Safety and Training

You Can Rack A Slide. It’s Technique, not Strength.

Picture shows a close up of a woman holding a Glock handgun demonstrating how to wrap one's fingers around the slide in order to rack it.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “I can’t rack the slide. It’s too hard,” I’d probably have a condo in the Keys. In fact, when I started shooting, I thought I wasn’t able to operate all semi-automatic handguns either. Believe me, ladies; I understand your slide intimidation. However, have no fear! Regardless of what you may think, it is not your strength or lack thereof that enables you to rack a slide properly—it’s learning the correct technique. Racking the slide allows the gun to “grab” the first round from the magazine and load it into the chamber. I love semi-automatic handguns and hate to see a woman give up on them simply because they think they can’t operate one. So, how do I rack a slide you ask? Follow these six steps and with a little bit of practice, you’ll be racking slides all day long! Step 1: Place the gun in your dominant hand (the one with your trigger finger) in a good, solid grip. If you need help with your grip, read “Handgun Basics 101: Get a Good Grip.” Step 2: Bring the gun close in towards your body. I prefer to bring my gun up close to my chest rather than my belly or middle. I find I get more leverage this way. Remember always keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Do not sweep the people in the shooting bay next to you with your barrel.

Picture shows a woman holding a Glock safely, finger off the trigger close into her body at the bottom of her chest.
Bring the gun close in towards your body.
Step 3: Take your non-dominant hand and place the meaty part of your palm on the top, left side of the slide. Lefties will place your palm on the right side. Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

Picture shows a close up of a woman holding a Glock handgun against the meaty part of her palm.
After bringing the gun close in to your body, place the meaty part of your palm on the slide.
Step 4: Wrap all four fingers around the top of the gun, avoiding the ejection port. Grasp the slide serrations with the tops of your fingers—from the first joint to your fingertips. You might find you get a firmer grip with the tips of your fingers using your index finger as leverage and pressing into the gun with your thumb. However, longer nails might impede how firmly you can keep a hold of the gun when using this method.

Close up of a woman holding a Glock handgun demonstrating how to wrap one's fingers around the slide in order to rack it.
Wrap all four fingers around the top of the gun. Grasp the slide serrations with the tops of your fingers.
Step 5: With as much force as you can muster, PUSH the gun forward with your dominant hand, keeping a firm grip on the top of the slide. You want this motion to be as smooth as possible.

Close up of a woman racking the slide on a Glock semi-automatic handgun.
With as much force as you can muster, PUSH the gun forward with your dominant hand.
Step 6: When the slide reaches as far back as it will go, completely let go with your non-dominant hand, letting the slide thrust forward.

Close up of a woman letting go of the slide on a Glock handgun.
When the slide reaches as far back as it will go, completely let go with your non-dominant hand.

Tips:

  • You may pull with the non-dominant hand in a push pull motion to rack the slide, applying an equal amount of force with both hands. However, do not depend solely on the pull—this is what made the operation difficult for you in the first place.
  • Practice with a full-sized, unloaded .22 Long Rifle first to get a hang of the motion. A properly oiled firearm makes all the difference in the world. Keep a bottle of lubricant, like Shooter’s Choice FP-10 in your range bag.
  • Always keep fingers away from the ejection port. If you are covering it with either hand then reposition. It’s fine if your pinkie has to come off the gun to clear the ejection port. There isn’t much power in your pinkie anyway.
  • Don’t extend your arms far out from your body. Bring the gun close in to utilize all your arm and pectoral muscles to push.
  • Do not treat the gun gently. This was the second most important lesson I learned in semi-automatic pistol shooting. Let go of the slide completely and let force do its job. Helping the slide along—also called “riding the slide”—causes malfunctions.

Woman holding the top of the slide of a GLOCK handgun
Alternatively, you can grip with the tips of your fingers using your index finger as leverage and pressing into the gun with your thumb.
Another intimidating thing about semi-auto pistols is the perceived recoil. Have you tried changing how you stand? Now that you have perfected racking the slide, perfect how you stand. Read “Managing Recoil with the Correct Stance” to learn how.

Ladies, have you mastered racking the slide on a semi-auto? If so, share your tips and tricks with us in the comment section.

[suzanne]

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (29)

  1. A 70-yr male. Just bought a Walther 9mm PPQ 5 Match pistol. I got it home and tried (the wrong technique–pulling the slide back by grasping the rear of the slide with thumb and finger–no go! I thought at 70 loss of muscle was the issue. Then I did a Google search and saw your article. Now your advice makes sense. It seems to difficult to press down the slide lock lever. Maybe this action and the other are due to a new gun needing some breakin. And I am certainly not going to put live ammo in the pistol until I have had success in racking the slide back, and letting go.
    Thanks for the tips. Tom from Michigan

  2. I just bought my first pistol yesterday. M&P 9mm Shield. I work out every day and couldn’t believe I had trouble racking the slide. And I also ran into trouble with the slide lock. I found this article and now it all makes sense ! Thanks !

  3. I own a S&W M&P Shield 9mm and when racking the slide it locks in the rearward position on the first push forward of my dominant hand due to the slide lock engaging. I just bought the pistol and will return to the retailer for assistance but what is your suggestion to avoid the rack from locking. I am a new gun owner and soon will be taking a safety course but want to be as familiar with the pistol as possible beforehand. Nothing in the manual to explain this.

    1. Are you racking with an empty magazine? Are you putting any pressure on the slide release? Pretend that lever is lava and shift your thumb around so it’s not engaging.

      Or I suppose it could be faulty…

    2. I should add some info about the magazine. Apologies if any/all this is known.

      An empty magazine will lock the slide back so you know it is empty. For practice racking the slide, don’t use a loaded magazine, use no magazine at all. Drilling with a loaded gun is a no-no except at the range where you intend to shoot.

  4. Thank you Suzanne, I am a male, 81 years old, and I was having trouble racking a slide, your article reminded me why. I was pushing with the weak hand. Happy shooting.

  5. Well I am brand new to firearms and started with the s&w 9shield, then had some issues racking it. I was able to do it but not smoothly and was worried I bought too much gun for me. So I went out and bought a revolver (s&w ladysmith) just in case and figured I could sell my shield if need be. UNTIL I found you and this article………I am in my glory right now! I actually can rack it with ease now! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!! So happy right now!

  6. Nice little article.

    So, I’m relatively new to handguns @ 6’3, 250 lbs (with a pinched nerve in my non-dom hand). And yet, certain guns I can rack with ease … while others (built too tight for “break in” ) make me feel like a dainty little wimp, a bit embarrassed (I just try to not let it show) as anyone watching will see me struggle with it.

    Have been wondering how if I’m having trouble … how it will be for my wife when I introduce her to things.

    So, the point @ technique vs. overall strength is well taken, and will be one I pay attention to going forward.

    Thanks for the nice writeup.

    1. I have a 9mm Smith & Wesson Shield and it is very , very hard to rack the slide. I’ve shot about 200 rounds and still it’s tough .Could it be the gun ? I have a bad L wrist but not crippled. I now carry a 22 mag revolver ,2 inch barrel .

  7. Thank you so much for this helpful article. Since females usually have less hand strength, I’ve heard of this problem from friends. I had never been able to rack my husband’s Glock until now although I could handle smaller 380s or 22s for target practice. It never occurred to me to push the body forward instead of pulling the slide back. It made a huge difference.

  8. Another option for people without a lot of arm strength is to use their whole upper body It is often times much easier than trying to use just arms.
    1 Grasp the weapon in the dominant hand
    2 Extend the weapon out to arms length
    3 Rotate weapon so it lays on its side with the top of the slide towards your other hand(the weapon should be sideways)
    4 Grasp the back of the slide with the weak hand as far up as possible keeping fingers out of the ejection port
    5 rotate shoulders and push with dominant hand while pulling with weak hand
    This will allow you to use your shoulder muscles, and upper body much more.
    Of course alway try different methods and see which ones work best for you !!

    1. I agree with trying all the differing techniques for slide racking, however; the further away from the body the gun is, the more difficulty there will be in controlling said gun. The slide is best racked with the gun in the “low ready position”.

  9. As a farmer I spent years tossing around 100 lb sacks of potatoes. I could snap the action back on my Glock like a cap gun. I got a 9mm FNS and my non dominant hand just slips off before I get the slide halfway back. My grip has weakened from carpel tunnel nerve damage but the FNS has a firm spring and a slender slide with shallow grip grooves. I reverse hands and cock it with my right hand than swap hands again. I also have to switch hands if I want to take the safety off. For home defense I would have to leave it with a round chambered and the safety off so I just keep my revolve next to it so for a quick response I will just grab it.

  10. Accurized 1911 pistols (like Les Baer) are intentionally built a little too tight, and you are expected to blast through a few hundred rounds to break it in, so the parts perfectly bed into each other. When new, the lock-up is so tight that it is very difficult for even burly, experienced semiauto shooters to cycle the action. I end up using the same mechanics as in this article even though I am a 6 foot 1, 225 pound male. Keeping the muzzle pointed downrange, I rotate my stance so I am facing right. I bring the weapon in close to my chest, at armpit level. Careful to avoid sweeping my hand in front of the muzzle, I grab the top of the slide with my left hand (palm and 4 fingers), and then push forward briskly with the right. (I am a right-handed shooter.) Sometimes it works better when gripping the front part of the slide, especially if there are serrations on the front of the slide. I’ve found that rear sights with sharp corners can take a bite out of my left hand, so it’s nice to have a little extra space to avoid that.

  11. First off, I am not a body builder. But I have never found a semi-auto handgun that I even had a remote problem operating the slide. That said, I appreciate this advice, because since I have no problem doing the way I do it, that was the only way I trained others (especially women) how to do it. I have a neighbor and my wife that I have assisted in their introduction to firearms and shooting, and they are going to be shown this as soon as possible. Thanks!!

  12. Funny how I gave this same advice to my wife in a local Academy when she was trying to rack the slide on a Bersa .380 Combat Model and could not do it. She became so upset citing that I embarassed her in front of the gun bar employees, we ended up leaving without the handgun which was meant to be for her self-defense. I guess when a female gives this advice there is solidarity and when a man, especially the husband does it, you’re just being an insensitive *sshole. Anyway, it was a good article.

  13. To Alex, comment number four:

    There is a specific reason you encounter a much stiffer initial cocking pull on your compact semi-autos. Most compact semi-autos of which your Walther PP is probably the best known, use a method of cycling called “pure blowback”. In PBB, the barrel is fixed to the frame and there is no locking of the barrel to the slide. Rather, a stiffer spring provides all the tension needed to keep the slide from retracting after a shot for just a few important split seconds for the gas pressure to lower to a safe level before ejecting the spent case.

    Generally speaking, pistols that use a “locked breech” to lower pressure can make use of a weaker spring. There are, however many exceptions, just read some of the other comments for this post!

    Safe shooting!

  14. Very informative article. I have a Springfield Armory full size 1911. I did a complete overhaul on it by installing a match grade barrel, competition trigger set, match grade barrel bushing and extended thumb safety and beavertail. After it was all said and done, I couldn’t rack it. I’m not a small guy and I have a grip like a vice and still couldn’t rack it. Obviously, I had to make some adjustments. The Colt commander hammer and beavertail are a matched set but the amount of spring tension on the hammer was way too much. Even pulling back the hammer manually was a chore. I ordered a new spring set from brownels with a lighter tension on the hammer and that did the trick. It now racks smoothly and still has enough snap to punch the cartridge primer. Hammer springs come in different tensions and can be make a world of difference. In addition, a hammer spring can be adjusted by removing one coil and one only. I would not recommend this unless you have a spare set of spring on hand in case you take off more that is allowed. Hope this helps.

  15. If You have an auto such as the 1911 or High Power Browning, you might try cocking the hammer first, that takes a lot of resistance out of the picture due to the leverage the hammer has on the lock-up of the slide. Otherwise, you can try holding the grip in the dominant hand and the slide in the other but with the arms both outstretched forming an elongated V in front of you. With your trigger finger straight, grab the slide with the thumb of the other hand laying alongside the trigger finger and the other fingers reaching over the top of the slide with the pinkie, and the next 2 fingers resting on the serrations curled back towards you and the index finger resting about the middle of the slide. The ejection port will be between your thumb and the index finger, but don’t worry about that as you are going to let go of the slide when you get it fully retracted. Now, to put all this into motion, you must push your dominant-side shoulder forward and at the same time, pull your other shoulder back in a motion that will feel like an upper-body twist. By keeping your dominant trigger finger and your other thumb side by side, the thrust of your movements will be more nearly in perfect alignment to the direction the slide must move and it will move more freely than if you are pulling higher up on the slide and pushing lower on the grip. Another thing that is important, is to make sure your pistol is clean and properly oiled. Also, it will lessen the required effort if you only put one cartridge in the magazine and operate the slide to chamber a round, then drop the magazine and load the correct number of rounds allowing for the one in the chamber and re-install it in the pistol. If all else fails, get you some grip exerciser springs and start working out and doing push-ups. Good luck and GOOD shooting.

  16. I have a Sig-Sauer P220 (.45). That sucker is TOUGH to rack. I talked to the guy at the shop where I bought it and he told me that a number of P220 owners have the same problem. He said that the only solution, without voiding the warranty, was to send it back to Sig-Sauer and have them replace the spring with a weaker one. I’m not wild about spending the extra money, and I don’t know how the gun’s performance would be affected with a weaker spring.

  17. I HAVE AN OLD HUNGARIAN R9…..LIKE A BROWNING…..BELIEVE ME……I HAVE RACKED A LOT OF PISTOLS IN 66 YEARS IN THIS EARTH…..THEY WERE ALL EASY…..LIKE PUTTING VASELINE INTO A HOLE….

    BUT THIS PARTIICULAR ONE…..I NEED STRENGTH TO SLIDE IT….I FEEL LIKE SOMETHING IS STOCK OR???????

    CAN YOU E MAIL ME SOME SOLUTIONS….OR SHULD I TAKE IT TO A GUNSMITH OR A GUN DEALER OR A SHOOTING RANDGE …WHERE A LOT OF EPERTS HANG OUT?

    THANKS

    FRANK

  18. I’ve got a pretty gimpy right hand, but I’ve never had a problem with a 1911 or a Glock. Most of the time, the stiffest recoil springs are bundled up with firearms like the CZ and XD models–which have more perceived (and thusly unpleasant) recoil than something with a lower bore axis. There is no reason a .40 S&W should have muzzle rise comparable to a .454 revolver. None.

  19. It isn’t just ladies that have problems with semi autos. For some reason, the spring feels stiffer on compact or sub-compact guns. My Walther PPK/S is much more difficult to rack than my Ruger 345. Maybe it’s just the actual size of the slide that helps or hinders this action.

  20. … and then there are those of us with arthritis so bad we can’t close our ‘fist’ tightly enough to grasp the slide, which is the reason I’ve returned to my roots and taken up my revolver again.
    Still, there are methods/techniques of racking the slide that don’t entail use of a grip other than the firing hand around the grip. Frowned upon, however, in most competitions or on ranges that disallow ‘tactical’ manuevers/manipulations.
    Your point is valid, however, for any who aren’t physically challenged due to age related illness (IOW: normally healthy people, especially the Ladies).

  21. Suzanne – Safety First! I know it’s only common sense, and should go without saying, but you probably should also point out that racking a slide should only be practiced with an EMPTY WEAPON. Some people need to be reminded.

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