Training Muscle Memory

Training Muscle Memory ~

Muscle Memory: the ability to reproduce a particular motor function without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition.

In a previous article we touched on the fact that flinching is the enemy of all shooting and further suggested that the vaccine/antidote to flinching was a strong muscle memory. The question then becomes, how do you gain the strong muscle memory?

The definition says you create muscle memory with “frequent repetition”, but there’s more to it than that. A “trainer”, often a dad or granddad, needs to provide a non-intimidating setting with noise and recoil levels that do not draw attention away from the sight picture and trigger control that are being taught. A trip to the hills or woods would be ideal, but if the only option is a range, choose a time when few others are shooting.

Before you go shooting, take some time to demonstrate your artistic ability. Draw something resembling a proper sight picture, be it the placement of crosshairs in a scope or the post-and-V of open sights. I know, I know, you can’t draw worth squat but kids are generally quite forgiving if dad is trying his best.

Now get something flexible like a tennis ball, or if necessary something smaller that better fits your favorite novice’s hand. Have them SLOWLY squeeze the ball as hard as they can until their hand starts shaking from the effort. Then have them relax and start again and again and again. While they are doing this, talk to them. Encourage them in soft tones, soft enough that they have to pay attention to understand what you’re saying. Make these exercise sessions short and do half a dozen of them before going to the woods. After completing these “ball” sessions, you might want to add a little variety by handing them a raw egg. Hint: if they wrap their hand all the way around, its nearly impossible to break an egg by squeezing . . . or at least it’s very difficult. It’s also fun to have the family around when they try.

What the heck is this all about? The squeezing a ball, the talking in low tones, and the bit with the egg, are all diversions aimed at divorcing the student’s brain from his/her trigger finger. We don’t want them to think. We want to train their muscle memory to do the work, not their brain.

So now let’s think about actually going out to shoot.

In another article we talk about “Reduced Loads”. The problem with these so-called reduced loads is the point of reference. A .30-’06 hunting load is certainly “reduced” when compared with a .300 Weatherby Magnum, but its still not reduced nearly enough to qualify as a training round. The same thing can be said for simply reducing the powder charge, which is not an option at all unless you are a handloader. You need to not only reduce the powder charge, but to also significantly reduce the bullet weight.

While 4-Sigma Bullets cannot provide an idyllic, forested training setting, a tennis ball, or, for that matter an egg, they can provide the low-noise, low-recoil ammunition, bullets, and/or training kits you’ll need to be successful.

There remains one further consideration: a target. This is not the time for teaching marksmanship; that comes later. Right now we’re teaching muscle memory. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it could be convincingly argued that, at this point, even the sight picture and trigger squeeze are diversions to keep the brain occupied while the muscles are learning. Of course sight picture and trigger squeeze, like marksmanship, will come into their own a little later.

Ah, but we digress from the target (pun intended). At least partially to maintain a high level of interest, an action target is best. You can use a tin can; or, the 4-Sigma Bullets training kits use a tethered polymer ball that stands up well for many hits. The important thing is that something perceptible happens down range—a hole (that you can’t see) in a paper target doesn’t cut the mustard.

So the time has come for shooting. You have low noise/low recoil ammo and a place to shoot that has few distractions. The shooting position is not important, but talking to them in the same low tone you used when squeezing the ball, is. Let their brain concentrate on your familiar voice while they slowly squeeze the trigger. Wa-la, the rifle/handgun goes off, and since there was essentially no noise or recoil, there was no flinch.

Congratulations! Now do it again and again.

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