Ajai Masand & Navneet Singh
Trap marksman Manavjit Singh crouches like a predator, his shotgun pointed at a blank wall. The former world champion sweeps his gun, following the arc of a target in his mind’s eye. He pulls the trigger with a dull click. The athletes’ zone at the shooting range in Palembang, Indonesia during the 2018 Asian Games is a whir of activity, but Singh is unperturbed. He repeats the process with a monotonous regularity till it simply becomes a part of the scenery.
In sport shooting parlance, this is called “dry training”.
“You physically manage the gun, get it on the shoulder, look over the barrel and then you presume that there is an imaginary target coming out when you ‘call’ for it,” explains Asian Games gold-medallist, double trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi.
It’s shooting minus the bullets (or pellets).
As shooters the world over are in lockdown without access to a range, for many, dry training is the only way to tide over these extraordinary circumstances.
“You follow the entire process that you do during competition,” says Sodhi. “This is where you get a feel for your gun. Juniors these days believe more in shooting than dry training, but it is the most important weapon any shooter can have, more so now.”
National shotgun coach Mansher Singh says, “This enforced lockdown is the best time to build a consistent pre-shot routine. Keep in mind that your mind and body have to be synchronized, every little movement coordinated. This is a very important aspect of shooting. We coaches go by only one mantra – (the target) is ‘killed’ or ‘lost’ before you have pulled the trigger.”
Even in routine sessions, dry training is how shooters build their ‘muscle memory’. With no competitions and training camps, Sodhi believes that this austere routine becomes especially important to keep shooters in sync with their sport.
Keeping in touch
“The feel of the weapon, the rhythm of the body, the process and the muscle memory will take a hit if you don’t do it,” he says. “All these factors get affected if you have a long layoff. So keep doing dry training, as when you come back to actual training or competition, it will take you less time to get back into rhythm.”
It may be a tedious and lonely process, missing the buzz of competition or the sound of bullets, but pistol shooter and coach Ronak Pandit, believes that it could also be a blessing in disguise to be forced into a monk-like retreat.
“Nobody is willing to accept this, but it’s for sure that everybody was overworked,” Pandit says. “If shooters continue dry training, they will be improving their skills without being bothered about the outcome. The possibility of compromise of technique is very high when you are actually doing training at the range. You are so result oriented that if you are getting the desired result any which way, you start accepting flawed technique.
“But when you are doing dry training, all that you are focused on is how to do that action properly. So, you are far more process-oriented. That, for me, is a very good mental re-set.”
National pistol coach Samaresh Jung, who won five gold medals during the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games explains the nuances of the process.
“What one must need to concentrate in dry training is fixing your muscle tension—when you are holding your gun, the muscle tension in your arm should be constant; when you are pressing the trigger, you are pressing it consciously. You have to totally get engrossed in the process.”
It is just what rifle shooter, coach and Olympic medallist Gagan Narang has done throughout his career. He still does it “religiously” he says, and drills his trainees in its importance too.
“I have come across several elite shooters who do dry practice for an hour every day as it thoroughly prepares the muscles to perform at the optimum level,” Narang says. “It helps with concentration for high-intensity competitions. It gives an opportunity to test several key issues like you standing position (stance), jacket and trigger adjustment. It’s kind of key to building up for the next competition and at the same time work on the basics of target shooting which isn’t possible when doing live training.”
There is a word of caution from Jung—the very same attributes that make dry training so important can also make it detrimental.
“If you do it just for the heck of it, just going through the paces, then you will induce flaws in your technique. Whatever you are doing to your system, you are doing it over and over again. It solidifies that system, good or bad. To do it well, you should do it till your focus is intact, not to the point where boredom starts setting in.”
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