Sunday, May 15, 2011

Muscle tone – guarantee of an accurate shot

  1. Match Pistol
  2. Tension lowering
  3. Position of the «pushing» finger
My suggestions:
  1. Duet – 1
  2. Duet – 2
  3. Shooting «Solo» without aiming
  4. «Pushing» finger «a la Melentiev»
  5. Increasing trigger pull weight
Photo: Anatolii Piddubnyi
Anatolii Piddubnyi
This photo is my response to laurel wreaths of the Athens Olympic winners. It was a brilliant idea, combining Olympians of all time.
Well, my crown of thorns is just for the coaches…

It’s been more than seven years after the publication of my first two articles on the technique of firing a gun at ISSF News. During this time I received over 1500 e-mails and I’m receiving them still. In the first publication I have asked fellow coaches and shooters to send critical comments, but had not yet received any.

I’ve been making progress since then and in process of training again and again tested all that’s been said in my first articles – with the greatest care, in different conditions, different countries and with very different shooters. And now I am even more convinced that the greatest difficulties for almost 100% of the shooters are caused by a false theory of taking aim, which travels between books on shooting technique. I believe that everything written in these books about errors in aiming only makes sense for the process of aiming in rifle shooting with open sights, prone position with a support. All these parallel and angular oscillations, of course, occur in the process of aiming a pistol, but it’s wrong to call them errors of aiming – they’re a result of poor stability.
And how to deal with these? The answer is obvious - to improve stability. But… it turns out that the decrease in oscillation range does not automatically guarantee better results, because not all shooters are able to use this improvement. Moreover, studying the SCATT archives, I found the answer to my very long-standing doubts about the connection between stability and the outcome. There’s no direct correlation between them. Stability of shooters with excellent results is often not ideal, and vice versa, the results for shooters with an almost «dead» stability are good, but not the best.

Those who witnessed the shooting of our first world champions in Free Pistol, Mahmoud Umarov and Vladimir Stolypin, can confirm that their pistols were never fixed, there always was some visible oscillation of an arm from the shoulder. Olympic champions Gregory Kosykh and Alexander Melentiev also had similar movements. But the wrist oscillations could never be seen. Moreover, all these shooters when at their best were shooting quickly and without scattering.

Once I saw a training target into which Mahmoud Umarov made 60 shots from the Free Pistol. There was one «7» and one «8», but the result, according to our – mine and Vladimir Stolypin - calculations, equaled 585. Stolypin himself has often reached results of above 290 points in 30 shots. Gregory Kosykh could make 200-250 shots in one training session and sometimes go without a single «8». And in the Mexican Olympic Games which gave him the gold he only made one «8», as far as I can recall. Or look at the copy of a target Melentiev had - with his result of 581 points. Everyone knows this picture – on July 20th, 2010 this oldest world record turned 30 years!

Photo: Alexander Melentiev
Alexander Melentiev

Sanya, I congratulate you heartily one time more!

Looking at this copy one can clearly see that if Melentiev made 3-4 clicks up, the result would have been 585 points. It’s a good thing he didn’t do it, and anyway it could only become obvious after reviewing the results.
Many people are familiar with a videotape presenting Wang Yifu at the World Cup in Athens in 2004. In this record one can very well see three different movements when lowering the pistol - two fast movements and one slow. I am absolutely convinced that these movements are correlated to his breathing and that during the last, slow motion Wan begins to put pressure on the trigger. All his shots are made within 3-4 seconds after entering the shot zone. I have a record of Wang shooting at the international competitions in Switzerland in 1993 – they’re all like peas in a pod, the only difference is that every shot takes about one second longer. Such shot schema was used by almost 100% of Soviet shooters of Pistol, and I think China also adopted it when first Soviet coaches went there. The best Soviet school shooters also worked according to this scheme, only with small individual variations. They were representatives of our old guard and also younger nest - S. Pyzhyanov, Melentiev, B. Kokorev, V. Makarov, Basinsky, K. Lukashik etc. Their name is legion! Many young hands of the post-Soviet countries and beyond also belong to this school as pistol shooting techniques spread along with dozens of coaches from the former Soviet Union. And the aiming theory spread also…

This is an external view of a shot, its facade, but what lies beneath? I think that if the shooter makes a shot in 3-4 seconds after entering the shot zone, then he doesn’t trouble himself with aiming a lot – he simply entered the zone with some initial pressure on the trigger, stabilized himself as much as possible, and completed the shot applying increasing pressure. The key to a successful shot with this technique is a shooter being confident that the shot happened inside his oscillation zone and with a constant tone of muscles involved in the process. Key factor is the preservation of muscle tone. All scattered hits are the result of so-called «jerking», and they indicate instability of muscle tone.

Perform the following experiment: shoot an air pistol while sitting with the palm rest. All the time maintain control of the level foresight and try to make a «7». It would be difficult, you’d have to shift the aiming point much farther than it seems at first. This experience shows that errors of aiming are negligible compared with disorders of muscle tone. And these deviations occur in the most crucial moment, 0.2 - 0.3 seconds before the shot. It is perfectly visible on Shift chart (see SCATT archive).

Image: SCATT graph
SCATT graph

Most often this movement begins at the moment when the shooter sees a perfect sighting picture, but our psyche and physiology do not allow a shot right here and now. Those very 0,2 - 0,3 seconds come to pass, and after this time the pistol may already be far from the center of the target.
Very few shooters can concentrate on maintaining muscle tone, can «forget» about the moment the shot, so those that can constitute the world’s elite.
Most shooters are sure that they don’t fix their attention on the moment of the shot, and therefore do not understand why a seemingly good shot should have landed in «8» or «7». But in Air Pistol shooting almost 100% of the shots resulting in anything less than 9.8 are caused by this particular error, muscle tone shifts.
After a poor shot there’s no need to find its cause, it is better to concentrate on the algorithm of the perfect shot, and make one or two dry shot.
I was always experimenting with various shooting techniques, and lately it’s become my primary activity. Here are the results of these long-term (more than 45 years) experiments.

Free Pistol.


I recommend a strong grip, in which the holding force is directed from the second joint of the thumb to the third joint of the little finger. With this grip forefinger gets more freedom.

Photo: Free pistol grip

That said, there also are shooters which let a forefinger play an active role in holding a gun. They are holding a grip in the fork between thumb and forefinger and achieve superior results. This technique had been used many times and most successfully by a champion of the USSR, Europe and World Champion Eugene Rasskazov.

Trigger tension Hair-trigger mechanism allows you to adjust trigger tension between the barest minimum and about 100 grams. When I started shooting, the Soviet Union was manufacturing a pistol called MC-2 (MTs-2), which had a difficult breech block (some could only move it when resting the barrel against a solid support), poor balance, but an amazing trigger. There were people who could adjust the trigger «to feel a mosquito weight». I saw a pistol which fired just because it’s been moved downwards, reacting to the weight of the trigger. But is such a sensitive trigger necessary, does it make shooter’s job easier? No.
I am convinced that too sensitive trigger creates additional difficulties for the shooter. The problem is not in the trigger weight. Is there anyone who ever found it difficult to pull a trigger, the tension of which is restricted according to the regulations of the International Federation of Sport Shooting - ISSF? You wouldn’t find such an infirm shooter if you tried. The strength is always there, but is there enough skill to apply this strength and not violate a very fragile system of holding a pistol in the shot zone? This is an Achilles heel of every shooter. If you managed to maintain muscle tone during the time of the shot – praise be to you, you’re the best! Or at least one of the best.

I can’t say anything about trigger tension of the Hämmerli pistol which Mahmoud Umarov used, but it could not differ very much from 100 grams. Vladimir Stolypin in his best years shot with the trigger weight at 200 - 300 grams, and for training sessions we had sometimes increased this weight up to 3 kilograms using an eraser under the trigger (not for long, of course).

Alexander Melentiev’s pistol MC-55-1 (MTs-55-1) had a light trigger, but the shooter had to make an effort anyway, because the trigger was in the groove between two halves of the grip, and to press it one had to push the fingertip into that hollow with great force. (See figure below).

Image: Alexander Melentiev’s trigger
Alexander Melentiev’s trigger

The finger is touching to grip along its entire length.

This brings us to another issue:
Position of the pushing finger.

In all the books about pistol shooting they write that the index-finger – the pushing one - can only touch the trigger. And why is that? Because this rule is several hundred years old, and when it appeared it had a right to exist, because pistol triggers then had a tension of several pounds and trigger broaching could be more than ten millimeters. Right after the shot the trigger went down a lot, because there was nothing which we now called a trigger stop, and the finger movement could of course interfere with the result. In modern sporting pistols these shortcomings are almost completely eliminated, and the likelihood of a pistol being pushed by an accidental finger movement are close to 0, even in rapid fire. But if you give some support to the finger along its entire length, as it’s been done in Melentiev’s pistol, then the shooter will feel more confident. I shot much Melentiev’s pistol and I can say hat it’s possible to «jerk» the trigger, but the probability of this happening is much less than with the traditional trigger.

Photo: Position of the pushing finger
Photo: Position of the pushing finger

Electronic systems have made it possible to make trigger movement almost perfect - no broaching, no dips. And what had we got out of it? Nothing good. Average results in match pistol are inevitably going down since mid-90ties. There were some outstanding achievements (by Maurice Minder, Jing John Oh, William Demarest, Anatoly Egrishchin, Mikhail Nestruev), but the average results are lower nevertheless. In two USSR Championships in 1986 shooters with 560 points in Free Pistol were in the 18th place, while at the Olympics in Beijing one of the shooters made it to the finals with 559 points. At the 50th World Cup in 2010 results of the shooters in finals were slightly higher, but still eighth shooter in the finals only made 561 points, which is not very reassuring.

Below you can see copies of the pages of my coaching diary from year 1984 with Free Pistol results.

Image: coaching diary
Image: coaching diary

As you can see, there were 24 shooters who reached 560 points in two competitions.
I think that too «comfortable» pistols pamper the shooters, take away the need to make a physical and mental effort.

Photo: Anton Jasinski
Anton Jasinski

Here I can remember one more great shooter of the past - Anton Marcovich Jasinski. He literally burst into the shooting sports from the regimental armory workshop at the age of 40 years and in two years became the champion of Europe, setting a world record in Free Pistol - 565 points. Jasinski had a pistol MC-2 (MTs-2), the grip for which he made himself out of birch log, selected from among the firewood used for heating the workshop. Anton Markovic had an extraordinary habit - when fitting the grip, to make some sort of protrusion that’d prevent it from being too comfortable. He explained it this way: «To make sure the muscles do not fall asleep.»
And another example: the famous «Admiral», Alexei Petrovich Danilov, who for many years was a gunsmith of the USSR team, asked me once to finish fine-tuning of the revolver grip, made for Mahmoud Umarov. Mahmoud Bedalovich came to the studio, I put the grip on, and he went to check it. He then returned with the target which had 5 nines of 30 shots and asked to put the old handle back. «I’ll not shoot with this one – it is too comfortable» - he said, and left without further explanation. His old grip I remember well - very dark walnut and no anatomical adjustments, almost round, only a small ledge made for the thumb.

Photo: Rufina Temnikova, Moses Itkis and Mahmout Umarov
From left to right. The strongest hands of Leningrad 60-ies: Rufina Temnikova, Moses Itkis and Mahmout Umarov

Remembering this great shooter, I want to talk about how he taught me a lesson in tactics. It was one of the USSR championship. In CFP Umarov and another shooter, whose name I do not recall, had identical score and were to have a shoot-off. I stood at the fence behind Umarov. He usually made a shot very quickly and consistently in 2,4 - 2,5 seconds. His opponent made his 0,2 - 0,3 seconds later. Before the last series results were equal. During the break between series Mahmoud Bedalovich came up to me (it was then allowed) and said: «Look closely!». He made four shots in his normal rhythm, and then held up the last one a couple of tenths. His opponent, accustomed to «race after the leader», made a shot after the targets turned…

My suggestions.

All training exercises, described below, can help the shooter maintain muscle tone during the shot and develop confidence in his ability to make an accurate shot. No doubt! The slightest doubt can easily destroy the most advanced technology, built up with great difficulty. Those who read my previous articles will find below some familiar exercises though executed differently. I think this new way of performing them makes them more approachable and more efficient.

1. Duet – 1.
The simplest exercise for demonstrating the shooter’s stability and the stability of his oscillation zone. Air Pistol or a Standard one. The coach covers shooter’s palm with his own and goes with all movements of the hand preparing for the shot, trying not to influence these movements. When feeling or seeing that fluctuations became minimal, the coach presses shooter’s index finger to the trigger.

Photo: Duet shooting
Duet shooting

May take a few test shots for mutual adaptation. Usually the result of this duo is no worse than normal shooting, but this is blind shooting, because the coach making a shot sees neither the target nor the sights.

2. Duet – 2.
For this exercise, take a cable release from camera - it’s not easy but possible to find one now. The shooter is preparing the shot as usual, only the index finger is not on the trigger, his place is taken by the cable.

Photo: Duet shooting
Photo: Duet shooting

The coach fires at the moment of minimum oscillation, as in Duet - 1. This exercise is more effective because coach does not interfere with the shooter’s preparation of the shot.
The picture below shows the results of firing a Free Pistol in Duet - 2.

Image: Free Pistol in Duet shooting
Free Pistol in Duet shooting

On this target the results of blind shooting once again confirm that aiming is only a secondary factor in achieving high results.
Pressing the trigger I could not see the target, nor the sights, but the pushing movement was perfect and could not be different. Seven shots in this series are inside the 9.5 area, while six of the best shots are in the 9.8 area! And it’s from 50 meters…

3. Shooting «Solo», without aiming.
The coach prepares a small piece of paper, about 5 x 7 inches. One side of the paper is folded at an angle of 90 degrees, about 10 millimeters from the edge. This «shelf» has to be put precisely on the top of the sighting plank. Once the shooter lowers a pistol into the shot area, the coach closes the target with the prepared paper sheet, putting it on top of the sight. The shooter makes the shot without seeing the target, but he can control the front and rear sights. So this exercise looks in action, and below you can see the result of such shooting.

Photo: Solo shooting without aiming
Image: Solo shooting results without aiming

If you combine the center of dispersion and the center of the target, then the result will be 98 points. No comment! No comment!

4. «Pushing» finger «a la Melentiev»
You can use an eraser or not a very soft foam rubber piece.
One has to glue some pieces of this material to the grip so that they would fill the space between it and the «shooting» finger. The finger will get additional support along it.
Even in the Standard Pistol event where the finger movements are significant, this support will not be on the way.

Photo: Melentiev style pushing finger
Photo: Melentiev style pushing finger
Image: Melentiev style pushing finger results

5. Increasing trigger pull weight
This exercise works well in conjunction with the first four, especially with «A la Melentiev». The material is still the same - an eraser or a dense foam rubber, mounted behind the trigger. Trigger tension for match pistol can be increased up to 500 - 600 grams, an air pistol - to 1000 grams, and standard pistol up to 1500 grams. Just be aware that parts of the mechanical trigger in match pistols are not designed for such tension. Therefore, you must first press the trigger and hold it in position, then cock the gun and release the trigger. Pistol is ready to fire.

The electronic trigger has no such problem. Shooting with increased trigger tension is a very good exercise to train the autonomous work of the «pushing» finger. The heavier the trigger, the higher degree of muscle tone fixation there should be.

Photo: Increasing trigger pull weight
Image: Increasing trigger pull weight results
You can see the results of a series made with an air pistol having trigger weight of about 1200 gram. Note the number of 10.9s!
Image: Increasing trigger pull weight results
The results of shooting from a Free Pistol with trigger tension more than 1000 grams.

I hope that these training exercises will make the process of learning shooting technique more efficient and will help the shooters believe in the internal forces of the body: «I’m here to make a top ten. I know how to do it and I’ll do it!»

I often think that our pistol shooting school (former Soviet Union) is losing its positions. There was a time when we could get several teams out to the competition of most any level, and they would occupy the entire pedestal. At the 1982 World Championships we won 52 gold medals, while the second and third places were taken by USA and East Germany teams with 15 medals each. In individual competitions for men and women in air pistol the entire pedestal was occupied by our shooters.
Reasons for the loss of the overwhelming superiority vary. They are, first and foremost, disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Soviet sports system - now almost all athletes have to pay their way in training. Only the national teams and children’s sports schools receive some financial support from the state, but in amounts that can’t be compared with Soviet times. But the main loss, in my opinion, is the loss of quality coaching staff. Some went into business, others have gone abroad, and the remaining coaches lack perseverance in their work, which is understandable and explainable - it’s just not easy to live on a coaching salary…
But our pistol shooting school still lives and functions. Just one example: at the 50th World Championship in the team competition in women’s Sports Pistol and men’s Center Fire Pistol representatives of Australia and Brazil became champions (I think it was the first time in all history of shooting competitions!). «The Soviet footprint» in Australian team is visible with a naked eye, while with the Brazilians it’s somewhat subtle, but is still there.
I wish to all good and beautiful shots, and will ask you to send in critical comments.

You can write to me in Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, German, Spanish, Portuguese and English.

Anatolii Piddubnyi
The article sent in by the author 10.08.2010


  1. Has anyone succesfully adapted any of Piddubnyi's techniques or excercises here?

  2. Here? Do you mean blog visitors?

    As I know Anatolii works about 20 years abroad... Portugal, Guatemala, Brazil, Mexico, India etc. He consulted and worked with Sergio SANCHEZ (GUA), Luisa MAIDA and Julio MOLINA (ESA), Joao COSTA (POR), Emerson DUARTE and Julio ALMEIDA (BRA) and many many others.

    I will forward to him.

  3. Indeed, I mean blog visitirs and you as well :-)
    I would like to hear their experiences with these teachings, both negative and positive. I will experiment carefully myself!

  4. I tried to shoot sitting, working with the wrist. It was not so easy.

    I have also tried grip described above. Worked normal.

    Now I want to try 1kg free pistol trigger.

  5. very interesting!
    great to find information like this, thank you!

    i linked to this at my own blog.

  6. Fantastic article, as usual from Anatolii - one should be able to read his collected stuff in book form... Thanks for publishing this!

  7. I did 25 shots with an average/bad result, then I did 25 shots remebering Anatolii's importance of a stable wrist by using a mantra during my shots (stable wrist, stable wrist,...). The difference was significantv to say the least. I will experiment more. to view results, click on my name above.

  8. @Gert
    Fixed wrist is good, but don't forget about smooth trigger pull.
    Perfect aiming isn't so important.

    I saw your target. I hope you're satisfied with experiment.

  9. Anonymous31/5/11 11:00

    Très intéressant, triste pour feue l'école soviétique.

  10. Anonymous5/12/12 14:32

    Have you thought about doping was widespread at the time that the high results (50m pistol) was delivered in the early 80's.

  11. Anonymous1/2/13 19:57

    I remember when in the .80 every free pistol shooter was trying to understand what and who was behind the soviet union success. Now we know and the soviet school is far from beeing dead. The comment about doping is right but EVERYBODY was doing it at that time. Thanks to A.PIddubnyi