Competitive Shooting Cross Training (using other sports to increase usable skill)

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Take from Your Competition Handgun Training Program

Using other shooting sports to cross-train – The “program” was designed to greatly increase your skill level for shooting practical type competitions such as IDPA and USPSA, but the shooting skills that you will gain are certainly usable across the board.  One thing about good shooters is that they can use their skill and do pretty good in all of the shooting sports except for the highly specialized sports where there is no skill crossover.  Bullseye type shooting would be an example of this, and while there is certainly some crossover of the skills (trigger and sight management to the extreme), the pace is so much slower that we really would not be able to apply practical shooting skills in it, or apply the skills learned in it to practical shooting.  There are however, two primary sports that I would consider specialized yet completely applicable and beneficial to practical shooting.  If shot, there will be a cross benefit of skills, meaning that the skills you have developed in this program will be useable in them and the skills you will hone while doing them will be useable in your normal competitions.  I strongly recommend that you use them as cross training sports, just be careful not to get off track from your primary goals.  The two sports I am talking about are Steel Challenge and NRA Bianchi style shooting matches.  Training for these matches is quite simple; each of these matches has the same stages each time you shoot.  This differs from IDPA and USPSA in that you can memorize the Bianchi and Steel Challenge stages and just focus on those skills that are important on each stage.  Conversely, in the IDPA/USPSA sports, we often shoot freestyle stages that require a broad group of generalized skills.  My primary recommendation for using them to cross-train (if you decided to shoot these types of matches) is because of the side benefits you get from training for them.    Individual sport breakdown:


Shooting the Steel Challenge stage "Outer Limits," the one stage requiring movement in the current match.

Shooting the Steel Challenge stage “Outer Limits,” the one stage requiring movement in the current match.

Steel Challenge – The Steel Challenge (SC) is the world speed shooting championship normally held in California.  This is an all steel match with 7 stages and 5 targets on each stage, all consisting of round or rectangle steel plates set up at distances from 7-35 yards.  The object of SC matches is pure speed and the goal is to hit all 5 targets as fast as possible, with the stop plate last, which records a time for the entire run.  The shooter takes either four or five runs, with one throw out run per stage.  The times are added together and that is the score for the stage.  While pure speed is the goal, accuracy fundamentals are also tested in SC matches because each time you miss a piece of steel, it takes a half second or more to make that shot up.  For this reason, it is critical to get a hit with each shot if at all possible.  Participating in SC matches will greatly increase your skill in all fundamental shooting skills, but will specifically increase your draw speed and target acquisition speed. For more information on Steel Challenge matches, visit:

Key Needs: Draw and target transitions Two skill areas will become very important when training and competing in SC matches – draw speed and target transitions.  On each stage you will do 4 or 5 separate runs, each requiring a draw (from the surrender position).  Each of the stages will also require you to shoot a target once, then move the gun (acquire) to the next one and shoot it.  This means that you will do more than 30 draws and over 100 target transitions in the match.  The better you are at those two things, the better your overall time is.  Let’s say for example, that you are doing a draw at about 1.5 seconds average and you decrease your time by a mere two tenths of a second (.2).  You would decrease your match score by more than six seconds.  This is a huge decrease in time and any professional would give big money for a decrease of that amount.  As far as acquisitions, lets say your normal transition time is three tenths of a second (.3), and you decrease that by a mere half of a tenth of a second (.05) to a transition time of a quarter second (.25) per acquisition.  You would decrease your match time once again by more than six seconds.  Add these two together and we are talking about a decrease in total match time of more than ten seconds (around 11-12).  This is a HUGE improvement in a SC score. 

Training Tips Training for the SC is simply a matter of working on the two key skills that I have already listed (draw and transition), and figuring out what order in which to shoot the stages.  While training on the stages you will want to break each one down, so you can improve your ability to shoot it on demand well.  This requires you to understand and place your focus on certain areas.  Here is what I try to do for each stage in the Steel Challenge, and these things should be incorporated in your training:

Break each stage down for-

  • Body Position.  Try to find an initial body position that will allow you to get a relatively natural swing through all targets.  I like to orient my initial body position on the first or hardest target.  I experiment with my foot position to get myself set up to hit the first plate fast and then move through the rest of the plates smoothly.  I encourage you to experiment a lot in this area, and take good notes.  Log the times and then use the one that works best.  When it comes to game day, you will know exactly where to set your feet and consequently body position up for the best results.
  • Target Order.  Different shooters like to shoot the targets in different orders.  Obviously there are many different ways to shoot them, but on most stages, there are really only a couple good ways.  In training you will want to experiment with this and log the results.  Try to find a way that is the fastest combined with a higher percentage of hits on the targets.  Use the timer to really help you tell the difference.  You might find the one that “feels” the best is not the best in the long run.
  • Pace.  When training, start at a pace where you can control and get hits on all plates.  The importance of hitting the first plate with one shot cannot be underestimated.  Once you have found your control zone, start pushing yourself until you can no longer shoot any faster and get hits.  Don’t spend your time in training shooting at plates and missing, because of course, this will just create bad habits.  Learn where you can push on certain stages and where you have to slow down.  
  • Danger Targets.  All Steel Challenge stages have a couple targets that could be labeled as danger targets.  These targets are ones that you are likely to miss, or swing by when you are shooting at them.  The biggest danger targets are those that will allow you to swing by them and hit the stop plate before you realized you missed a plate.  This penalty is a huge one when shooting the steel challenge, so make sure you learn where these danger targets are based on the order you decide to shoot the stages. Then train yourself to do what you need to do to hit them. 
Iain Bianchi

Iain Harrison shooting the barricade event at the Bianchi Cup. This stage requires some very specific skills to master in the match, some of which are very applicable in “practical” type shooting.

Key Needs: Trigger Control, Sight management Bianchi is an accuracy sport, and this means your sight and trigger management must be awesome to perform well.  It also means that your gear must be specifically designed to ensure you have the ability to shoot well at distances up to 50 yards.  If your firearm and ammunition is not up to par, then I would strongly suggest experimenting to find a gun and ammunition combination that will allow you to succeed at this match, versus fail just because your gear does not perform well enough.  

Training Tips –                                                                              

  • Use the time.  The stages at Bianchi all have PAR times that are relatively slow compared to USPSA/IDPA stage paces.  One thing I try to do when practicing Bianchi stages is to use all of the PAR time allotted on that particular string of fire.  Since you have been training at the USPSA/IDPA pace, you will likely shoot faster than you need to, and will probably not shoot as accurately as you could if you used more of the PAR time.  When training, spend a good deal of time learning how to do this.  By the way, you can use a timer when dry firing to improve your ability to learn the pace.  Just set up and mimic the stages. 
  • Work on the key areas that are difficult.  Depending on your skill level, you might find certain things easy on Bianchi stages and some things hard.  I would recommend spending your time practicing the hardest stuff and trying to perfect those areas.  For example, on the Bianchi plate stage, we shoot all of the way back to 25 yards.  The 10 and 15-yard line may not be difficult for you to clean but the 20 and 25-yard strings are.  I would suggest that you spend your time working on the 20 and 25-yard lines rather than wasting that ammunition on the 10 and 15-yard strings.  Do shoot through the entire stage (all four strings) a few times for score, after you have worked on and perfected the harder stuff. 
  • Track the score, but focus on the skills.  Every time you practice, I recommend you shoot for and track your scores.  I think it is important to know what scores you can shoot (so you can track them and watch them improve).  I also want to emphasize the importance of focusing on what you have to do to perform well on each stage.  This is one of the reasons why you should develop performance statements that keep you focused on key components of the stage you are on.  I strongly recommend you develop and use them while training for Bianchi events.  Using a performance statement will help you focus your mind on the skills needed during an event rather than the score you want to shoot.  

Until Then – Train Hard!

Mike S.

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