How to Overcome Strength Problems with Pistols

If your gun, technique or hand strength is holding you back, check out these simple solutions.

by posted on June 14, 2021
Becky Yackley Holding Hand Strength Tool Lede

If shooting a handgun isn’t enjoyable for you, stop and ask yourself why. Is it technique? Is it the gun? Is it your size or skill? These are some common complaints from people who aren’t partial to pistols, but there are solutions!

The Gun: Many women are told to purchase a smaller handgun so it’s easier to hold. However, holding onto a small or light pistol means that your hands and wrists are absorbing the majority of the impact from the recoil, which can feel jerky. I’m a professional shooter and a tiny revolver is not my idea of fun. I have larger hands and worry about my hands near the front of the cylinder. Small revolvers seem awkward and are usually double-action, which means a long and heavy trigger pull on the first shot.

A larger or heavier pistol often feels better on your hands and wrists, because the weight of the gun means that it is not displaced as much by the recoil. Your hands aren’t forced to absorb as much force. Always try to test out a gun before you buy it, but remember, if you don’t like one pistol, it doesn’t mean you won’t like another. It is OK to choose the gun you’re most comfortable with, but don’t close your mind off to other potential options. The fact that there are so many different handguns is one of the reasons they are popular. It’s a good thing to have options. If one doesn’t work for you, another might make target practice your new favorite pastime. You have options, and if one gun isn’t your thing anymore, go shopping!

The Technique: Sometimes new shooters are taught outdated techniques, like the “cup and saucer” grip. Sometimes people aren’t taught any techniques; they just learn from a friend or attend a too-short class with only a few hours on the actual range. Developing proper technique takes time and guidance. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed, but do seek proper training and practice current techniques.

Your Size or Skill: The reason you might not enjoy shooting certain guns is that they don’t fit your body type or skill level. While it is easy to find a new gun or learn proper technique, you can’t change your size. However, there are certain techniques that will help you better manipulate your gun no matter your size. You can also increase your strength and skill level to achieve your shooting goals.

One of the most common complaints amongst new shooters with small hands is racking the slide on a semi-auto. Many people just pull it back and let it go. That’s fine if the springs are light or your hands are strong, but for women with weaker hands, some manipulations of firearms can be a challenge. Try this instead:

1. Push-pull
Instead of just trying to pull the slide back, push with your hand holding the grip (finger off the trigger!) and pull back with your hand holding the slide. Now it’s not just your hands doing the work; you can use your entire arm to push the bottom half of the pistol forward, and pull the slide back.

2. Think of the slide as immovable.
Hold the slide really tight and drive your other hand into the back strap pushing the gun forward. How you position your hands can help or hinder this. Don’t pinch the slide with your thumb and fingers. Instead, grab the slide between your fingers and the meaty part of your palm trapping the slide between your four fingers and thumb/palm.

3. Build your strength.
When I rack the slide on my favorite competition gun, I can use just two fingers. On others, I might need a different technique. But I do exercises to strengthen my grip daily. If you’re interested in increasing your hand strength to more easily manipulate your firearm, there are tools that can help you.

Grip strengthening tools come in all shapes and sizes. There are resistance tools that you squeeze, such as adjustable grips, rubber donuts, putty, etc. Two that I use consistently are the rubber donut and an adjustable grip strengthener.


\It’s important to remember that grip isn’t just in your hands. The second tool I use is a dowel rod with a 5-lb. weight attached by a length of paracord. To use it, I wrap the cord around the dowel rod with both hands, holding it straight out in front of my body, arms extended. This works your wrist, arms and shoulders. It’s a great tool!

Building hand strength isn’t something that happens overnight. But if you do your exercises while you are doing something else, they don’t have to take up any extra time. I work on hand strength when I drive on long trips, watch a movie or proofread at the computer. You can get in reps doing something simple, and before you know it, you will start opening your own jars and loading your own pistol.


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