen Extreme,” that’s the definition of insanity. (Ok…maybe he was quoting Tony Robbins)

When people do that–add speed to mediocre technique–they just get more mediocre results.

It’s like the sign that says, “Drink coffee…make more mistakes faster and with more energy!”

There is another way…a better way. And it’s not growing a beard and changing your wardrobe so that you look more like an operator.

I was incredibly fortunate to go to a couple of week-long summer camps 25 or so years ago where I had the opportunity to train with Olympic track & field athletes and coaches. I was exposed to cutting edge mental, physical, and psychological training methods, and one of the most powerful training techniques for building high quality speed was “slow training.” It still works for Olympians and it’s been proven incredibly effective for martial arts (think Bruce Lee) and firearms training as well.

A well-practiced shooter can react, draw, aim, and put accurate rounds on target in under a 1.25 seconds. Many can put 1 or more accurate rounds on target in under a second.

That’s too fast to think about any individual part of the process. And you can’t have any wasted movement in your technique and perform that quickly.

It’s got to be automatic.

Conditioned.

Pop culture calls it “muscle memory.” Science calls it “neural pathways” and “myelination.”

Myelination is a process of basically wrapping and insulating the gaps between neurons in the brain.  It changes the speed that signals are transmitted along neural pathways from roughly 2 miles per hour to 200 miles per hour.  It lets us execute complex movement quicker than an untrained person, and the thicker this insulation, the better we can perform under stress.

In fact, it’s one of the keys to how you can train less and still shoot faster and more accurately under extreme stress.

Watch a high level shotputter or discus, javelin, or hammer thrower and you’ll see them executing a series of complex motor skills WAY faster than they could if they had to think through each movement.

Watch a professional pianist or drummer and you’ll see the same phenomenon.

Do fast shooters, throwers, and musicians get fast by starting fast?

Did they get faster by adding speed to sloppy form?

No.

They developed and perfected their form at a MUCH slower pace and then speed came as a natural byproduct of the myelination process.

Ideally, they practiced at a speed that allowed them to do the same motion with perfect efficiency and form.

EXACTLY the same way, every time…until it became automatic and required no conscious thought to do. (this process takes way less effort than most people think)

You might be thinking that combat skills are different.

They’re not.  In fact, the faster you intend to execute a given skill and the more stress that you think you might be under when you execute it, the more critical it is that you start by practicing slowly.

It’s because of a principle called the Weber Fechner rule.  Basically, as stimulus increases, the brain’s ability to pick out details drops.  Let’s take a drawstroke as an example.  When you do it full speed, your brain is flooded with sensory input and can’t pick out details about what you’re doing in real time.  But when you slow down, your brain is able to focus on the details of what you’re doing and eliminate wasted movement during each step of the technique.  And the elimination of wasted movement is the key to speed.

Or, as world champion shooter, Max Michel says (paraphrased), when you practice at full speed, all you are aware of is the very beginning and the very end…everything else is a blur.  That’s why you should do roughly 80% of your dry fire practice at 50% speed…so you can spot and fix errors and refine technique between the very beginning and the very end of your drawstroke.

But the benefits of slow practice goes beyond just eliminating wasted movement and getting faster.  It also helps you perform better under stress.  Here’s how.

Let’s say you have two people trying to cut through two identical pieces of particularly hard, stubborn pieces of wood with a hand saw or a cable saw.

The first guy REALLY wants to do it the fastest and so he pours on the speed immediately. His saw is bouncing around and sawdust is flying. But the board looks more like someone went at it with a hatchet than with a saw. There are several shallow cuts at slightly different angles, mostly close to where he intended to make the cut. Within a few minutes he’s got a triangle shaped notch that’s an inch wide and an inch deep.

The second guy takes the time to start painfully slow and get a groove started. He moved as slow as necessary so that every cut is on the exact same line. The deeper the groove gets, the less attention he has to pay to the details and the more speed he adds. Eventually, the groove is deep enough that he saws with reckless abandon. As he finishes cutting through the board, he’s sawing faster, than the guy who’s still making shallow cuts on the surface of the board.

In this example, cutting through the board is building muscle memory/neural pathways and when your technique is identical from repetition to repetition, the process goes much faster.

When you take the time to practice as slow as you need to to practice technique perfectly, the groove of your technique gets so deep that nothing will knock you off.

When you practice something over and over, exactly the same way, you not only create a neural pathway in the brain, but it gets surrounded by an insulating sheath of cholesterol called myelin. This insulating sheath protects the neural pathway from the performance robbing effects of adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, and other chemicals that are released in extreme stress situations and, as I said earlier, it speeds up how fast the signals travel along the neural pathway by 100 times.  Not only that, it speeds up how fast you can send a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th signal on that same neural pathway by 30X!

The more variation you have between repetitions, the longer it takes to develop the neural pathways and myelin sheath.  This means it will take you more time and more money to reach the same level of skill.

So slow, perfect training will not only help you perform better at higher speeds, it will also help you perform better under extreme stress.

Not only that, but slow training will help you get to the level of performance that you want to achieve faster and cheaper than always trying to push your speed.

Think about it…that means that you can spend less time and less money practicing and you can shoot faster and more accurately than you are now.

How’s that possible?

The vast majority of shooters have wasted movement in their technique and they have more opportunity for improvement by removing wasted movement than by simply trying to execute their current technique faster.

It’s like tightening up loose steering on a car. You can keep a car with loose steering on the road, but you can keep a car with tight steering on the road and under control at MUCH higher speeds.

Put another way, if you’ve got a race car with loose steering, which is going to help you win races…beefing up the supercharger or tightening up the steering?  Add power & speed without control and you’re likely to go into a wall.

So here’s 3 tools to help you get the most out of your slow training…

  1. Use a metronome. I use an iPhone app called “Metro Timer” and use it even more than I use my shot timers. The hardest part about training slow is…doing stuff slowly. This is especially true if you’re already somewhat fast. There’s a natural tendency to speed up way too soon. With slow training, the focus is on how many PERFECT reps you can do in a row, not how quickly you speed up.  As an example, if you’re trying to improve your drawstroke, break it up into several component parts, slow your metronome down to 1-2 beats per second, and focus on perfecting each component part. Slowly speed up, but only go as fast as you can and still keep perfect form for 10-20 reps in a row.
  2. Use a camera phone. I use an iPhone and 2 apps…Coach’s Eye and Hudl Technique. They both allow you to watch videos at slow speed and high speed. I watch my full speed videos at slow speed and pick them apart to find easy opportunities for improvement.  Then I’ll practice the technique at slow speed…either choppy with a metronome or just slow, like a 10 second drawstroke. If I’m practicing smooth and slow, I’ll record my technique and play it back at 2x or whatever speed I need to for it to be “real” speed to make sure that there isn’t any wasted movement.  In general, if you find someone with technique that you want to mimic, you can slow down video of them performing until you can watch & mirror it perfectly. The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to speed up the video and still follow along with them.  Likewise, if you’re practicing a technique at ½ or ¼ speed, you should be able to play it back at 2x or 4x and have it look the way you want it to look in real-time.  If you want an in-depth video analysis of your form from a world recognized instructor, check out >THIS PROGRAM<

If you have a choice between doing 5 minutes of slow dry fire training per day for 7 days or a single 35 minute live fire session, I’d suggest slow dry fire to 99 shooters out of 100. It’s that much more effective.

  1. Use high quality dry fire drills and use every learning cheat and hack possible.  If you do dry fire wrong, using the drills that most articles and YouTube videos tell you to do, your mind will separate live fire and dry fire and the benefits of dry fire don’t carry over.  It’s a very common problem for people who try to cobble together their own dry fire training from things they see on YouTube and read on blogs.  21 Day Alpha Shooter does dry fire right and has been proven develop skills that will work in high stress shooting situations faster and cheaper than what is possible with live fire training or old-school dry fire training.  The DVD course uses more than a dozen accelerated learning techniques, but here’s one of them…

    You know how exercise videos have someone on the screen demonstrating proper technique and you follow along with them during your workout, mirroring what they do until you do it as well as they do?  This is a incredibly powerful learning hack takes advantage of something in the brain called a “mirror neuron.”  The non-technical name is “monkey see, monkey do.”  Regardless of what you call it, it’s an under-used accelerated learning tool.
    21 Day Alpha Shooter takes advantage of this hack…and more than a dozen others.  One way to think of the course is that it’s like a workout video where you’re doing follow-along dry fire drills with a pistol.  This gives you the opportunity to CONTINUALLY mirror perfect form on the screen in front of you.  You don’t have to rely on memory from your last course and hope that you’re practicing the way that you should be.  With 21 Day Alpha Shooter, you’ll always know how you should be doing a particular technique as well as why.

    Check out this week’s specials, by clicking >HERE<  You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Questions?  Comments?  Fire for effect by commenting below:

 

 

 

 

11 Comments

  • thomas

    Reply Reply February 26, 2016

    very good information….. thank you

  • Keith Sheehan

    Reply Reply February 26, 2016

    Hi guys, My background is being a former member of USAMTU, and being trained by the best the Army had to give. Endured the perils of live fire at the ‘running man course’ in Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, and Santo Domingo. The most valuable lesson I learned is that, contrary to all the ‘cowboys & indians’ movies of the day, you don’t necessarily die when you’re shot. As a matter of fact, you can even return fire and stop the aggression. I’m 73 now and Parkinson’s has me shaking like a dog shitting razor blades. After 15 yards, even with your great training tips, a bad guy is fairly safe from anything more serious than partial loss of hearing, but I can still ring steel consistently with my R-93 7STW out to 800 yards. With a handgun, the bad guy has to be halitosis close, so I bought and carry A taurus Judge which I keep stoked with 00 buck. Thanks for all the great encouragement. All the best, Keith M. Sheehan (by the way, my ancient computer doesn’t pick up your webinars or some of your other stuff either. My problem not yours).

    • Ox

      Reply Reply February 26, 2016

      Thanks, Keith!

    • Mike

      Reply Reply March 3, 2017

      Way to keep after it Keith! You made me laugh with the Parkinson’s comment…and more.

      A positive attitude with crappy thing happening makes life livable. As I’m getting up there I love hearing about how you heros keep things moving forward.

      Thanks for the insight and your service.

  • James

    Reply Reply February 26, 2016

    Good info. That’s how I learned as a kid and over time got in a hurry. Went back to the basics a year ago and never shot better

  • Ken Brown

    Reply Reply February 26, 2016

    Its good stuff your spreading … keep it rolling:)

  • Kelly

    Reply Reply February 27, 2016

    Excellent information. As co-owner of a firearms training business in Washington, DC, I especially appreciate your article, particularly the wood cutting analogy. My partner and I agree that bad dry fire training is worse than none, as it forms multiple and sloppy neural pathways. Trainers I know would ALWAYS rather teach a novice shooter, safely, fundamentally perfectly, but slowly at first, than work with an experienced shooter who has deeply ingrained bad habits.

  • RayJN

    Reply Reply December 17, 2016

    Practice makes perfect if you practice perfectly.

  • Sam W.

    Reply Reply March 3, 2017

    Smooth is fast.
    Have you seen pictures of large groups of Chinese practicing Tai Chi? Not only is it for health that is Martial Art training combined. Apply the old science to the new Martial Art of gunfighting.

  • Curious 1

    Reply Reply March 3, 2017

    As an instructor I agree with your very helpful comments. However, I would like your opinion as to when some practice sessions should be at full speed.

    If practice is always at slow perfection you would be ingraining slow for the real life confrontation when your skills will drop to the lowest level of training you are depending upon.

    Would three separate sessions at slow speed, with subsequent practice sessions at slow speed AND at faster or fastest speed be an appropriate plan?

    • Ox

      Reply Reply March 3, 2017

      Great question. There are several different ways to approach this…I’ll give you one of a few that I use.

      In short, I spend 50-75% of my practice time focusing on perfect, smooth, efficient form. The rest of the time, I go at whatever speed I can go at and have an 80-90% success rate. Part of finding that speed is continually pushing speed and backing off when I push too far.

      As an example, I know that I can hit a 4″ target from an IWB holster at 21 feet 90% of the time in 1.2 seconds. I know I can hit a torso from the same distance 90% of the time in .8 seconds. And a 1″ target at 21 feet 80% of the time in 1.5 seconds (I do the majority of my practice on 1″ targets).

      So I’ll spend the majority of my practice time at half speed, focusing on details and perfection. Then I’ll start adding speed until I get to my past benchmark and spend a few reps at that speed to verify that I can maintain technique at that speed.

      Then I’ll start pushing the speed and see 1. how much I can push my speed and 2. what part of my technique falls apart first. When I’ve identified a part of my technique that is not dialed in, I’ll slow back down, focus on it, and try to build the speed back up again.

      This doesn’t take a ton of time…you can cycle through the process in just a few minutes.

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