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Shoulder Tension


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Hello all,

I'm getting back on the horse after a 7 month layoff from shooting. (Job change, wrist surgery, mild burnout.) And am taking this opportunity to reexamine and rebuild everything.

I'm a Master class IDPA shooter (whatever that means, I guess it translates to a C class IPSC shooter, but I've never shot IPSC. Too far a drive...) Anyway, I took a Burkett class right before my layoff and one of the big things I found out in the class was that I was too tense. I tend to roll my shoulders up very tensely and have a very aggressive forward head lean. So now I'm trying to concentrate on keeping my shoulders loose during dryfire.

Where am I getting with this?

At the time of the class I could rather consistently clean (8" circle) sub 2 sec bill drills. My personal best was/is 1.84 if I remember correctly, or was it 1.68? Anyway, after the class when staying loose my bill drill shots tended to go up and to the right when shot at the old speed. And to shoot them clean like this it takes over 2 secs.

So I guess my question is, how important is lack of shoulder tension in shooting? (I know that my reloads really suffer with shoulder tension. The key to fast reloads for me is to visualize a loose left arm and shoulder.) What difference does shoulder tension make? I guess I'm going to get from you guys that tension can vary so for consistency you need to alleviate it as much as possible?

Should I really endeavor to rebuild a looser shooting stance, or keep on where I was? (I guess another questions is what does bill drill proficiency say about competition competitiveness? Anything?)

Too many questions?

Just looking for some comments/insight.



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Well certainly, but if the big dogs tend to preach something it's generally a good idea to evaluate at it. Only problem is this reevaluation is going to be time intensive. Just thought I might get some input from some people who might have been there...

Was just doing some awareness exercise draws and noticed that I was much more consistant with my presentation with the shoulders relaxed...


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Hey Wide,

I feel that loose is probably the way to go. And I realize that the bill drill really isn't representative of shooting skills as a whole, but it is a simple and repeatable drill to set up and run. And it's a neat party trick too...

I assume I'm just going to have to relearn the timing of the new stance...


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Howard, I've had to learn that relaxed doesn't mean weak. Or slack. Or half-asleep. It just means "not otherwise employed". If my shoulders are tensed up, they are already engaged in a non-shooting activity which they must either cease to perform or perform in tandem with my shooting. I struggle with this much of the time. How much shoulder tension does it take to elevate a 43 oz. gun? :P

Our body does what our mind tells it to do. So tense shoulders, at some level, must translate to tense mind.

Instead of thinking "relax" try thinking of another concept that embodies the feeling you really are seeking. "Attuned" , "quietly poised", "neutral", or whatever.

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At the Ron Avery class I just took he was all over my shoulder and stomach tension. Problem was that he had no idea how far I really came since I first started working on it. I'm a big proponent of working within in your temperment and physical type. In my case I'm high strung, high tension and physically slow so instead of wasting my training like someone who is a natural athlete I work on relaxing but also work with what I do. I managed to make master with the way I shoot and while I'm working to change to so that I can improve I'm not going to totally dump what got me where I was. Going back to the training for our temperment and body type; let me put it this way: When I played football I was built like a tightend and played like one therefore that was my position and I trained accordingly. How successfull would I have been if I trained like a 165lb wide receiver or tailback?

Same with martial arts when I trained in a hard style I did well when I trained in a soft style I struggled. In both the martial arts and footbal examples the training was the same in 75% of it, it's the other 25% that was specific and makes the difference.

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I've had to learn that relaxed doesn't mean weak.  Or slack.  Or half-asleep.  It just means "not otherwise employed". 

I agree with this ... but maybe take it a step further to "properly employed." The important thing is that the shoulder sockets are stabilized and there is a "connection" between the arms and the torso. This is typcially done one of two ways 1) shrugging the shoulders up and forward which makes your neck disappear or 2) pulling your shoulders down and back like you would in a lat pull-down weight lifting exercise.

Since option 2 uses larger muscles the same stabilization can be achieved as in option 1 with less effort. Tension really begins to occur when a muscle has to provide more power than it can generate. Especially when the body is anticipating the work the muslces are about to do. Two things happen, the muscle will being to pulsate (translates to shaking) and the joints lock reducing flexibility and fluid motion.

I think the important concept is to use the largest muscles you can when building and stabilizing your shooting platform. In the shoulder area I would think that use of the trapezius and deltoids is a lot less efficient than using your lattismus dorsi with a sprinkle of biceps.

So I think what I'm trying to say is that in general I try to relax the muscles around my neck and upper shoulders and flex my back muscles.

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