I got a great question recently: What is the best way to simulate "stress shooting?"

It’s an important question, and one that most people get wrong.

When most people think of stress shooting, they think of trying to shoot in high stress shooting conditions that are usually overwhelming. Force on force; a dark range with flashing lights and heavy metal or screaming; immersive scenarios and/or time constraints that are beyond the shooter’s ability.

This type of training does not help shooters improve quickly…it mainly serves to highlight shortcomings and gets the shooter to focus on what not to do. In many cases, they cause the shooter to focus on avoiding what caused pain in the past rather than what they should be doing.

This can create intense emotional memories and it can serve as a wake-up call to shooters who are overconfident, but it alters brain chemistry in such a way that it’s harder to learn or improve complex motor skills.

Fortunately, there are much more effective ways to do stress training, particularly at home with dry fire.

Stress training has two big parts:

1. Making your technique more and more resilient to higher and higher levels of stress.
2. Training your mind to remain calmer and clearer under higher and higher levels of stress.

When we think of stress shooting, we think of extreme stress shooting, but stress is anything that takes you outside of your comfort zone and that gives us a huge window of training opportunities … again, things we can do at home with dry fire.

So, how do we simulate stress shooting at home?

Like most skills, it’s a step-by-step or crawl-walk-run process.

Basically, we take fundamental shooting drills and alter them just enough that you’re out of your comfort zone, have to focus 100% on the drill, and can do the drill successfully most, but not all of the time.

You could call this increasing the stress level or increasing the cognitive load.

“Stress” shooting can be as easy as trying to do a dry fire course of fire while counting backwards from 100 by 7s out loud…or while standing on one leg…or while lunging in various directions.

The key is to apply a cognitive load or other perceived threat to the central nervous system that stretches skill vs. breaking the shooter.

Put another way, it’s like a small exposure to a virus that your body can adapt to vs. a large exposure that overwhelms the host.

A small exposure causes a positive adaptation. An over-exposure causes scarring.

We cover a step-by-step for doing this throughout Praxis.

Like I said, stress training is a two-part process…

First of all, we want to make our skill resilient so that whatever situation we encounter will be normal rather than novel.

One way you can think about this is that a life and death situation is stressful in and of itself, but that stress can be compounded if the situation is new and you have to figure out how to bridge the gap between what you trained and what you’re faced with.

When you encounter a real-world threat, we want your brain to say, “I recognize this…I’ve dealt with this before…I know what to do.” rather than “Oh, crap!...” and blanking and having significant lags while trying to figure things out to apply the flat-footed, linear skills that you did on the range.

There are a ton of examples of this:

  • The threat is at an angle but you’ve always practiced engaging targets straight ahead.
  • You’ve done all of your practice with a stance and reality dictates that you make the shot while off balance.
  • All of your training is from the holster, but your pistol is laying on the ground.

Regardless, you want to make your training as varied as possible so it’s as resilient as possible, but you want to add variety in a specific way for maximum effect.

Anyone can ramp up the complexity of a drill so that it makes shooters tank.

That doesn’t really do any good…the trick is to add complexity gradually so that the drills you’re doing are just beyond what you can currently do. This is one of the keys to the effectiveness of Praxis.

The second part of stress training is stress modulation.

When you experience stress, your brain can either amplify it or minimize it. It can overreact to it, or it can react with the optimal release of fight-or-flight hormones to maximize your chances of survival.

How you respond to sudden, surprise stress is a skill. Being able to shift your body back and forth from being primarily sympathetic to primarily parasympathetic is a skill…one that we work on.

Once you learn it, you can use events in your daily life as “target practice”…frustration with telemarketers and overseas phone support, kids and grandkids making bad choices, bad drivers, etc. Each of these situations will change from being an annoyance to an opportunity to practice your stress modulation skills.

How calm can you get when your natural desire is rage, and how quickly can you flip the switch?

The effect is life-changing…potentially life-SAVING…and everyone around you will appreciate it.

One of the really cool things about Praxis is that, after you’ve gone through it, you’ll get more out of any other live training you do in the future…concealed carry, advanced classes, force-on-force, and the lessons even carry over to carbine, defensive shotgun, and long range precision.

And, just to be clear, you definitely want to do force-on-force training as a method of stress training and/or stress testing your technique, but only after having gone through Praxis. Praxis will prime your brain and body so that you’ll get the most value out of that type of training and retain the lessons longer.