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How Muscle Memory Works in Firearms Training

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It turns out there is truth and science behind the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” Even simple, everyday actions involve an intricate process of moving many different muscles to make it happen. However, we never really think about a lot of what we do, such as putting one foot in front of the other or reaching for a glass of water. Why is that? The answer is muscle memory.

For many of these actions, we have had a lifetime of practice to perform these movements faster and more accurately. Eventually, with continual practice, more complex actions like playing a musical instrument, riding a bike, and even shooting a firearm, can be performed smoothly, automatically, and almost perfectly.

Rapid fire shooting

Examples of Muscle Memory in Athletes

Steph Curry, point guard for the Golden State Warriors, is on track to becoming one of the best shooters in NBA history. Analysts have compared Curry to legends such as Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in terms of scoring accuracy, and he seems to be getting better with each season. When you see Curry draining shot after shot, particularly from beyond the three-point line and with defenders trying to block him, it would be easy to say that he is naturally gifted, but he would be the first to tell you that his performance comes down to countless hours spent building confidence and developing muscle memory.

Amber English, skeet shooting gold medalist at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics for Team USA, also knows about the importance of muscle memory, which is something she teaches as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit in Fort Benning. Skeet shooters are known to dry fire more than 200 times in a single training session. When you consider that the double-barreled shotgun used in this discipline weighs almost 10 pounds, how do you think these shooters are able to keep their stance, form, and accuracy day after day? It all comes down to muscle memory, a skill that can make you very proficient with firearms in terms of speed, accuracy, and overall marksmanship.

Understanding Muscle Memory

We mentioned Curry and English as examples of elite athletes whose successful careers hinge upon muscle memory, but the reality of this physiological process is that it is practiced in many other fields. Police officers, soldiers, boxers, weight lifters, gymnasts, cooks, delivery drivers, construction workers, dancers, musicians, and even competitive video game players make use of muscle memory to complete repetitive tasks in the best possible way.

Muscle memory is a matter of conditioning motor skills and being able to retain them in ways that feel as if they were automatic. The cerebellum is highly engaged in muscle memory actions. This section of our brains is activated by synapses when a motor skill is consciously repeated for various purposes, which are inevitably goals.

Beginner Shooters and Muscle Memory

Someone who has never handled a firearm will not engage his or her cerebellum initially. Because this is a new activity, the brain cortex will take care of it, but there will not be any learning yet because there will be other mental concepts to process, such as the size, weight, shape, grip, mechanics, and others. Once you start getting into firearm safety, handling, stance, aiming, and other concepts, the cerebellum will start encoding, adapting, and consolidating these experiences.

What is interesting about muscle memory is that it is not a fully conscious mental process. Constant practice and execution do not require mindfulness, but this would not be conducive to developing muscle memory within the realm of firearms training. Whether your shooting goals are defensive, tactical, competitive, professional, or practical, you will want to develop what is known as fine muscle memory, which is the first step towards highly efficient motor skills.

a close up of a bench

Muscle Memory and Repetition

The adage about humans being creatures of habit certainly applies to muscle memory development, which is largely based on repetition. You want to learn and practice good firearm habits before you get to the gun range and when you are at the table or firing line.

The focus here is on good habits: You want to make sure everything you are learning and executing repeatedly is correct. If it is not, you risk adopting a bad habit that will become hard to break. Needless to say, when it comes to firearms, you do not want to repeat the same mistakes over and over because they can turn into dangerous habits.

Using Muscle Memory in Firearms Training

Clear and methodological instruction is the first step in building muscle memory. You want to establish simple goals. For example, field strip, disassemble, reassemble, and aim a Glock 19 under 10 seconds. You want a full magazine to stay within the silhouette paper target. You want to see two consecutive tight groups. You want to quick draw, fire, and hit center mass.

To accomplish these goals, you will need to learn each step with explanations until you notice a flow. Then, you have to repeat this flow over and over until it becomes smooth. What should follow is a series of repetitive drills in which you consciously seek to improve your flow, timing, precision, and accuracy.

Firearms training instructors know about the neurological and physiological nuances of muscle memory, but they cannot develop it for you. Rather, they will teach the right techniques and be on the lookout for anything that needs improvement. You would be surprised how little adjustments can greatly improve marksmanship! Sometimes it is just a matter of tucking an elbow a little more, adjusting your gaze as you aim, or tightening your hold in some situations. Once you apply these concepts correctly and repeat them several times, your cerebellum will encode and condition as needed so that subsequent actions will flow almost automatically!

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The Range 702 Training Classes in Las Vegas

If you’re ready to take it to the next level in your shooting proficiency, The Range 702 offers firearms training classes with experienced instructors who can help you get there. To learn more about our classes, shooting experiences, or firearms in our gun vault, contact our team today!

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