Slow in practice means fast in combat
Thursday, October 06, 2016
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 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 and field athletes and coaches. I was exposed to cutting-edge mental, physical and psychological training methods.
One of the most powerful training techniques for building high-quality speed was "slow training." It still works for Olympians, and it has 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 1.25 seconds. Many can put one 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."
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 naturally. Ideally, they practiced at a speed that allowed them to do the same motion with perfect efficiency and form — exactlythe same way, every time — until it became automatic and required no conscious thought to do.
You might be thinking combat skills are different. They're not. In fact, the faster you intend to execute a given skill and the more stress you think you might be under when you execute it, the more critical it is that you practice slowly.
It's because of a principle called the Weber-Fechner law. Basically, as stimulus increases, the brain's ability to pick out details drops.
Let's take a draw stroke 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.
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 piece of wood with a hand saw or a cable saw.
The first guy really wants to do it the fastest, 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 moves as slow as necessary so 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.
In fact, neuro science shows us that when you practice something over and over, exactly the same way, you not only create a neural pathway in the brain, but it also 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.
The more variation you have between repetitions, the longer it takes to develop the neural pathways and myelin sheath. So slow, perfect training will not only help you perform better at higher speeds, but will also help you perform better under extreme stress.
Not only that, but slow training will help you get to the level of performance you want to achieve faster than always trying to push your speed.
Think about it: That means 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 and speed without control, and you're likely to go into a wall.
So here are three 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 draw stroke, 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 two 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 draw stroke. 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 there isn't any wasted movement.
In general, if you find someone with technique you want to mimic, you can slow down video of them performing until you can watch and 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 half or quarter 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 have a choice between doing five minutes of slow dry-fire training per day for seven 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.
3. Use high-quality dry-fire drills and model perfect form
In running 140-plus firearms classes per month for more than three years, SEALed Mindset saw one common thing in many of their students: They had done dry fire wrong before coming to train with them. If you do dry fire wrong, your mind separates live fire and dry fire, and the benefits of dry fire don't carry over.
It's a common problem for people who try to cobble together their own dry-fire training from things they see on YouTube and read on blogs.
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 nontechnical name is "monkey see, monkey do." Regardless of what you call it, it's an underused accelerated learning tool.
Take advantage of this hack, and watch 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 you're practicing the way that you should be.
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