Have you ever thought about the question “What is training?”. If not, maybe it’s time to do so (or continue reading!). Ask a novice shooter and they will most likely answer something on the line of firing pellets at a target. Of course, this has to happen for you to become better at shooting. But training doesn’t stop here. Any conscious act with the purpose of increasing ones skill, is training. If that means standing on a wobble board for five minutes while watching TV to train balance, then that’s training. Visualizing the perfect shot ten times in a row before going to sleep, is also training. For the non-shooter, a training session usually means going for a run or lifting weights in the gym. Even here there are situations less defined which could be called training. An example could be a physically demanding job. Is that training? Biking to the bus in the morning, training or transport? For some people, just the act of moving slightly faster than walking, is training. This, on the other hand, would not constitute as training to a marathon runner. Considering this, can we put a label on a particular movement or exercise and call it training? No, not really. What we can do is set some requirements for what we consider “training” to be and anything falling within this framework will then have to be so.
To become better at something, the first rule is to actually perform the task in question. As in all forms of skill acquisition, during a repetition (memorizing a word, kicking a ball, pulling the trigger) the brain becomes increasingly better at performing that task. By also adding mental training, imagery, to the task, performance increases even faster. But the bottom line is, without repetition, very little increase in performance.
So by follow this, just shooting, spending hours in position and firing pellets will increase ones skill? Absolutely! It works well, many people have done so and become quite good at it too. Now, for this to work all the time and to bring you up to the highest possible performance level, shooting has to be just one individual, separate task. If it is, then training on that task, repeat it constantly, will be close to the only thing we need. So, can shooting be seen as an individual task? No, it can’t.
Standing shooting is compiled of a whole range of skills and tasks. When performed after each other in the correct order, they together produce the perfect shot. Skills necessary are, among many; triggering, tension control, focus, controlling balance, position setup, follow-through etc. By training on the task “firing a pellet at the target” you are really performing many different skills put together. Lets say you need 10 skills to shoot a deep ten (they’re actually many more, but for the sake of argument), by “just shooting”, you are effectively giving each skill a tenth of total attention. During a 30 second shot, 3 s is devoted to each separate part in average. Now, consider a problem exists in triggering (which again is constituted by multiple different skills), during a normal shot, only 3 s goes towards this skill’s execution. So by shooting you do increase all over, but slowly. Instead of training on everything at once, what if you take out the less-than-perfect skill and train on that one specifically?
So according to rule #1, repetition, repetition, repetition will make you perform better.
Stick to what you are training on
A common mistake while training is to slowly shift focus during the session to something else. You start off by training on triggering, have picked a few drills to work on which will make you better at that particular task. As time passes, maybe you find it boring, not up for it or just pulls a few good shots in a row and focus shifts towards something else. Instead of producing perfect triggering, you are now trying to continue scoring well which just isn’t the same. Training effect is lowered and progression slower. Therefore, decide what you want from the session and then only do something that will get you there. Staying away from the lure of shooting for scores is the big one. If you are using an electronic trainer it becomes much easier to get side-tracked as the number of variables to focus on increases (steadiness of hold, aim time, hold area, approach etc). Stay focused and if or when you do get tired, it’s time to start doing something else. Either switch to another training task or end the session for the time being.
As a pointer, a training session doesn’t have to be a specific time, quality is more important. If a session is high in quality, you did exactly as planned, you were in the right place mentally and had picked good exercises it’s not crucial if the session is shorter than planned. Keep training until you feel quality is dropping and move on to something else.
Self-evaluation and Planning
To know what and when to train on something it’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses. To understand this you will have to evaluate yourself in some way, either yourself or someone else. A coach usually does this on a regular basis to make sure training works the intended way. They might not say every time it happens (it’s not that important to know), but still do it. Without a coach, you should too.
Evaluate yourself once or twice a year to figure out what to work on during the year and then later to make sure progression is on the right track. Something I’ve used is the list specified in the book “Way’s of the Rifle”. It’s a list where you first evaluate yourself on several topics and then write in what you think is required to reach your goal. The discrepancy is what you have to train on before you reach the stated goal. It’s always tricky to self-evaluate and get it correct, but much better than nothing. If you have the opportunity to get this done by someone else (preferably someone with appropriate knowledge; a coach), go with it. Otherwise, just do it yourself. Despite the complication of doing it yourself, it’s still better than no evaluation.
When you know your weaknesses, it’s time to plan the training. Focus on the worst aspects (or largest discrepancies between goal and current status) and come up with a plan that will deal with those. If you plan over a whole year, start with the basics. Position building, cardio and strength training are such areas. Then you add on tasks like shot execution, mental programs and aiming (requires the basics to work to get the most benefits out of) the closer to competition season you get. Just before or early competition season, add everything together and train on performing good competitions. After the season is over, take a bit of a downtime where you evaluate the season, write down a new plan, update your equipment and train for the fun of it.
Add your own specific drills and areas needing work throughout the season wherever they might fit. Planning can be hard to do and perform, especially a yearly plan like this, considering everything that might happen over the course of a year. A yearly plan is only suppose to be a broad plan, a general sense on what to train on during different parts of the year. You’ll also have to plan training in smaller bits when they come up (every month and week for example) to fine tune the yearly plan. This is a faster process since you already have the large plan. Make sure you track what you trained on afterwards in a training journal. Excellent for keeping track on progression and is used for later evaluation of the past season and planning for the upcoming one.
Actually train on what you need
This part ties into the previous one since it comes directly from the results from the self-evaluation test. Make sure you train on what you need and not something you’re already good at.
Training is there to make you shoot better. Some aspects of the technique will always be a little worse than the rest and need more work to get up to the same standard. It’s easy to assume that part is holding you back (the weakest part of the chain) and up the quality here will yield the highest return of invested time and effort. Or in other words: Train on what you’re bad at.
When you know this (self-evaluation), you also have to know at what level you’re at and pick a drill appropriate to the level. A too complicated one will put too much demand on your technique and end in frustration. A too easy one won’t give you anything extra since you already know how to perform at that level. Pick an exercise that is just above your skill level and by the time you master it, pick another one. What is great is that an exercise can double up as several different ones depending on how it’s executed. Aiming at a white wall is such an example. Depending on where focus lies, it can work for balance, position building approach etc. Different skill levels are incorporated as well and the difference is the focus. A novice will focus on a certain thing while an expert will focus on something completely different even though they are performing the exact same thing. This is usually the reason to why a drill is considered “boring” (dry firing) for some but not everyone. Dry firing is boring because no outcome (score) is produced. If the focus instead is on how the muzzle moves, you get an outcome from every shot. The two shooters are doing the same drill, but only one will get the most out of it.
Lets take a novice and show her how to set up and align the feet correctly. Let her train on this for a while, maybe add a drill or two and she will become better at it. Then we take a 570 p shooter and show the same thing to, the probability that this person will benefit from the same information is slim. The performance level is higher and with this comes increased knowledge and what’s required to continue increasing in skill level. The drill used in the first case (stepping in and out of position) is still a god one, but not for this person. Now we might need to add a level: “Score a 10 after stepping out of position” or use a variant where you close the eyes. This also means that when the shooter becomes better and masters the current task, increase the difficulty. Using a specific drill will make you as good as the drill is, so when that has happen, it’s time to move to another drill.
Lets take a marathon race as an example. That’s a long distance to just go out and run and will require time and training to build up to. Start by running 5 km, add another 5 km when that’s easy. Continue adding distance (or speed) until you can run the whole distance of 42 km in one go. A simple shooting example of the same sort is working your way up in maintaining focus during a full match. Or balance; work your way up to shooting while standing on a wobble board. This isn’t an exercise I’d suggest a novice should try, instead start by working on balance outside of the shooting position and then add levels when it becomes easier over time.
Always make training more and more challenging, otherwise you’ll stale in performance.
Evaluate yourself on a regular basis to have on paper what you need to train on for the fastest possible performance increases. When you have your strengths and weaknesses sorted, plan out the year and pick out what areas requires most work. Choose appropriate exercises to make each of those areas of your technique better. Make sure you constantly make training more challenging and never become lazy and just shoot while thinking about other things. If that happens it’s either time to stop the training session for the time being or switch to some other type of training. Generally speaking, a shorter more frequent session with high quality will increase performance faster than longer ones where focus might not always be there. If you can keep focused, please continue training, just keep an eye out for wandering thoughts.
All the above aspects are important for increasing ones performance but it will never be as important as repetition. Keep repeating the task over and over again, preferably as close to the ideal movement as possible, and you’ll definitely continue becoming better at shooting.
For a slightly different take on the subject, read J.P. O’Connor’s article “Practice or Training?”
One response to “What is Training?”
A simple concept, very well put. Thanks!