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How to Grip a Pistol and Master Recoil

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / April 25 2021

Do you want to control recoil?Do you want to shoot quickly and accurately? Here's how.

On This Page:

  1. Two-Handed Grip on a Pistol
  2. One-Handed Grip on a Pistol
  3. Testing Your Grip
  4. Building Your Grip Strength
  5. The Path to Better Pistol Shooting

Two-Handed Grip on a Pistol

First, some definitions:

Shooting hand: The hand that pulls the trigger on the pistol.
Support hand: The other hand.

On the pistol's grip, we're going to create a left-right vice, and a forward-back vice. How?

  1. Shooting hand: Get the web between your thumb and index finger is as high on the grip as possible. No gaps!
  2. Support hand: Put your index finger under the trigger guard, then roll the wrist forward 10-20º to get more of your hand on the grip. The exact angle is different for everyone.
  3. Elbows: Turn them out, so they're pointing away from you instead of at the ground. Don't lock them. Some bend is good.
    Support hand: Bring in your fingers like a vice, from the joints closest to your knuckles, or like you're trying to touch your palm with your fingertips. You should feel the top of your forearm flexing, close to your elbow.
  4. Both hands: If your grip strength is over 60 lbs per hand, then leave your thumbs up.
    Otherwise, bring both thumbs in. Bringing the thumbs in adds more strength, but can reduce accuracy for long-range shots.

    If you use a thumbs-in grip, start training your grip strength. More on that, below.
  5. Both hands: Turn your right hand left, and your left right, so it feels like you're pushing the base of your thumbs together.
  6. Both hands: Pull in and up with the support hand, like your palm is trying to go toward your forehead. You should feel the upper forearm muscles in your support arm working hard. Brace against the support hand with the shooting hand.
  7. Support hand: Grip as hard as you can.
  8. Shooting hand: Grip as hard as you can with your pinky and ring finger. Don't grip too hard with the middle finger, or it will freeze up your trigger finger. You can test this out without a gun by keeping your hand loose and seeing how fast you can move your index finger, then start gripping with your middle finger and see when your index finger starts to slow down and lose dexterity.
Do this every time before you fire a shot, and maintain a strong grip until you've finished shooting. Some people get lazy and milk the grip like a cow. Keep it firm all the way through your string of fire.

One-Handed Grip on a Pistol

What if you have to fire a pistol one-handed?

Grip with your shooting hand the way you would with a two-hand grip. Get it as high as possible.

Now bring in your thumb. Why? There's no need to make room for your support hand, and bringing in the thumb adds about 17% strength to your grip.

If your pistol has a manual safety, you can try resting your thumb on top of that, instead, and experiment with different thumb pressures. Start with pressing the base of your thumb toward your palm. Make sure your thumb doesn't brush into the slide. While maintaining that pressure, try pressing down into the thumb safety as well.

You may also find that turning the gun 30-45º, like above, is more comfortable and adds some recoil control. That's fine for easy targets, but for any precision shots, keep the gun straight up or else your shots will go slightly off-target.

Grip the gun as hard as you can with your shooting hand. Why? One-handed, the gains in recoil control outweighs the loss of dexterity in your trigger finger.

As with the two-hand grip, turn your elbow out.


Testing Your Grip

Recoil goes up and back. How do we verify our grip is effective?

1. Press Test

This simulates the "up" part of recoil.
Time: A few minutes
What you need: An unloaded pistol and a sturdy surface

  1. Find a sturdy surface, preferably with a little padding. Below, we'll use a table.
  2. Unload your pistol. Put away any loaded magazines or ammo.
  3. If your pistol has a light mounted, you may want to dismount it.
  4. Use your firing grip on the pistol (one-hand or two-hand).
  5. Rotate your arms down from the shoulders so the front of your pistol's frame contacts the table.
  6. Keep rotating, so your pistol's frame presses against the table. Press hard.
  7. If your support hand comes loose, adjust it and try again until it stays firm under pressure.
    If your wrists buckle, grip harder and try again.
    If your elbows buckle, rotate them up and out and try again.
    If your grip holds together, and neither your wrists nor elbows buckle, then your grip is at a good starting point to control upward recoil.

2. Racking Test

This simulates the "back" part of recoil.
Time: A few minutes
What you need: An unloaded pistol and a friend

  1. Unload your pistol. Put away any loaded magazines or ammo.
  2. Get your friend to come over and explain to them what this drill is.
  3. Use your firing grip on the pistol (one-hand or two-hand).
  4. Present your pistol in a safe direction.
  5. Have your friend rack the slide on your pistol at least 6 times in a row.
  6. If your support hand comes loose, adjust it and try again until it stays firm against the slide racking.
  7. If your wrists buckle, grip harder and try again.
  8. If your elbows buckle, rotate them up and out and try again.
  9. If you find yourself tilting back, put one foot at least a foot ahead of the other and lean forward enough so your shoulders are in front of your hips and your weight is on the front of your feet.
If your grip holds together, and neither your wrists nor elbows buckle, then your grip is at a good starting point to control rearward recoil.

3. Live Fire Test

Now is the real test. Do this after passing the previous two tests.
Start each range session with this test until you get a proper grip every time, at least 10 times in a row.

Time: 1-2 hours (including driving to/from the range)
What you need: A pistol, some range ammo, and an outdoor pistol range
  1. At the range, load a magazine with 2 rounds.
  2. At the firing line, load your pistol.
  3. Aim at the berm, not any targets. Focus on your grip, not your sights.
  4. Use your firing grip on the pistol (one-hand or two-hand).
  5. Fire your pistol 2 times, as fast as you can.
  6. If your support hand comes loose, adjust its angle, position, or angle of pull, and try again until it stays firm on the gun.
  7. If your wrists buckle, grip harder and try again.
  8. If your elbows buckle, rotate them up and out and try again.
  9. If you find yourself tilting back, put one foot at least a foot ahead of the other and lean forward enough so your shoulders are in front of your hips and your weight is on the front of your feet.
If your grip holds together, and neither your wrists nor elbows buckle, then repeat the drill with 3 rounds until your grip stays solid. Then repeat with 4, 5, and finally 6 rounds.

Once you can fire 6 shots in a row and maintain a good grip, you have the basics down. Note what it feels like and practice it, as it's easy to lose sense of what a proper grip is.

Find index points on the pistol. When you have a proper grip:

  • How do your hands touch and press into each other?
  • Where is your support hand's index finger?
  • Where is each joint in that finger?
  • How about your support hand's thumb?
  • Your shooting hand's thumb?
  • Are there any parts of the pistol they touch? How are they touching?
The key here is consistency. Use anything you can to make your grip more consistent and help you remember what "right" is for you. Consider having someone use a marker to draw a line from one hand to the other, across where they connect, so you can see the exact point and angle of how they come together.

Everyone has little variances because we all have differently sized hands, but once you're dialed in for a given pistol, you don't have to change your grip until you change pistols.

All that said, this is just the beginning of grip technique. You'll still have to learn to track the sights on recoil, and verify that your pistol is returning to the same spot every time.


Building Your Grip Strength

Top shooters have a grip strength of 120-140 lbs.
The average untrained male has a grip of 80-120 lbs.
The average untrained female has a grip of 60-80 lbs.

In just a few months, you can add 20-40 lbs. to your grip strength. How?

Your Grip Is 100 Lbs. or Less

Get these basic grippers ($11-12) . They're adjustable, and go up to 90 lbs.
Basic grip trainers - cheap and effective.

  • Start with 3 sets at 75% of max.
  • Each set, stop once you feel like you could do 2 more reps.
  • Rest 2 min. between sets.
  • Do 3-4 times per week, or 2 times if you work with your hands.
  • Doing less than 12 reps per set? Add 2 reps per workout.
    At 12 reps, Increase weight by 5 lbs. and drop reps down to 8

Your Grip Is over 100 Lbs.

Get some Captains of Crush grippers . Start with the Trainer (100 lbs.).
Captains of Crush grip trainers - for serious athletes.

  • Start with 3 sets. Each set, stop once you feel like you could do 2 more reps.
  • Rest 3 min. between sets.
  • Do 3-4 times per week, or 2 times if you work with your hands.
  • Doing less than 24 reps per set? Add 1-2 reps per workout.
    At 24 reps, move up to the next level of gripper and drop down to 8 reps (or when you feel like you could still do 2 more reps).

Preventing Injuries

Muscle imbalances cause injuries. To prevent tennis elbow (or shooter's elbow), use these bands:

  • Rubber bands used on broccoli, asparagus, etc.
  • No. 89 rubber bands from an office supply store

Either way, while resting in your grip workouts, do a set with these bands to strengthen the backs of your hands and prevent injuries.



The Path to Better Pistol Shooting

Top shooters can recover from recoil and fire another accurate shot in 0.20 seconds or less. That's 5 (or more) shots per second!

If that sounds beyond you, it's not. My course will get you there in 24 1-hour classes or less, and teach you much more along the way.

If you want to transform yourself into a confident, effective concealed carrier or home defender, and you're within 30 minutes of Georgetown, TX, sign up:

Demonstration of pistol training with recoil simulation technology.

Basic Pistol
Learn safe gun handling and basic pistol skills, so you can practice safely and effectively. Gain confidence with a pistol in four 1-hour classes.
A woman drawing her pistol.

Practical Concealed Carry
The Texas LTC doesn't teach you how to win a gunfight. Carry every day with confidence in 24 1-hour classes.

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References

  1. Comparison of grip strength among 6 grip methods (2014)
  2. Hand Grip Strength: age and gender stratified normative data in a population-based study (2011)





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