“Train both your body and brain.”

That’s the advice from Olympic medallist Olena Kostevych. With four Olympic Games under her belt, she is one of the most experienced shooters on team ELEY. And with a ticket for the next Games in Tokyo, she isn’t quitting anytime soon.

Kostevych advocates both physical and mental training for success. Additionally, she suggests that experimenting with a lot of different physical exercises can enhance your shooting skill. Having a bright palette of exercises will help you to control your body and adapt to different shooting conditions.

We all know to be successful at a sport, we must train and practice. While training your body is a given, many neglect the importance of training your mind. One crucial skill that works to combine both is building muscle memory.

Muscle memory is a learnt action that develops through repetitive movement. To be able to repeat a 10.9 score, shot after shot, you need to train your body to get into the same position consistently resulting in more accurate shots time and time again. You should practice this in both training and competition environments to replicate the feeling for each type of condition.

This is especially true for pistol disciplines such as those Olena shoots, where you have to bring the pistol up into a steady position. Building the muscle memory in our hands, arms, shoulders and chest enables the gun to move reliably and consistently. This is all the way from the relaxed gun-down waiting posture to the position at our shoulder where the pistol is stretched out in front.

Developing muscle memory

In order to develop muscle memory, you must always use the same starting position every time. That way, when you move your gun into position ready to shoot, you will know where the shot is coming from and where the bullet will strike. Repeating this will train your brain and muscles until it becomes second nature to move into that stance.

Starting in different positions or not focussing can confuse your body and prevents your procedural memory from repeating the action comfortably. This in turn doesn’t produce the smooth, consistent movement associated with achieving continuously accurate shots.

One way to practice and build your muscle memory is dry firing. Accuracy can be affected by several factors including how you hold your firearm and your body’s position. To produce a solid shooting stance, dry firing helps you develop the fundamental shooting position and create muscle memory for these learned actions to become second nature. As you practice any skill, the more you repeat the process the more it becomes an ingrained automatic response. Dry firing allows you to preserve these skills without having to visit a shooting range.

Nevertheless, it’s imperative you repeat the positioning using real ammunition as well. This is so you can get a feel for how the ammunition performs and its different characteristics i.e. recoil, velocity. Then your body will learn how to adapt to any slight movement pulling the trigger may create.

Olena also stressed how important it is to train with the same ammunition which you will use in competitions. This is because you will learn the recoil of that ammunition and will help recovery and repetition in competition settings.