The thumbs forward grip is considered the modern day standard for handgun shooting. This grip is extremely important in developing good shooting habits.  Although many people use it, many people also do not understand the reasoning behind it. In this short article I will explain the didactic reasoning behind it; when learning the how, we must also understand the why!

The grip itself starts with the hands and makes its way through the shoulders. It helps the shooter control the recoil of the gun, stabilize the weapon, and avoid malfunctions.

The strong hand grabs as high as possible on the grip of the pistol, avoiding gaps between the webbing of the fingers and the grip.  This is followed by wrapping the remaining fingers over the grip pushing towards the trigger guard (trigger finger tracing the frame). Ideally, there should be a straight line between the front sight, rear sight, and radius bone.

The support hand creates a straight line between the thumb and radius bone, the remaining 4 fingers should point down about 45 degrees. The hand is placed in the free space on the frame of the pistol and the fingers wrap around the fingers of the strong hand as close to the trigger guard as possible. The bases of the thumbs should be connected with the thumb of the strong hand resting on top of the base of the supporting hand’s thumb. To make sure that the support hand is in the correct place, simple see that the support hand’s thumb is as far forwards as the trigger finger.  

The elbows stay slightly bent, to become shock absorbers. Additionally, the slight bend to the sides  create an angle that will counteract the recoil (tips of the elbows facing away from each other, and do not bend upwards). This creates a position that prevents bending upwards in the elbows when shooting. Additionally, this position causes the palms to push towards each other and create torque in the grip.

The shoulders roll up to create torque in the joints which in turn tightens them. The following come together to create the ideal grip:

– Torque – shoulders, elbows, palms
– Biomechanics – creating angles that lower points of least resistance. – 
– Leverage – creating angles in the hands, wrists and elbows, that lower muzzle rise and the effect of recoil.
– Anatomical references – understanding the position of the gun in relation to the body.

 

Ron Grobman is the founder of Tactical Fitness based in Austin, Texas

31 Responses to Understanding the Biomechanics of the Pistol Grip

  1. Great article; relevant to my current interests!

    Just this week I’ve taught myself an additional pressure point in handling my new to me G43. Medium large hands, long fingers, short trigger to back strap distance with a tendency to pull the trigger back, down and to the right; right handed shooter, right eye dominant,

    High right hold, 3 left fingers down at a 45 degree angle, left index finger tight against front of trigger guard pushing straight back into the high web point of the right thumb/index web high on the beaver tail, and the left thumb far forward on the dust cover pushing to the right firmly to compensate for the angled trigger pull on a short back strap to trigger angle that tends to pull the muzzle lower and left.

    I’m thinking of stippling in some vertical serrations on the port side dust cover to help with the forward and rightward push from the left thumb.

    I can almost hold the pistol firmly with just the left thumb and left index. The straight line of force from the trigger guard to high on the back strap really stabilizes any deviation in a less than perfect trigger pull parallel to the bore axis.

    Downside is the conflict between my right index tip and the pad under my left thumb-just not much room on a single stack to place all those phalanges…that and Rob Leatham frowning at the support index finger on the trigger guard.

    Just a thought from personal experience and 350 rounds, YMMV.

    • My wife and I had that problem with her 43. We added the Hoque handall that adds space on the backstrap.

      Cleared it right up by reducing over-reach through the trigger.

  2. Interesting. But, for EDC purposes, I just don’t get using both hands. I EDC. My pocket pistol weighs 1 lb. and I don’t want to carry anymore. It fires a .380 cartridge; so, I have no problem with recoil. In fact, I’ve never had a limp-wrist failure on any pistol. So, I don’t need 2 hands to control the gun.
    I never expect to have to fire in self-defense; but if it ever happens, it’s almost certain to be close-range. I’m not going to try to make a bull’s-eye; nor do I expect to have the time to make a bull’s-eye.
    Therefore, I practice 1-handed shooting; and, my accuracy is adequate at close ranges. I don’t see a reason to add to my routine the habits of getting my left hand movements just-right and especially to get the left hand on the grip in the prescribed manner. When I’m in a hurry I’d just as soon have fewer things to get right.
    I don’t plan on carrying a much heavier calibre; nor to fire at much greater ranges; nor to practice enough to form really reliable “muscle-memory” for unnecessary actions.
    What am I missing? Why should I take care to cultivate the finer points of 2-handed shooting: one hand position for pistols; another hand position for revolvers?

    • Well…. I understand your position.

      While I don’t think reliable self-defense takes 10 hours of practice a week. I do find i am much more accurate with two hands … even at relatively short distances …like 5 or 7 yards where the groups double in size shooting fast with one hand.

      You don’t have to break-em-through-one-hole to stop a threat, but you do have to hit.

      I have competed one-handed and with my off-hand to see how I would fare. While I was happy with my scores, they were about 60% of what I do two-handed. (50% with my off-hand – I was still happy with that).

      As has been said many times…your choice…live like you wanna live. I practice to do as well as I can and I also practice knowing that I may have to use one hand to shoot.

      I hope I’m not climbing a ladder when the balloon goes up. So i can use two hands.

  3. I don’t see any “elbow slightly bent” in the photos except the one-handed stance.

    I see stiff-arm turret hold and taking the head down to the pistol level.

    • Agree, he’s gone “turtle” with a low head and “rolling up the shoulders to create torque” just introduces a tension that is counterproductive.

    • Bingo.
      I came to the comments section to point out that the gun goes up to meet the eyes, the eyes don’t go down to meet the gun.

    • I can’t speak for Mr. Grobman, but for me, getting out of the turtle position was a very hard habit to break. Still is. Those of us, like Grobman, that spent time in the military, learning to move and shoot with ARs, often naturally bring our head’s down to meet the stock of the AR, because the army doesn’t fit stocks to people. For those of us that spent thousands of hours doing this, it’s just completely engrained. Gun up, head down.
      It took years of actively trying to train myself out of that, and I still go to it when I’m transitioning from my AR to my pistol. Really I just started getting my head up consistently, after 7 years of training it. There is no doubt that head’s up is the superior technique though, all of my times are better with my head up, much better.

      • I think everyone has to fight going “head down”.

        Especially in a tense situation where people are trying to hurt you.

        Kind of like my stance – I may practice “Weaver” but it may not end up that way under fire.

        LOL

  4. Rob, how about a full compare and contrast of your technique vs standard Enos/ Leatham? How they are different, pros and cons of each?

  5. Biomechanics: when you realize that limp thumbs are the only remaining weak point in your grip.

    Double-crush. It’s not comfortable. It works.

    • Exactly. Not having the thumbs curled down as if making a fist makes for a substantially weaker grip. I don’t understand where this grip originated, but my guess would be in competition.

      Still, I have not yet road-tested it for myself, and intellectual honesty compels me to do so. I’ll get ’round-to-it someday.

      • Thumbs forward makes a great deal of sense for pistols with a safety, especially larger fare on target 1911s. Beyond that, however, I think most the appeal comes from it feeling good to have maximum surface contact on the gun, the desire to look cool, and sheer habit. Kinda like cops and vanilla 3-dot sights.

        There’s a place for most pistol grips with thought put into them. I have personally found, however, that shooting improves dramatically when shooters go from thumbs forward to a properly modeled double-crush, especially on combat handguns with “adult” triggers! There’s a reason Mas Ayoob still gives it top billing decades into his teaching career.

        • Here are Mr. Ayoob’s actual words:
          “Thumb position is negotiable. Generations of shooters with the GI 1911 .45 learned to shoot with the thumb high, resting on the manual safety. Many competitive target shooters prefer to point the thumb straight at the target. This straight thumb position seems to align the skeleto-muscular structure of the hand in a way that allows the index finger its straightest rearward movement. With powerful guns, curling the thumb down to add grasping strength and enhance control is a valid technique. A lot of it depends on how the gun fits your hand.”

  6. I’ve experimented with every thumb position, and found that the thumbs-forward grip was the best for me because my thumbs are less likely to push the gun out of alignment with the target when they’re pointing at the target.

    YMMV.

    I prefer a much higher grip with my support hand than the one illustrated above. YMMV on that one too.

    Finally, any instructor who claims to know the one and only “way” to firearms mastery is chock full of sh!t.

  7. The fellow pictured does NOT have a beard. Therefor, has no idea what the heck he’s dong. Its a thing and the law.

  8. My, my, my how did we ever mange to hit anything 20 years ago?

    If it works for you, wonderful. The end-all, be-all for every situation? Not hardly.

  9. “THE modern standard” ? Nope.
    Only one of several viable techniques. Don’t believe me? Try it with a revolver….

    Speaking in absolutes is foolish.

    Grip is dependent on the size of the shooters’ own hand on a particular gun.

  10. He looks like he’s making ‘duck-lips’ like all the 13 years old girls do in their selfies….? Why, just why?

  11. I have been shooting a 1911 with a Weaver stance for decades. If it was proven good enough by ‘The Colonel’, it is good enough for me. He proved decades ago the the triangle stance shown above, which is what it really is, actually adds angles where there should not be. The Weaver stance allows for the recoil to go through the extended strong-arm and down the leg. Physics says there is in equal and opposite reaction therefore absorbing recoil. The Leatham stance is a modified Weaver. As in Karate the hands and arms are only part of the stance. The hips, bent knees, feet placement, all play a part in controlling the gun and moving from target to target. Rolling and hunching the shoulders breaks the recoil absorbtion. Look at videos of top shooters and you will see the shoulders are level and the gun comes between the head and the target. As with a carbine, you do not drop the head to the gun but bring the gun up into the sight line. Proven time and again in competition.

    • “As with a carbine, you do not drop the head to the gun but bring the gun up into the sight line. ”
      That’s impossible for a lot of people. If I bring a rifle with iron sights and an A2 stock up to my eye, the stock will no longer be resting on my shoulder.

  12. And then… there are all of us with small hands, short fingers and assorted other disabilities. Arthritis anyone? The point of practice, among other things, is to find the most effective method for YOU to get things done, using the body, tools and whatever else you have to work with. If a decent number of rounds are going where you want them to go, you’re doing it “right.” And, if you learn something better later, you can always change it.

  13. personally into point shooting either one hand or two, no doubt two handed is a good method as its taught to All special forces and with movement!
    having practiced almost all my Adult life in the Applegate methodology of point shooting either one hand or two it is an inconsistent point espousing one style as the only style!
    In my opinion, under pressure you are going to relate to any training you have had but most likely will forget in a deadly situation! so it has to be a reflexive movement maintained my many hrs of practice!

  14. Try it before you buy it. Especially women and new gun owners. I purchased a LCR 38 p+ with hard plastic Crimson grip. What a huge mistake that was! Ouch! Finally Crimsom came out with under barrel mounted red dot site.

    Also find out which handguns you shoot most accurately and comfortably. That is your EDC.
    Mine is a CZ 75 clone 9mm

    • Guess I’m weird, but I’ve never seen the point in a laser sight on a pistol. Under 7 yards, I’m point shooting without sights anyways and I don’t need sights or a laser to get accurate hits, past that I’m using sights and I don’t need a laser. Not set in stone, obviously, the situation will dictate which I use, but that’s it in general terms.

      Guess it’s a preference thing.

  15. I switched to thumbs forward for a few months, and saw advantages. But I also carry a revolver from time to time. And no, under simulated stress/startle – I did NOT instinctively adjust my grip depending on whether I had a revolver or semi-auto. Thumbs forward + revolver = A Bad Thing

    I’ll go for consistency and safety and stick to thumbs curled.

  16. I think I’m too visual to clearly understand the techniques described. I usually shoot a .45 so a two handed grip is almost necessary for target retention and stability. I’m going to experiment however illustrations showing good and poor grip choices, as well as energy vectors, would be a big help. Keep them coming. Thanks

  17. I don’t think you know what “didactic” means. Two meanings:
    1) “Intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive.” There’s no pretense to morality in this article.

    2) “in the manner of a teacher, particularly so as to treat someone in a patronizing way.” I didn’t get any feeling you were being patronizing.

  18. The thumb on my strong hand goes down so that it touches the tip of the middle finger. The thumb of my support hand goes on top of my other thumb to hold it down. When shooting a revolver, I get the tightest grip by locking the thumb of my support hand over the base of my strong hand’s thumb. I’ve tried thumbs forward and have found that it leaves my grip so weak that recoil separates my hands. I also worry about creating drag on the slide that would cause a malfunction.

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