JULY 9, 2024

Guest Shots: Physiological Efficiency, Key to Improving Skill

Like many jocks of college age, I minored in Sports Physiology with an emphasis on coaching. My major, believe it or not, was secondary education. My athletic career was coming to an end and I wanted to stay involved. In my case it was Track and Field as I attended college on a scholarship in the same sport. To successfully complete this degree, I was required to attend a year- long course which was basically the study of human anatomy and how it relates to movement specifically directed at athletics. It was a good thing I could run fast and jump far as I had minimal hand-eye coordination. I was the poor kid who grew up unable to catch a ball (baseball or football, it didn’t matter), hit it or shoot one through a hoop with any degree of success. This course of instruction was a real eye opener for me as it explained many things about the body, what it was capable of and how you could improve its performance by adjusting technique to best make use of how it wants to move.

The reload should be reasonably simple action - drop one magazine, insert another. Why make it more complicated than it has to be?

Track and Field events, especially the field events, are very technique-driven and great improvement can be attained through what was called “physiological efficiency” at the time. I attribute the phrase to a very famous track coach as he was the first person I ever heard use the phrase. Basically, the athlete eliminated any motion that was not required to attain speed and/or distance. If it did not assist, it was eliminated. It was a real asset to me as I tried to excel in my sport. In a nutshell, I improved my jumping distance by several feet by utilizing physiological efficiency. Have you ever seen a runner who is so smooth and “machine-like” that it looked effortless? This is the perfect example of what I am talking about.

Upon entering the police academy, I realized my lack of hand/eye coordination would once again be a detriment in hand-to-hand combat and shooting. I could hit my target reasonably well, but all the other necessary motor skills were a challenge. I first used a semi auto in 1982 after my agency’s SWAT team was formed, and I quickly realized a rapid magazine exchange would be a real challenge for me. The gun was a 1911 and, as you all know, single column auto loaders are the most challenging to load fast. Thinking back to my track and field days, I pulled out some of my old textbooks to review the sections that dealt with physiological efficiency and applied the lessons to pistol shooting.

The draw stroke should follow a specific path of travel so the shooter knows it will arrive where they need it. This is true whether it is forward, on or behind the hip. It should also be true regardless of the position the shooter is in. The gun is placed, not flung at the target - eliminate unnecessary motion.

I understood, even back then, there were only so many ways to “run” a gun and they had all been invented regardless of any current or future claims of “the latest, greatest” technique. Nonetheless, by applying the physiological lessons I learned while running track, I was able to put together a method that worked well for me. Why is this important? Admittedly, it’s because I’m not a gifted shooter – most people aren’t. In three-plus decades of law enforcement and four plus decades of training, I’ve won a few matches and faced my share of danger. In addition, I’ve trained thousands of cops and armed citizens using physiological efficiency and it has worked well. As an instructor, I feel this might be my greatest asset - to learn from someone who struggles with shooting and finds methods to improve versus a gifted shooter who really does not understand why they are good.

Combative shooting is more than just standing in one place shooting tight groups; it’s a multi-tiered process that requires constant practice. A fight can go in many directions, keep your techniques simple to perform and eliminate what is not needed.

Haley Strategic founder master trainer Travis Haley has spoken often of this same topic, calling it “biomechanical efficiency.” Keep in mind, the title I have used over the years is not mine. While visiting with Travis at his impressive Scottsdale, AZ facility, I had the opportunity to discuss physiological versus biomechanical efficiency and we agreed that we were talking about the same thing. Eliminating those movements, you don’t need, no matter how cool they look, will only benefit the shooter. Why work harder if you don’t have to?

Before I met with Travis to exchange ideas, I was constantly contacted by young people to tell me that my use of the word “physiology” is wrong and that I am referring to “biomechanics” or “kinesiology.” I did not know the year- long course I took should have been called “Sports Biomechanics” or “Sports Kinesiology.” Let’s look at the dictionary definitions of biomechanics and physiology:

noun: physiology

1. the branch of biology that deals with the normal functions of living organisms and their parts, the way in which a living organism or bodily part functions or moves.

noun: biomechanics; noun: bio-mechanics

1. the study of the mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organisms.

How well you shoot with one hand can be greatly affected by something as simple as how you rotate your elbow. Understand human performance and use it to your benefit.

I believe that both terms are technically correct and it does not matter to me which you use. The study of human motion has been ongoing for centuries and no “new on the scene instructor” created this stuff. The word “proprioception” has been around a long time. The understanding of where your body parts are in space and time (body awareness) it’s a $50 word but not a new concept.

I have been blessed over the years as I have had many, many individuals contact me and tell me what they learned from me saved their lives. I included physiologically efficient methods in my book Handgun Combatives, the video of the same name from Paladin Press, and the five videos I filmed for Panteao Productions. I feel they are the simplest and most efficient ways to shoot and manipulate the semi auto pistol in combative situations. While calling the book something like “Combative Handgun Shooting made Simple” or “Combative Handgun for Dummies” was enticing, my publisher felt it might send the wrong message and they were probably right.

I believe it is important for today’s instructors to understand how the human body functions and how it can and will affect performance. A few years back, I had a new instructor tell me, “I don’t need to know all of that scientific stuff, my job is to teach folks how to run their gun.” How do you do this properly if you don’t comprehend how the human body works? It would be like training a pilot but leaving out the part about how an airplane stays aloft!

When it comes to combative shooting or open hand fighting, if it feels like you’re hardly moving, you ‘re probably doing it right! My search for simpler and easier ways will probably last until the day I die even though I have stepped away from the instructional arena. Simplicity in action does not make for a cool looking YouTube or Instagram video, but much of what you see on line is designed to garner attention, not save your life.

-- Dave Spaulding