This is a little off the beaten path in terms of what we normally see in the world of strength training and
that is specific training to improve shooting performance with the handgun for high speed action
shooting events, self-defense or combat.
The demands of the shooting grip for high performance shooting, along with wrist, forearm and upper
body strength are unique in that you must be able to simultaneously maintain a consistent, firm grip on
the weapon while maintaining a sight picture and manipulating only the trigger finger using 20 – 48 ozs
of pressure to press off precise shots at speeds up to 5-6 shots a second.
As the weapon recoils and the muzzle rises; grip, wrists, forearms, elbow joints, upper arms and the
entire body work to absorb, flex and then actively return the weapon to target while vision directs the
return back to the original point of aim or to a new target. All this is happening in hundredths of a
Pure strength alone does not control the weapon at high speeds. It is a function of correct bio-
mechanics, creating force vectors that have both direction and magnitude and precisely steering the
weapon back to target after recoil energy is managed.
However, proper strength training lends a significant advantage in controlling the weapon and working
with much less perceived effort while doing so.
Since we have to use fine motor skills and control to manipulate the trigger in isolation from the rest of
the hand, gripping as hard as possible interferes with this process. Ideally, we grip as hard as we can
while still maintaining trigger isolation and speed. Think of gripping a hammer while pounding nails or a
baseball bat when hitting a baseball.
However, what if we could grip the handgun with a lot of force without feeling like we were really
This is the idea behind the strength reserve. If I have a maximal grip strength of 200 lbs and I grip the
handgun with 50% of that strength; it is going to feel more relaxed and I am going to be able to easily
manipulate and isolate the action of my trigger finger. Similarly, if I can do exercises with a bar weighted
at one end or hold onto the end of a sledgehammer and do training to increase my forearm and wrist
muscle and tendon strength then controlling felt recoil, even with sharply recoil heavy caliber firearms
will be dramatically increased.
How much is enough?
The strength requirement will depend on the type of firearm being used and the caliber of the weapon.
If you are shooting an uncompensated .40, .45 or heavy magnum caliber then you will want more grip,
forearm and tendon strength. However, strength benefits everyone in that it allows one to relax behind
the weapon while controlling it very effectively. This leads to better recoil management and faster, more
I use the Captains of Crush grippers from www.ironmind.com and recommend for serious grip strength
training. In general, for upper level shooting athletes, I like to see females closing the Captains of Crush
Trainer model 3- 5 times without stopping. For men, closing the No 1 for 3-5 times is good. If the female
athletes can close the No 1 then better. I would like to see a trainer model set at 120 lbs from Iron Mind
as that would provide a great tool for men and women.
If a man can close the 1.5 several times then even better. Closing a #2 would put a cap on the upper end
of the strength range, and the higher levels are more for bragging rights than any real advantage for
Reps, sets and specific training
For shooting, building basic grip strength is a great way to start. Finding your 1 rep max and then
working from 50 to 90% of it is going to be key. Make sure to warm up with a couple of sets in the low
end for 10-12 reps. Then work into the approximately 70-80% range for 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps. Once a
week, go into the top end for singles or doubles. Use care as you can really mess up your tendons if you
go too hard too often.
Another great exercise is holding the gripper shut while simultaneously manipulating only the trigger
An example for me might look like this.
1 -2 times a week:
Sportsman’s model 10 -12 reps x 1-2 sets
Trainer model – 10 reps 1 set
No 1 – sets of 5-8 x 4 sets
Grip holds while isolating and manipulating the trigger finger – 5 reps x 30 seconds with Trainer
Finger extension bands – 3 x 15 reps to keep balance of strength
Once a week – Substitute only 1 set of the No 1 then jump to the 1.5 for sets of 3-5 reps x 3
No 2 – Singles – x 3
As you can see, for grip strength athletes, this may seem tame. But for shooters, this is huge.
Using a weighted bar or sledgehammer and holding it at one end in various positions and strengthening
the forearms, wrists and tendons of the arm helps tremendously in managing the flex of the handgun in
A curious fact
One of the things I noted about my own shooting grip is the increase of strength I get just from shooting
the gun. I theorize that it is similar to a plyometric effect of the gun recoiling and having to control the
gun that leads to the strength increase. Another topic to research!
Strength and physical training for shooting, especially hand, wrist and forearm strength is very specific
for shooting sports. Most strength coaches are generalists in their approach. Dynamic stability and
balance, motor specificity and fine motor control matter far more than raw strength. However, a specific
strength program geared for shooting will see significant results in just a few months and is worth
Watch Ron discuss and demonstrate the Grip Strength Training here!