Firearms training: High-performance dry-fire training concepts
A full 98 percent of people who dry practice are not getting the full benefit from it that they could — particularly as it relates to peak performance
I was recently talking with PoliceOne Senior Editor Doug Wyllie, discussing a host of topics to do for our readers on PoliceOne. That conversation led me to thinking about ways to increase your performance for gunfights, qualifications, training, and the pure satisfaction that shooting well brings.
Do you want to significantly increase your overall shooting proficiency on a permanent basis? Do you want to increase your speed, accuracy and mental conditioning for gun-fighting?
Then you must incorporate dry practice into your lifestyle as part of your training.
What Is It?
Dry fire is the practice of working with an empty weapon and practicing all routines and sub-routines that can be done without live fire. It is critical for skill development.
Why Do It?
Most firearms techniques are best learned with an empty weapon in order to maximize awareness and control of critical physical and mental skills. The development of correct muscle memory is best achieved by doing mindful repetitions that internalize and ingrain each skill on both a conscious and subconscious level.
You will need – a safe place to practice along with all your shooting gear. A shooting timer that allows you to set par times is highly recommended. I recommend Competition Electronics Pocket Pro www.competitionelectronics.com.
Important note: Practice safely! No live ammunition in or around the dry practice area! For more safety information on how to dry practice safely, visit my website for safety tips.
Don’t just practice the techniques — perfect the techniques! Begin by setting a training goal for the session. Pick one main area to improve for your session. This could be your improving your shooting grip, stance, draw, reloads, trigger manipulation, relaxation while performing at higher speeds, movement while drawing, different positions, etc. Then, Take two to three minutes to visualize the performance you wish to achieve from start to finish. Form a movie image of what it should look like and feel like. Be very specific as to how you want to perform.
Practice achieving a perfect two handed grip while drawing and connecting solidly to the gun prior to full extension. Feel the pressure of the fingers, the wrists stiffening, keeping the trigger finger relaxed etc. Or practice moving the trigger at the same speed from start to finish without squeezing any other finger in your shooting hand. You can also practice tactical movement patterns, reloads, high speed draws, or any combination of the above. If you are just going through the motions and not trying to improve your technique, you are not getting as much out of each session as you could.
• Train at different speeds and use different start positions, targets and dry fire courses of fire. Use both block training, where you do the skill the same way for a certain number of reps and variable practice training where you do different variations each time you do it. This could be as simple as changing where your hands or gun start from, target size, different ranges to target, light conditions, incorporating movement of the body while doing the skill etc. This increases internalization of the skill and makes for a better performer.
• Start at 25 percent of your full speed and work up gradually to 50 percent, then 75 percent, then 90-95 percent of what you perceive to be your top speed where you can do the skill really well 10 times in a row. Then gradually push the pace, without compromising safety, until the skill starts to break down. You are working into the 100-105 percent zone or what I term the RED ZONE. This is the zone of improvement.
Now — and this is very important — stop slowing down every time you make a mistake unless it is a safety issue. Try to fix the mistake by focusing on where the error is coming from and put your attention into doing that aspect correctly at the same speed you made the mistake. If you do not start doing this, you will never get significantly faster or better and will have reached a skill plateau well below where you could be. If you cannot fix the mistake, then drop back to a lesser speed and pay attention to what you are doing when you are doing it correctly and then push back up to the RED ZONE.
After you have worked the skill to a maximum of 200 repetitions, take a short break.
Now, put your mind in the performance arena or gunfight! It is important to target a specific emotional state and maintain it during dry fire. If you don’t, you are not practicing proper emotional and mental conditioning and are only going thru the motions on a physical level.
Practice the skill at gunfight speed which is 90-95 percent of your top end speed for 25 to 100 repetitions with the mindset of actually performing in the gunfight, qualification or wherever you wish to perform well.
Keep each session brief but intense. Mental focus must stay razor sharp as you maintain awareness of what you are doing as you are doing it. For most people, 15-30 minutes works well.
Sample Firing Grip Exercises
Here is an example of what I would do when working with a student on their firing grip to help prepare them for a higher level of execution. Get started with these dry-fire exercises — they require the utmost attention to do them right. You will find yourself doing all kinds of things that you didn’t know you were doing. You will need shooting gear and electronic timer (ideally one which has a par-time setting) if available. Remember: no live ammunition in the dry fire area. I recommend using PSA Target #5, found on my website.
Exercise #1: Use timer if available and set a par time of 4 seconds
• Goal: Increase awareness of friction, leverage and control between the gun and the hand
• Procedure: Draw the weapon slowly and achieve a perfect two handed grip as you come onto the target. Do not touch the trigger. Feel both hands solidly connected to the gun. Get the same grip tension each and every time you do the exercise. Repeat this exercise 25 times.
Exercise #2 – Par time of 4 seconds
• Goal: Manipulating the trigger while maintaining proper grip tension on the gun. Keep constant grip pressure while manipulating the trigger.
• Procedure: Repeat exercise #1 but now you press the trigger while feeling your hands staying solidly connected to the gun. Do 25 repetitions. Keep your awareness of maintaining a solid connection to the gun with your shooting grip.
Exercise #3: Set timer for par time of 4 seconds
• Goal: Variable practice drill to get used to achieving a perfect grip while moving from different hand start positions.
• Procedure: Same as for exercise 1 but start from a different hand position each time. You can do hands up in front of you, hands holding an object, hands behind back, hands simulating holding a long gun etc. Do 25 repetitions, using a different hand start position each time. Get a perfect grip each time.
Exercise #4: Set the par time for 3 seconds then work down incrementally to 2 seconds every ten repetitions until you have done 50 reps.
• Goal: Achieve a higher level of awareness and control of the shooting grip while drawing and firing while gradually increasing your speed from roughly 50 percent to 75 percent of top speed.
• Procedure: Repeat exercises 1 or 3 at the higher level of speed, striving for a perfect grip each time.
Exercise #5: Set the par time for 1 to 1.5 seconds.
• Goal: Moving up in speed out of your comfort zone and into the Red Zone, strive to achieve a perfect grip and connection between the gun and the hand both before and while manipulating the trigger.
• Procedure: Repeat exercise 3 at the higher level of speed for 50 - 100 repetitions.
• Goal: To execute the skill at gunfight speed while incorporating proper mental focus and conditioning.
• Procedure: Set the timer to whatever speed represents 90 – 95 percent of your Red Zone speed. Do 25 meaningful, repetitions while visualizing yourself in an actual gunfight encounter or other meaningful event.
Lots of repetitions? Not really. You can do this entire series in 25 to 30 minutes.
These are only a few of thousands of dry fire exercises I have created for my students. You are limited only by your imagination.
Do this series three times a week on alternate days for a minimum of four weeks. You will notice immediate benefits in your live fire training as a direct result of a higher level of awareness of your shooting grip while you are shooting.