To Learn to Shoot Faster, You Have to Slow it Down

Jeff Gonzales training range at Austin

If you want to reap the harvest, you have to first work the land. As in all things, improving your shooting — and shooting faster, in particular — comes from disciplined effort, practiced on a regular basis.

Understanding Speed

Shooting fast is a combination of two factors, economy of motion and flawless execution. That’s it. The idea of moving the body faster is the first thing people think of when they want to increase their speed and it’s the reason they usually struggle.

It doesn’t matter what you did that one time on the range. All that really matters is what you can do on a regular basis. The connection between those two factors — economy and execution — is consistency. You can’t have on-and-off-again economy of motion nor can you have occasional perfect execution. You have to practice until you can display both of them at a reasonable and sustainable level.

Trim the Fat

When it comes to economy of motion many people misinterpret this as moving faster. That’s not it at all. If you present the handgun to target with a lot of unnecessary, extraneous motion and your sights aren’t aligned because you moved so fast, have you really accomplished anything?

Economy of motion is about using the minimal amount of movement necessary to accomplish a task. Nothing more than what’s absolutely needed.  When I’m working with students, one of the easiest ways to improve their performance is to get rid of all the crap, all extra, un-needed motion and moves they make that only serve to complicate the process and slow them down.

All that superfluous movement isn’t needed. Everything from leaning to hunching to drooping and everything in between. Have a friend video your draw stroke. It’s a great way to see what it is you’re really doing that can be eliminated and will improve your speed. 

Make Fewer Mistakes

At some point you need to learn what’s acceptable performance for the shot required. What’s reasonable to expect and what isn’t. That’s based on time and distance. This concept will help you make progress toward achieving more perfect execution. When you’re pushing the boundaries of your performance, the difference mostly comes in reducing the number of mistakes you make.

In this case, you have to execute your technique that has been synthesized to the bare minimum. I’m talking about out of a 100 presentations you are hitting 80% or better to the standard you set forth for yourself. In many cases the key at this level will be adjusting your speed. I tell students over and over do not shoot faster than you can guarantee the shot. How do we get there is all hard work.

Crawl, then Walk, then Run. For Real

When we introduce a subject in our classes — whatever it may be — it starts out with dry fire practice. The progression is to work at a speed at which you can think your way through the technique. Since many techniques are based around several micro tasks performed in a logic sequence, it can be overwhelming for many students.

To help students process this, we progress through three training speeds, slow, half and full speed. Slow speed is where you put in the real hard work. It can feel painfully slow, but it allows you to learn to execute the particular technique flawlessly. “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast” is a cliche for a reason…it really works. Continue to work at slow speed until you have the technique down and can reliably repeat it. 

Half speed is where you begin see your hard work start to pay off. As speed gradually increases your hit ratio should remain about the same. If it does, that reinforces the hard work you put in at slow speed. Stay at half speed until your results are consistent and repeatable.

Full speed is where we pressure test our technique. If you’ve been putting in the hard work from the beginning, you should see at least an 80% hit ratio on your baseline results at full speed. When you follow this process the major takeaway is you’ve achieved consistency. It’s impressive for sure.

After you’ve reached this level it really boils down to splitting hairs. Continued practice and attention to detail will let you maintain your speed and your hit ratios. All while making marginal improvements around the edges. 

The problem with the industry is that most folks want to start out at this level and get frustrated when they ; it is not a gear issue; it is a training issue. Always will be…




  1. avatar Michael says:

    Only the first hit matters. However you get that good is up to you, then all you have to do is perform enough “perfect” practice to stay that good. Like Bill Jordan said, “There’s no 2nd place winner.” -30-

    1. avatar Centuriator says:

      “Only the first hit matters…”


      1. avatar Jack Crow says:

        I think he’s confusing defensive shooting with competitive shooting. I read this article as describing competitive shooting. Principles apply either way, though…

  2. avatar jwm says:

    Don’t claim to be an expert. But for me I can get a j frame out of a front pocket, in a pocket holster, just about as fast and smooth as any other type of carry I’ve tried. Faster than some. I’m looking at you, shoulder holster.

  3. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Spot on Jeff.
    When I realized slow is smooth and smooth is fast and just don’t make mistakes, my scores improved. I went from B class to master class.
    It also gave me more confidence and focused my practice.

  4. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    This applies to just about any endeavor you attempt. If you want to do it well and quickly you must first master doing it well because if you master speed first you will never master quality.

    1. avatar 16V says:

      Harrumph indeed.

      I have yet to meet the endeavor where practice does not lead to speed. The amounts required vary, as do the increases.

      The only (semi) surprising thing is that every person training anything doesn’t understand this basic fact.

      1. avatar Craig in IA says:

        Actually- practice (usually repeated actions) only insures that what you are doing, correctly or incorrectly, will be reinforced. Once learned incorrectly, bad habits can be difficult to “un-train”.

        The concept of videoing the action is excellent, like a musician recording practice sessions. Over time, and not necessarily long periods, it is easy for one to believe what they are doing is different from what is actually happening.

        If you don’t have a trainer I suggest you start out with Jeff Cooper’s “Modern Technique of the Pistol.” Still relevant after all these years.

  5. avatar tdiinva says:

    Good point. A well know internet personality and competitive shooter said you aren’t training if you aren’t using a shot timer. He took exception when I suggested.that you use the shot timer at the beginning of course of practice and then ignore it for once a week practice for 10 weeks. At the end of 10 weeks time yourself once more and you will be surprised at the improvement.

  6. avatar GunnyGene says:

    Judging from the photo, I’m guessing this is all about competition (formal or informal) on a range, since there is no discussion of all those oddball and unpredictable real life situations and simulations thereof. That said I agree with the fundamental premise, but if you are going to “get up to speed” in real life, then you must do what you can to simulate those situations.

    The timer starts while you’re in that porta potty with your other gun in your hand and a few beers in you (if you’re a male of the species anyway). People who carry need to think about things like this. As has been said many times – “You don’t get to choose the time, place, or circumstances.”

    1. avatar George says:

      “with your other gun in your hand and a few beers in you”

      I am hoping you do not actually practice what you are “preaching”.

      1. avatar Jeremy D. says:

        He must’ve had an, ahem, “interesting” experience in a porta potty at some point in the past.

        1. avatar GunnyGene says:

          I’m 75. I’ve had an interesting life, and learned quite a few things along the way. As have many others who have managed to survive that long or longer.

      2. avatar GunnyGene says:

        There are ways of simulating situations without using a real firearm. Ever hear of Blue Guns? About $55 for any fake handgun.

    2. avatar Ragnar says:

      “Judging from the photo, I’m guessing this is all about competition (formal or informal) …”

      Don’t judge the advice based on the cover photo. These same techniques are fundamental building blocks that will benefit anyone in any situation. Varying real life scenarios may alter the draw, presentation or engagement, but many of the same lessons learned in the crawl, walk and run stages will still apply.

      1. avatar GunnyGene says:

        I already stated that I agreed with the basic premise. Perhaps the author of the article would consent to expanding his advice in another article, to include simulations of common real life circumstances.

  7. avatar el Possum Guapo Standartenfuher " they think we're making pizza's Oberst von Burn says:

    No till

  8. avatar marinedoc says:

    I can remember years ago when I was initially learning to compete in what is now called IDPA, practicing in front of a mirror drawing my 1911 from my Wm Davis holster, dry firing by the hour. I got pretty good, and my performance in the matches proved it. A good way to learn form without a coach. Have since gone on to become an Instructor in both Law Enforcement and civilian shooting.

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