Throwback Thursday: 7 Keys to a Strong Upper Triangle

We all were told at some point in our training to “relax, squeeze the trigger slowly, and let the gun kick freely.” This makes sense when you’re just starting out, but if you want to shoot faster and maintain a high degree of accuracy, this basic advice will have to evolve. You will have to do things differently. That’s where shooting stance comes in.

By Rob Leatham

A proper shooting stance has a lot of elements involved. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll separate stance into two parts: The “Upper Triangle” and the “Torso and Legs.” This article is devoted to the upper triangle — your hands, arms, and shoulders.

7 Keys to a Strong Upper Triangle

Don’t Stand Like Me. Stand Like You Need To.

Not everyone is built the same. I weigh a metric ton and am relatively strong in my hands, wrists and forearms. If you are lighter or weaker than I am, your stance will differ from mine. The same goes for a shooter who is heavier or stronger. The point is to be comfortable and confident in your own stance.

Grip the Gun Tightly

Without exception, every great speed shooter has a very strong grip. You aren’t gripping too firmly on your pistol until you either hinder your ability to move your trigger finger freely, cause an otherwise abnormal tremor or flinch in your hands and arms. Tension causes your muscles to become rigid around your joints. My hands are tired after a training session. It can be a physical workout, but I can’t resist the gun’s movement in my hands if I relax.

Lock Those Joints. Be Strong, Not Comfortable

The focus here is reducing or eliminating flex. Whether your elbows are straight or bent, resist the flexing of your joints when the recoil of your gun tries to bend them. The joints most responsible for movement are the wrist and elbow. For the elbow joint, many shooters use a technique called “Locking Out.”

Here, Rob Leatham uses a strong upper triangle to overcome recoil. He advises, “You can't learn to control recoil without having to control recoil.”
Rob Leatham uses a strong upper triangle to overcome recoil. He advises, “You can’t learn to control recoil without having to control recoil.”

My wife Kippi and many other champions “lock out” hard. She straightens her arms to create a position where the elbow joint is at full extension. “Locking Out” isn’t the only way to lock your elbow joint. It’s ok to have a slight bend in your elbows when you shoot, just keep them very rigid. Either way can work well.

Use More Than Your Hands. Pinch In With Your Arms

Use your chest muscles to help stiffen your arms. Pulling into your center with both arms will help create tension throughout the triangle and help “clamp” the gun in your hands.

Hold The Gun Steady

Make the gun act like it is locked in a vise and cannot move. Keep it as motionless as possible when you pull the trigger. Don’t just aim and fire. Not yet anyway.

Aim Throughout the Movement of the Gun During Recoil

Do this with the goal of quickly returning the gun to the position and altitude it was at before it was fired. While the actual amount of muzzle flip you will experience is going to be based on your skill and strength, avoid letting the gun just lift up and stay there. Get the sights back on target.

Train With Live Ammunition

Dry firing will not teach you the value of a proper upper triangle. You can practice the strength-building isometrics of gripping and pinching the gun with your hands, arms, and chest muscles all you want, but the gun has to kick for you to learn to recover from recoil. Practice recoil control with the caliber you want to master. Learning to lock up on your .22 is helpful, but that is not the same as controlling a more powerful caliber.

Perfecting The Upper Triangle

Practice! Do not assume that because you understand these concepts, and can do them properly during dry fire, that you will be able to execute under pressure. You won’t. You should work on upper triangle rigidity every time you focus on skill building.

Do you have a shooting tip for the upper triangle? What is your opinion of dry fire versus live fire training? Share your answers in the comment section.

Rob Leatham is a professional action shooter and six-time world IPSC champion. He has won more than 20 USPSA titles and is also a firearms instructor. Springfield Armory recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. Used with permission.

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 (9)

  1. As a woman, I have found that I can keep my right arm straight and stiff while keeping a solid foundation with my left arm bent and braced on my chest. Left foot forward, right foot back, using my right arm as an additional sight, I can be combat accurate and rapid fire.

  2. Hey Ross Bonny, try a Canik TP9SA. Bladed trigger safety, that’s it. With a very short 4.5 lb. pull.
    Ok, nothing against the author, or the rest of you that “assume a stance”. That’s just more time for me to fill you full of holes. I always suggest, no, preach, firing on the move, and firing with your weapon close to the holster. These drills are not meant to make “hip shooters” out of you. They are meant to familiarize you with your weapons characteristics, and body position. If I can get off 2 accurate shots from near my holster, while you are raising your weapon and assuming the position, who do you think is walking away. Believe me, the amount of lead that has “cracked” its way past me is ridiculous. As with many of you readers. I dont think I’ve EVER assumed any position while in a fire fight. The object here is to AVOID the fire fight, by getting rounds on target first. It got me home. As I’m sure with some of you readers. So, its basically economy of motion. The less you have to move to accurately hit your target, gives you the time advantage that may save your life. Honestly, how likely is anyone to be able to accurately aim and fire back, after being hit twice. They are quite more likely to be on their way to visit their god.
    Now for dry firing.
    Perfect way to familiarize yourself with your trigger pull and reset, and your grip. Beyond that…..its a waste of time, to me. Really, if you can’t afford the time or ammo to actually shoot your guns, you shouldn’t have them. Keeping your skills sharp isn’t only about holes in paper. Its also about safety. The better you know your weapon, the less likely you are to shoot yourself or someone else by “accident”.
    And to clarify my statement previous. By saying firing close to the holster, I mean, my first 2 shots are while my weapon is on the way up to sighting level. Not cowboy style.
    You should only shoot what you can control. My granddaughters started with my .25. Now they shoot Caniks as well. But not before they could control it. I’m trying to say, your first handgun shouldn’t probably be a .45. Figure most things out with lower calibers. Its cheaper. Then move to your chosen caliber. Kinda like training wheels.

    As always
    Carry on

    1. We are not in a war zone, there are innocent civilians all around in any self defense scenario.

      It is terribly irresponsible to train civilians to shoot from the hip while on the move!!

      I would hope someone has reported your training tactics to the certification board, assuming you are certified….

      Every bullet has a lawsuit attached, and I for one sure hope I’m not struck by a stray bullet from one of your acolytes who “shot from the holster”….

      Save that mess for the battlefield!

  3. I have found controlling recoil to also have another factor involved not mentioned by this writer – the tuning of the gun’s recoil spring(s) to the power of the ammo used. In this area, I prefer my Glocks for their ease of field stripping and access to the recoil assembly vs my 1911s. Since those are the only 2 80% frames I have worked with, I can’t comment on any other makes or models, but I run full length guide rods in my 1911s and tungsten guide rods in my G17 and G22 to add muzzle weight and reduce flip. Seems to work OK so far. If I could find a tungsten 1911 guide rod at a reasonable price I’d go for that as well.

  4. In my opinion, formed by observing other shooters during numerous visits to the Front Sight Academy and elsewhere, Sigs and Kimbers etc are ‘rich man’s toys’ because they look great and cost a lot of money. However, they also have unnecessary controls which must be dealt with in a quick encounter.
    XD’s and Glocks etc. are quicker to get into action, and have equivalent accuracy, without the need to operate a thumb safety or manipulate the safety when checking or loading the pistol. I see many shooters who have just bought their ‘fancy’ pistols and need more training in how to operate them quickly, but they sure look nice don’t they?

  5. Hi all: I disagree with the previous poster: I think that Colt ought be Colt, in all it is and does, and has done. Now, granted, one cannot live in the past, but that’s not to discount their achievements. But, as previously stated, one cannot live in the past. For Colt to resurrect itself, it’s necessary tor the share-holders to make a commitment that they are in for the long, American Made, haul. That doesn’t mean that it ought to be farmed out to any foreign entity for the sake of only who knows. Colt needs to rebound from its losses and disappointments and get on with business NOT as usual. They must be more committed to customer demands, including pricing, and quality considerations. You surely can’t expect top quality from a low priced piece of equipment. Best of luck Colt, and all. Later:

    1. Try Hi-Point pistols. Under $200 last time I checked, please check out the torture tests in YouTube. Bulged barrel from multiple squib loads and the pistol still functioned.

      I think they had to hammer a bolt down the barrel and put the slide in a vice before the pistol finally let go….

      Let’s see a Kimber or Sig do that!

      I do not own a Hi-Point, but don’t confuse price with quality. Kimber’s have a high price, but low quality. I’ve seen plenty of rusted barrels on brand new pistols in store shelves, I’ve purchased many that wouldn’t cycle properly and took much work to get in a somewhat running order, and I’ve shot older Sig 220’s that completely failed to impress me.

      Sure, CZ, FN, Glock, HK, series 70 Colt, pinned and recessed S&W are all great arms, but guess what, older Ruger pistols have proven to be just as reliable and accurate. I can’t speak on their current offerings, and some people sure do love to promote this Canik.

      Lower priced firearms can be very high quality with regards to accuracy, but most importantly, reliability. That is called value.

      And higher priced firearms can be complete junk. I’ve seen Sig patrol rifles have to go back to the factory several times right out of the box while I’ve seen Deltons eat case after case….

  6. The SIG firm is what Colt should of/could of been.
    If one can afford the best, avoid the rest, and buy the best; and if it is not “Made in USA”, do not blame the manufacturer.
    Yet in reality there are, for their intended purposes, far less expensive American made weapons that will “TOLL A DEATH KNELL, ” just as well.

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