Training Exercises

There have been so many instances that out of nowhere a new player emerges with strong performances, giving all the indications of being the next great in the sport, and then fizzles out just as quickly as he arrived. Be it any sport, this is very common, and happens way too often. Have we ever wondered why? Probably. But then have we ever tried to find an answer to this sudden demise of the players? Most of the times, the selectors and administrators of the sport dismiss the downfall of a player as “distraction” or “he was a fluke” and all that. But is it really true? Yes, sometimes. But not most of the times.

Most of the times, a player rises high and really fast because of his great talent. But talent alone is not enough to sustain for long and face the pressures of competing at high levels. Talent must be complemented with correct regular training and supported by a rock solid basic foundation so that the player develops the correct reflex, and reflexes never falter. And how do we develop a reflex? By doing the same thing over and over again...not just the same thing, but also the correct thing. That is when we develop a subconscious and can play on “auto-pilot”.

Here I will tell you what a beginner can do as part of his training to enable him to improve steadily and maintain his performance at the highest levels of play. Remember, there might be people who laugh at you when you do this basic training, but don’t forget, ‘he who laughs last, laughs the loudest.’

Training exercises for ‘Skill Development’
When I started shooting, I was very keen to just pick up the gun and try hitting the bulls-eye. But then had it been so easy to shoot the centre, would it be an interesting sport in the first place? To shoot one shot in the bullseye is easy. But well, shooting competitions have a lot more than just one shot...

Support Training
For the first six months of my shooting, I did support training. This is the absolute basis of a strong technique and I urge every beginner to undergo support training for long enough to understand the skills required for shooting well. Shooting is a very easy and straightforward sport. All that you need to do is align your sights, keep moving in the aiming area and press the trigger smoothly so as to not disturb the alignment of your sights. Simple!

Then why can’t we hit bull’s-eye every time? Because though as easy as it may sound, pressing the trigger without disturbing the alignment is a skill that you need to develop and master.
What you actually do in support training is that you simply take the support of the shooting table and shoot, paying attention on smoothly adding pressure on the trigger. You rest the gun on the table so that it is rock steady, and then with the steady sights, you start adding pressure on the trigger gently enough to not disturb this alignment of the sights. The key here is to press the trigger ‘smoothly and continuously’. We call it “squeezing the trigger”. The trigger finger must continue squeezing the trigger gently, at a constant rate without any interruptions.  The trigger finger action must be one smooth and continuous movement till the shot fires and for a second or two after the firing of the shot.

Because of the support of the table, the shooter is able to maintain steady sight alignment. This steady alignment of sights gives him the courage to be able to pull the trigger as one continuous and smooth action without the fear of a bad shot or without the wish to grap the opportunity and press the trigger the moment the gun is crossing the centre of the target. If a shooter shoots in the normal shooting position, obviously the gun would move because of the instability of the arm, and with the sights moving all over the target, the shooter would not have the courage to squeeze the trigger smoothly and continuously and on the contrary would try to seize the perfect moment and jerk the trigger at that ‘perfect moment’, resulting in the shot going farther than you can imagine. Seizing that illusional perfect moment is the ENEMY NO.1 of a shooter.

A shooter must remember that there is no perfect aiming point that he must shoot on. Nobody in the world can have a rock steady arm. A trained shooter has a steadier arm than a beginner but never a rock steady arm. He has to continuously keep adding pressure on the trigger and wait for the shot to get fired in this instability. But what earns him the tens is the smooth and continuous movement of his trigger finger inspite of the instability. What gets a shooter ten after ten after ten is the coordination between the smooth and continuous movement of the trigger finger and the movement of the arm. This synchronisation is developed over hours and days and weeks and months of correct technical training. There is no direct way of developing this synchronisation or coordination. By moving the trigger finger smoothly and continuously, what a shooter does is that he does not disturb the development of this synchronisation or coordination. That goes a long way in helping a shooter improve his skills.

Lock wrist
Now comes fixing the wrist. You don’t need to undergo Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky training regime to be able to hold your wrist fixed, because I can guarantee you that even Sylvester stallone will not be able to fix his wrist well enough when he is shooting but a 15 year old girl weighing 40kg from our shooting centre will be able to keep her wrist absolutely fixed while shooting. This is because fixing the wrist does not require strength, it requires skill. The gun is not a 100kg object for which you need to develop muscles and need strength, it is merely 1kg and that is the same as holding a water bottle. Do you need to strengthen your wrist to drink water from a 1litre water bottle? Then I think you got my point. Fixing the wrist means ‘not moving the wrist’ when you are pressing the trigger. A fixed wrist will ensure that there is no deflection of the barrel of the gun, and the gun keeps pointing in the aiming area while the shot goes off.
Detaching the movement of the fingers from one another, helps in fixing the wrist. Try this for yourself, open your palm and now bend the thumb without moving other fingers. Easy? Yes, now try bending index finger without moving the thumb or other fingers. Now try middle finger, ring finger and the little finger. You will realise that thumb was the easiest while the little finger was the toughest. But with training, we can detach the movement of the fingers from each other and make their movement independent. This is one step that you take in the direction of shooting a bull’s-eye.

So what we basically need is that the wrist remains still while we move our trigger finger to execute the shot. To strengthen this fixing of the wrist, we can do the one hand support training exercise. What we do in this is that we sit on a chair, facing the target in a similar position to our normal standing shooting stance, and then extend the shooting arm towards the target to shoot, but with a support underneath the arm, between the elbow and the wrist. This causes the load of the gun to fall more on the wrist and less on the other parts of the arm and shoulder. Now the shooter must move his trigger finger independently, smoothly and continuously while keeping his wrist fixed.

What is of utmost importance here, is that the shooter must focus all his attention on the ‘feeling of the wrist to stay fixed’ and move his trigger finger smoothly and continuously.  The shooter must flex his trigger finger inwards and outwards with all his attention on the firm and fixed wrist.
Only this focus on the feeling of the wrist to be fixed while moving the trigger finger can develop this firmness and fixing of the wrist in the shooting position and not get affected by the movement of the trigger finger. By natural anatomy of the body, the wrist is bound to move with the movement in any of the fingers. But the shooting sport demands the shooter to maintain a fixed wrist while moving his finger and this by the way, is the most important aspect in pistol shooting.

Improving stability of the arm
Now comes maintaining the sight alignment and holding in the aiming area. This requires training the arm to become stable. Some people are naturally more stable than others, but there is not a single person in the world who cannot stabilise his arm enough to be able to compete with the best in the world. Only the people who train “correctly” end up achieving high stability and finally end up as winners. I must clarify here that stability is the least important in becoming a world champion. The ability to keep the wrist fixed while adding pressure on the trigger ranks the highest in terms of importance in technique.

However, you cannot win if your hand is shaking from Mumbai to Delhi and for that you have to train to be able to stabilise as much as you can. And this training of stability never ends, because with training and time you only keep getting more stable but your hand will never become absolutely rock steady. So keep training and hope that one day you will reach the stage closest to being rock steady.

The only way to improving your stability is to hold and hold and hold your gun for hours together. I remember I used to hold the gun for 1-1.5 hours almost everyday. I used to stand in front of a plain wall and keep holding the gun as steady as I could, keeping the sights aligned. Initially I could not hold for more than 15seconds, but then with time I could hold steady for even 1 minute and more. It gave me fantastic results because so much holding gave me a lot of confidence! Also such isometric training helps you develop muscle memory and then your hand just knows what it has to do....hold steady!

Initially your arm will move a lot and it will be very difficult to maintain the sight alignment. At this stage, give more emphasis on maintaining sight alignment rather than trying to hold it steady. Once you are able to keep the sights aligned even while moving a lot, most of your work is done. Then all you have to do is just try to maintain this alignment and hold and hold and hold and with time the arm will get steadier and steadier. The next step would be to align your sights, hold for a few seconds and then close your eyes for 10-12 seconds. Then when you open the eyes, your sights must still stay aligned and your arm must stay in the aiming area. Initially your sights will move out and also your arm will drift away from the aiming area. But this is what you need to train that once you enter your aiming area, the sights remain aligned and arm stays in the aiming area without any effort from your side.

When you close the eyes, there is no visual aid. All you can fall back on is the ‘feeling and sensitivity’ of your muscles. So you concentrate on how your muscles feel while your eyes were open and then when you close your eyes, you try to maintain the position of your arm and sights by focussing on the muscles and its movements. If your sight alignment changed, that means your wrist moved or neck/head position changed. If sights are aligned but the arm moved, that means wrist was locked but your arm moved from the shoulder. So it is important to fix the wrist and also the position of your arm from the shoulder. Training in the gymnasium will not help in this. It is not strength that is required, this is a mere skill. And this skill can be developed by focussing on the position of the arm and the feeling of the muscles and trying to identify and keep it constant.
Once you are able to maintain sight alignment and position of the sights in the aiming area, holding the pistol will become effortless and all that is left is to be able to add pressure smoothly and continuously.

Body balance
Many a times a shooter is found swaying forward and backwards. This affects the overall stability and distracts the shooter. The whole position of the arm shifts with this swaying and a good shot ends up in the wrong place. Some shooters or beginners think that because they are thin they move more. Some shooters boast and give an excuse for their fat as being fat helps them to stay firmly fixed and nothing can move them..... God help such thinking!

The reason for the sway is not your weight but lack of body balance. Why do we all sway when we are standing with our feet closed even when the eyes are open. And if you close your eyes, you could even fall with the sway! This is because there is lack of natural balance.

But it is very easy to improve the body balance. Simply stand with your eyes closed and try to balance yourself and not move. Once you master this you could stand on a soft surface like a pillow or cushion and then try to stay steady. Once that is mastered you could do holding exercises standing on a pillow or any soft surface.

Winning is not easy and you have to work hard and make some sacrifices. Just hold on to your temptation of trying to start shooting immediately if you want to shoot well for the rest of your life. Consider this training to be like learning to balance or swim. You will never fall off a bike even if you ride it after years because some skills when learnt correctly just don’t leave you.....and how good is that!

Ohh did I forget addressing some other problems that you face? Well I am too tired to write further, why don’t you come down to any of our shooting centres and find the answers for yourself?